Staff well-being, retention and absenteeism are considered a significant concern of organisations, yet research suggests that individual coping may also play a considerable role in these (Ferreira, 2012; Jeanguenat & Dror, 2018; Lorenz et al., 2016). A prevalent area of research in this field concerns employee wellbeing in ‘high emotional labour’ jobs (roles requiring significant emotional management), where successful coping is both essential and seriously tested (Janssens et al., 2018). Here, crime scene investigation (CSI) is considered one of the most demanding professions - or high emotional labour roles - given that it involves being exposed to relentless, deeply harrowing experiences requiring considerable coping to protect personal wellbeing (Mrevlje, 2016; Salinas & Webb, 2018). As such, a focus of previous research has been to predict and screen for personality factors to support wellbeing in this profession (Kelty, 2011; Kelty & Gordon, 2012). Despite this, much of the coping literature, particularly within CSI, focuses on burnout and maladaptive coping (Janssens et al. 2018), with limited research exploring proactive approaches to wellbeing; i.e., successful coping.
Antecedents that underlie successful coping behaviours include self-efficacy, internal locus of control, trust, mastery, optimism and self-esteem (Lazarus & Folkman, 1987; Quick & Cooper, 2017). Quick & Cooper (2017) argue that a combination of these antecedents manifest in a coping style which can be problem-, emotion-, meaning- or avoidance- focussed, with success dependent on their relevant use. For example, better coping has been attributed to higher levels of optimism, which encourages attempts at: problem focussed coping - such as decision making; emotion focussed coping - such as support-seeking or humour (Sahler & Carr, 2009; Vivona, 2014); or meaning focussed coping - such as reframing (Kelty & Gordon, 2015). These are considered active coping strategies; i.e., efforts that enable successful adaptation following a taxing demand that exceeds current resources (Quick & Cooper, 2017; Chowdhury, 2020). An active coping style is therefore argued to be a useful predictor of successful coping. Indeed, a recent study among crime scene investigators (CSIs) in the US indicated that the most frequently used successful coping techniques included acceptance, active coping and planning (Salinas & Webb, 2018).
Mrevlje (2016) investigated the effects of coping style on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 75 male Slovenian CSIs. They found that experience (familiarity with a situation rather than years of service), time to plan and previous success in the role enabled approach style or ‘active’ coping. However, Mrevlje (2016), further found that avoidance style coping was most frequently used, manifesting in negative behaviours. In fact, PTSD symptoms among the CSIs (17.19%) were higher than in the general population (1.7%), and higher PTSD correlated with higher avoidance style coping, as purported in other CSI studies (Clark et al., 2015; Sollie et al., 2017). This suggests that trauma from the role can affect coping outcomes in CSIs, supporting the need to more fully understand the antecedents of successful coping. These include ‘hardiness’, ‘psychological capital’ and ‘resilience’ (see Lorenz et al., 2016; Janssens et al., 2018; Maran et al., 2020; Queiros et al., 2020).
According to Janssens et al. (2018), hardiness is a construct that relates to an individual’s ability to change events around them into something meaningful that they can control, relate to, adapt to and grow from. The relationship between hardiness and stress has been shown to be weak to moderate (Janssens et al., 2018); yet it has been found to aid resistance to stress and act as a predictor of burnout in the wider literature and high emotional labour roles such as police work (Garrosa et al., 2010; Kobasa et al., 1982; Talavera-Velasco et al., 2018). Whilst hardiness appears to align well with an active coping style, its defining element is perceived locus of control (Kobasa et al., 1979). The construct of locus of control (LOC; Rotter, 1966) can be internal (self-led) or external (led by other forces). When an individual perceives they have control over events surrounding them this has been associated with feelings of personal competence and greater focus (Georgescu et al., 2019). An internal LOC has further been related to greater wellbeing and reduced absenteeism in high stress work environments (Wang et al., 2010). Moreover, when individuals perceive some form of control over a situation or event, then enhanced successful coping is observed (Groth et al., 2019). In direct application to CSI, enabling self-selection of crime cases has been recommended to support coping within CSIs (Sollie et al., 2017), and a high internal LOC is postulated to moderate the effects of stress and trauma (Clark et al., 2015). However, a recent cross-sectional police study by Talavera-Velasco et al. (2018) does not support LOC as being positively related to wellbeing. They investigated psychosocial risk factors, burnout and hardiness as predictors of mental health among 223 police personnel. There was a significant negative relationship between problem perception, emotional exhaustion and poor mental health, yet the LOC element of ‘control over work’, did not predict psychological health. Thus, this is an area that requires further research.
