Work and Occupational Psychology
eBook - ePub

Work and Occupational Psychology

Integrating Theory and Practice

Lara Zibarras,Rachel Lewis

  1. 496 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (adapté aux mobiles)
  4. Disponible sur iOS et Android
eBook - ePub

Work and Occupational Psychology

Integrating Theory and Practice

Lara Zibarras,Rachel Lewis

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À propos de ce livre

Written by a team of experts and with contributions from seminal academics and leading practitioners, Work and Occupational Psychology links theoretical learning with key practical skills to form an ideal companion to any student in the field.

  • Structured around the 8 core areas of Occupational Psychology to ensure a rounded overview
  • Assumes no prior knowledge making it ideal for students studying Occupational Psychology for the first time
  • Contemporary discussion including cutting edge research and reflections on thefuture
  • Reflects a global workplace through discussion of international and cross-cultural issues and a range of international case studies
  • Engages critically with the subject to encourage analytical thinking
  • Online learning aids include hints and tips for discussion questions, online readings, and chapter podcasts

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Part I

Introduction to work and Occupational Psychology

1 What is Occupational Psychology?
Lara Zibarras and Rachel Lewis
Learning outcomes
On completion of this chapter you should:
  • have an overview of the history of Occupational Psychology in the UK;
  • understand the key changes that have taken place in the work environment over the 20th century and into the 21st century;
  • understand what Occupational Psychology is today, with an overview of the broad areas covered;
  • appreciate how Occupational Psychology differs from other areas, such as human resources and management consultancy.


The area of applied psychology relating to people at work and in organisations has a number of different labels. Within the UK we generally tend to use the term Occupational Psychology. This is the official title and is protected by law. However, you may also come across the labels Organisational Psychology, Business Psychology or Work Psychology. Elsewhere, such as in Europe, it is common convention to use the term Work Psychology; while in the USA, it is commonly labelled Industrial and Organisational Psychology (or I/O Psychology).
So, what is Occupational Psychology? Broadly speaking, it is the branch of applied psychology concerned with human behaviour in work and organisational settings. As defined by the British Psychological Society (BPS), Occupational Psychology is about applying the science of psychology to people at work; where work is generally considered to be paid employment. That said, some researchers and practitioners have increasingly been exploring the links between work and non-work, such as the increasing blurring of boundaries between work and non-work hours (Brough and O’Driscoll, 2010).
In this chapter, we first explore the history of Occupational Psychology from its inception during the early part of the 20th century, through to modern day Occupational Psychology. Next, we consider some ways in which the work environment has changed during the latter part of the 20th century and the early 21st century, and the influence this might have had on Occupational Psychology. Finally we consider some key ways in which Occupational Psychology might differ from other, seemingly similar, areas.

A brief history of Occupational Psychology

The following sub-sections outline the history of Occupational Psychology. You may question why you need to know about the history of our profession; the answer is that to understand contemporary Occupational Psychology, it helps to know how we got here. This brief account of the history of Occupational Psychology is by no means an exhaustive historical account, but instead draws out some of the key developments in and changes to the profession over the previous one hundred years or so. Our aim is that you, as a student, will understand the context of where we are today in Occupational Psychology, by understanding the history of the profession. It may surprise you to see that much of what we think of as ‘contemporary’ issues in Occupational Psychology were discussed and researched in the early 1900s.

