Examining the Relationship Between Secondary Traumatic Stress and Sickness Absenteeism within 9-1-1 Emergency Call Centers
Martin, Sean C.
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Abstract Introduction: 9-1-1 emergency communication specialists (telecommunicators) are considered the gatekeepers for critical emergency information used by police officers, firefighters and paramedics. Emerging technology used by telecommunicators has increased operational efficiency through reduction of emergency response time while simultaneously increasing the number of calls processed per shift. Telecommunicators emotional labor is heightened and agitated by the extreme variations in the caller’s emergency circumstance. Telecommunicators are expected to remain emotionally stable regardless of the caller’s situation while defusing, decoding and relaying potentially life-saving information to the appropriate authorities. They work in highly structured environments where their performance is regularly monitored and assessed for purposes of improving public safety. Objective: Sickness absenteeism has been considered a byproduct from working in stressful work environments. Unscheduled days missed from work is often the residual effects of job stress manifested as burnout or exhaustion. The study’s aim was to examine the effects of chronic exposure to secondary traumatic stress and situational life factors and their relationship with sickness absenteeism amongst 9-1-1 telecommunicators. Methods: The study was centered on a conceptual understanding that the probability of taking sick days is predicated by the interplay between the number and type of stress factors experienced at work. Six emergency call centers in a state located in the Pacific Northwest were recruited to take an online survey during the month of April 2013. The survey collected self-reported information pertaining to job effort and reward, overcommitment, technostress, perceived control and colleague and supervisory support. Descriptive statistics were computed to summarize distributions of the data while relationships between response and predictor variables were tested for statistical significance using bivariate and multivariate methods. Data Findings and Interpretation: A total of 156 telecommunicators were surveyed from six 9-1-1 emergency call centers. The adjusted model showed job effort (OR = .46, 95% CI: 0.25, 0.88) – the measure of job predictability, work-load and demand as well as telecommunicator experience (≤ 10 years vs. 11 + years), (OR = .42 95% CI: 0.18, 0.94) and perceived control (OR = .52, 95% CI: 0.28, 0.97) - measure of work autonomy - to be inversely related with sickness absenteeism. We observed females having greater odds at taking sick days compared to male telecommunicators (OR = 3.31, 95% CI: 1.17, 9.33). We also found significant relationship between interaction term variable (Overcommitment * SOSI) – the level of work commitment and its effects at home as well as the measure of physiological and physical indications of stress and sickness absenteeism (OR = 1.004, 95% CI: 1.000, 1.008). The study sought to understand the relationship between stress and symptoms of stress and their effects on taking sick days amongst 9-1-1 emergency call center dispatchers and call-takers. The overall results were mixed in providing conclusive evidence on the model’s assumption that higher levels of stress and symptoms of stress are associated with sickness absenteeism. The study revealed meaningful associations between sick days and gender status as well as perceived control and SOSI score (unadjusted) suggesting further exploration is warranted between work related stress factors and sickness absenteeism.
- Health services