Psychological capital (Psycap), described as the positive mental state of an individual’s development (Lorenz et al., 2016), is strongly rooted in positive psychology. It is comprised of measures of self-efficacy, optimism and resilience, as well as hope (Luthans et al., 2008). Police officers who have high levels of these constructs have been found to be less vulnerable to anxiety, somatic symptoms, social dysfunction and depression (Ojedokun & Balogun, 2015). As a single measure, self-efficacy is shown to be key within CSIs, with high levels of self-efficacy enabling more successful coping (Kelty, 2011; Kelty & Gordon 2012, 2015). According to Bandura (1997), self-efficacy reflects one’s perceived ability to carry out a required act in a prospective situation. Bandura defined it as a mix of competence and confidence that plays an important role in individuals’ approaches to new behaviours when dealing with problems and pursuing goals.
Optimism, as a single measure, has also been found in police studies to be integral to coping, by reducing psychological distress (de Terte et al., 2014). Optimism can broadly be defined as either: ‘dispositional’ (trait-like), with the belief that a positive outcome will occur (Scheier & Carver, 2018); or ‘explanatory’ (state-like), with a positive explanatory style evolving over time (Seligman, 2011). Dispositional optimism has consistently been shown to positively correlate with psychological wellbeing (Augusto-Landa et al., 2011) and is additionally recognised as a predictive factor of resilience among medical students (Souri & Hasanirad, 2011).
Resilience has been defined in different ways, it is generally perceived as the ability to ‘bounce back’ following challenges (Windle, 2010; Janssens et al., 2018; Van-der-Meulen et al., 2019). Aside from optimism, further factors predictive of resilience include good intellectual functioning, self-regulation, self-esteem and altruism (Charney, 2004). Together, these tend toward a ‘positive response’ or optimistic outlook to adversity, enabling self-efficacy/resilience to continue to operate in times of stress (Windle, 2010). Self-esteem is generally accepted as the confidence we place on our own worth or ability, and has a strong relationship with happiness (Rosenberg, 1965). It is also a further antecedent to a positive outlook, optimism and hope (i.e., resilience), and a buffer to stress (Baumeister et al., 2003; Prati & Pietrantoni, 2010). Increased levels of self-esteem have been found to increase levels of resilience and vice versa (Mehta et al., 2019). In police personnel, this includes supporting wellbeing through a propensity for positive reframing, directly strengthening self-efficacy and active coping (Prati & Pietrantoni, 2010). Resilience has many beneficial facets, it independently predicts successful coping (Windle et al., 2011) and has been of interest to researchers in the field of CSI. For example, high levels of resilience have been shown to reduce the frequency and intensity of PTSD among CSIs whereas high levels of PTSD correlated with lower resilience and maladaptive coping (Rosansky et al., 2019). Further studies in resilience and coping research have been conducted to understand the consequences of traumatic events on resilience. For example, Park et al. (2018) found a significant negative effect on resilience in relation to traumatic events and an indirect effect via social support and coping self-efficacy. The authors concluded that interventions to support coping self-efficacy that included social support are crucial to support resilience and future psychological wellbeing.
