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SCU leads research into Army personnel


Steve Spinks
24 July 2014
Southern Cross University researchers will investigate the psychological resilience of non-commissioned officers in the Australian Army with the idea of finding out whether more support could be provided for soldiers returning from combat suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Academics from the Southern Cross Business School – Professor Yvonne Brunetto, Dr Matthew Xerri and PhD candidate Ben Farr-Wharton – were recently awarded a $51,000 grant under the Army Research Scheme to examine the issue.

“We argue that Army personnel job performance can be enhanced by improving psychological resilience. The key to facilitating this is effective supervision,” Professor Brunetto said.

“Military personnel typically undertake duties that are potentially stressful because they are placed in situations requiring speedy decisions that could have serious physical, health or social impacts for themselves and others. In the past two decades, Australian army personnel have been engaged in combat-intensive environments in numerous locations including Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Research conducted internationally has indicated that one in 10 returning military personnel will experience sustained long-term negative post-deployment health and employment outcomes including post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“However, while many military personnel have some symptoms, including some level of depression, only a small minority seek specialist help. This presents a problem to the Army because the job productivity of personnel is compromised because of their post-deployment health.

“One factor that mediates the extent to which stressors negatively impact performance and health is resilience. Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from adversity and past research suggests that resilience is developmental and therefore can be taught. Resilience is dependent on a person’s positive psychological capital.

“Positive psychological capital (PPC) is comprised of; confidence (self-efficacy) to do a task well; optimism in believing in success now and in the future; hope in believing that persevering will lead to success; and resilience to continue in the task despite problems.

“Recent research suggests that high PPC is associated with high commitment and lower absenteeism and turnover. Although not previously tested, there is a belief that supervisor subordinate relationships also impact on the PPC of subordinates.”

Previous research by Professor Brunetto on nursing and police workforces, has shown that effective supervisor-subordinate relationships significantly affects levels of psychological wellbeing, job engagement and commitment and will lower staff turnover.

“This project aims only to collect information about the PPC and resilience of supervisors, specifically corporals, and Army personnel,” Professor Brunetto said.

“If PPC’s of supervisors is found to be low, the next stage involves providing PPC training to increase their skills in providing support for their subordinates. As such, this research provides an evidence-based approach to improving best practice in managing Army personnel – with implications for the way we manage all occupations involved in stressful situations, especially, paramilitary and health service workers.”

Photo: Professor Yvonne Brunetto.