The importance of resilience to successful coping within CSI, however, has been most markedly demonstrated in a series of studies by Kelty (2011) and Kelty & Gordon (2012, 2015). They investigated the performance of CSIs in Australia and used psychometric testing to explore the concept of hiring well to promote wellbeing and reduce absenteeism. Their research included tests for cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence and problem solving, plus measures for stress symptoms, resilience and self-efficacy. Using this test battery, alongside interviews, Kelty & Gordon (2015) investigated the performance of 19 male and female top performing CSIs, as compared with normative data from university students, police recruits, police officers, clinical outpatients and members of the general population. They found the top level CSIs showed: significantly higher levels of critical thinking compared to police officers and the general population; similar stress resilience levels to the general population (although significantly higher resilience than clinical outpatients); significantly lower levels of depression than the general population (that was on a par with police officers); significantly lower anxiety than the general population and police officers; and, significantly elevated self-efficacy compared with the general population and police recruits. Additionally, in comparison with the general population, the top performing CSIs had significantly higher self-perceptions, were able to mentally detach from interfering thoughts whilst at work, had an active coping style and maintained focus on tasks with an optimistic outlook. Thus, Kelty & Gordon (2015) concluded that there are measurable and assessable attributes possessed by highly performing CSIs that can be selected for. Their research further highlighted that successful CSIs were able to recognise and understand their emotions, express themselves efficiently, solve problems despite the emotional circumstances of their employment and resist impulses. This suggests the added importance of investigating emotion regulation within CSI. In support of this, Rosansky et al. (2019) reported that CSIs frequently cope with stress by doing what has to be done, learning to live with the stress, trying to learn from their experience, and accepting what has happened.
Whilst the above review reveals personality factors, resilience and emotion regulation to positively influence coping, more recent research on successful coping has widened to include mindfulness (Christopher et al., 2016; Fitzhugh et al., 2019; Wang & Kong, 2019; Tweedy, 2020). Mindfulness is considered as ‘paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally’ (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p.4), thereby enabling improved emotion regulation, perspective and a greater clarity of thought and action (Jeanguenat & Dror, 2018). These are demonstrated as important factors within CSI (Kelty & Gordon, 2015; Roach et al., 2017), yet mindfulness remains relatively unexplored within this field. Mindfulness interventions in high emotional labour roles have resulted in improvements in resilience and lowered burnout levels (Christopher et al., 2016); increased resilience, locus of control and wellbeing (Fitzhugh et al., 2019); increased inter-personal reflection and improved emotional functioning (Eddy et al., 2019; Eddy et al., 2021); reduced stress, burnout, avoidant coping and increased self-efficacy (Tweedy, 2020). All of these are important indicators of successful coping in CSIs (Kelty & Gordon, 2015) and, as such, mindfulness could provide a useful profiling tool for use within CSI selection.
Finally, although Kelty & Gordon (2015) employed interviews as part of their research strategy, qualitative research within the CSI and coping literature is rare. Sollie et al. (2017) used observational analysis - embedding a researcher within a CSI team - to understand the environmental and operational context of their thirty participants. Of these, six reported they had previously suffered with ‘burnout’. They concluded that sharing emotions, strict management of thoughts and visualisation could help CSIs overcome workplace stress. The report highlighted the need for investment by forces in organisational resources to support these strategies.
In summary, the research of Kelty and colleagues (2011; 2012; 2015), Sollie et al. (2017) and Rosansky et al. (2019) reveals that successful coping, within CSIs, is greatest for those who effectively manage their thoughts, focus on sense-making, effectively share their emotions and have control over their responsibilities. Additionally, the above literature highlights a variety of factors that might contribute to successful coping in high emotional-labour jobs including vulnerability to stress, locus of control, optimism, self-esteem, self-efficacy, resilience, emotion regulation and mindfulness. Yet, in no single study have these factors been explored in combination. Moreover, little research to date has explored the lived experience of CSIs; that is, how they manage their roles, build resilience and handle exposure to trauma and make sense of these in their own words. Thus, the purposes of this study were twofold: a) to explore the extent to which LOC, optimism, self-esteem, resilience, emotion regulation and mindfulness, as well as depression, anxiety and stress, predict successful coping in current and future CSI personnel; and b) to explore, through qualitative analyses, current CSIs’ understanding of personal resilience and factors that have supported and hindered their ability to perform their job roles. To this end, a mixed methods approach was taken with both positive and negative attributes of coping included to explore factors influencing successful coping among CSI Personnel; and as compared to future CSI personnel.