Occupational Psychology: the early years

It was as early as 1915 in the UK, during the First World War, when applied psychology studies began: for example, investigating industrial fatigue and the factors influencing health and efficiency of workers in munitions factories. These studies were conducted by the Industrial Health Research Board (IHRB) and in the 1930s the IHRB reported on topics such as hours of work, industrial accidents, vision and lighting, vocational guidance and selection, time and motion study, and methods of work and posture. Although, as Shimmin and Wallis (1994) note, these research studies did not attract a huge amount of interest, and so many of these reports were soon out of print. Unfortunately, the IHRB did little to publicise its research and it was rarely presented to those who might have been able to use the results.
In 1921 a key institution in the history of Occupational Psychology was founded by Charles Myers (considered one of the most significant British psychologists from this time) and Henry Welch, an important industrialist (Kwiatkowski et al., 2006). This was the National Institute of Industrial Psychology (NIIP) and its primary aim was to ‘promote and encourage the application of the sciences of psychology and physiology to commerce and industry by any means that may be found practicable’ (Shimmin and Wallis, 1994: 4). The NIIP was conceived to bring practical psychology to industry and it was run as a not-for-profit scientific association. Thus it was dependent on fees earned for diagnostic investigations and work carried out for firms to improve their working conditions and performance. By 1930, many organisations were associated with the NIIP, such as the Bank of England, the Rockefeller Fund, the City of London Corporation, Lloyds Bank and many others (Kwiatkowski et al., 2006). At the time, the NIIP was well known and considered to be extremely influential.
So for a time, in the UK there were two main bodies (the NIIP and IHRB) conducting research and practice in the area we now know as Occupational Psychology. The work conducted by the NIIP during the 1930s was equally as diverse as that conducted by the IHRB, focusing on issues such as job analysis, psychological testing, interviewing and personnel selection, paving the way for much of contemporary thinking (Kwiatkowski et al., 2006). For example, what Occupational Psychologists currently refer to as emotional intelligence or ‘EQ’ (Goleman, 1998) was explored over 80 years ago within the concepts of mood, emotion and temperament (Myers, 1920); what we currently refer to as ‘culture’ in an organisation was then explored using the term ‘atmosphere’ (Miles, 1928). The concept of ‘work–life balance’ was explored as early as 1937 (Myers, 1937); and from a methodological perspective, the use of work samples and diary study research methods were also being explored at this time (Wyatt and Western, 1920). However, since the NIIP gave guidance to fee-paying individuals or organisations, the participants in their research came largely from professional backgrounds. Other research on broader, more diverse, populations was generally in association with the IHRB (Frisby, 1970).
Yet the socio-economic challenges of 1930s were such that the results of these pioneering studies became obscured. After 1921 the post-war boom diminished: many firms were struggling to survive; many people were out of work, and since there was no welfare state there were no interventions to alleviate the hardship. Additionally, the industrial regions of the country, such as the centres of coalmining, shipbuilding, iron and steel, were badly affected and increasingly became depressed areas. Given such an unfavourable situation it is perhaps somewhat remarkable that British industrial psychologists survived, especially considering their reliance on consultancy work (Rose, 1975).

The Second World War years

It is notable that the expansion of Occupational Psychology after the Second World War may not have happened at all had it not been for pioneers working in bodies such as the NIIP (Hearnshaw, 1964). Nevertheless, it was during the Second World War (1939–45) that selection procedures in the military were transformed and War Office Selection boards were set up. By the end of the war, three million recruits into the Army, Navy and the Air Force had been through at least a partial psychological assessment procedure, and around two million men and women had experienced a battery of tests on intellectual and educational abilities. Additionally, many recruits were also interviewed and assessed on biographical data along with these test scores. Vernon and Parry (1949) outline in detail the process and outcomes of psychological assessment and selection in the three services, and this is considered to be one of the earliest technical accounts of the application of differential psychology on a large scale in the UK, which included follow-up data to demonstrate effectiveness (Shimmin and Wallis, 1994). Indeed, the success of the psychologists working within the services was recognised by an Expert Committee report that recommended psychologists should be represented on scientific, advisory and other committees concerned with personnel (Shimmin and Wallis, 1994). This endorsement signified a great achievement by psychologists.
Meanwhile, the Cambridge Psychological Laboratory began work on human skill and performance, which had a lasting influence on applied psychology and the emerging field of ergonomics, in particular the study of acquisition of skills and human–machine interaction at work. A distinguishing feature of the work conducted at Cambridge was its theory-drive approach, as opposed to the somewhat pragmatic approach of personnel selection within the services (Shimmin and Wallis, 1994).

Post-war psychology in the government

Since psychology had been successfully applied to wartime problems, conditions were favourable for it to be applied during peacetime. Life in the years following the Second World War was dominated by its consequences: the newly elected Labour administration was embarking on national reconstruction while facing human, technical and economic problems (Marwick, 1982). There were difficulties integrating ex-service personnel into civilian life, combined with the threat of the Cold War; this meant that in addition to civil reconstruction there was a need to sustain the military forces.
However, applied psychology was recognised as having the potential to help tackle these problems, and this had far reaching consequences for the development of the area of Occupational Psychology in the post-war years and the subsequent decades. Particularly influential was the establishment of psychologists practising within government; although, given the constraints of security (the Official Secrets Act), much of the work conducted within the government by these psychologists was not widely disseminated (Shimmin and Wallis, 1994). Nevertheless, many of the activities of the government psychologists paved the way for what we see as Occupational Psychology today. For example, the foundations of the modern-day assessment centre were laid by psychologists working in government, based on the British War Office Selection Boards (Murray, 1990). Refinements of the assessment centre method were made by the Civil Service Selection Board (documented in some publications, such as Jones et al., 1991). Indeed, one consequence of assessment centres being used within government departments was that this provided large datasets of psychological measures and assessments, along with selection decisions and follow-up information. Since psychologists were able to show the benefits of assessment centres, they were soon taken up by other bodies and organisations.
Another significant development in the civil service was that in 1950 a separate job category of ‘Psychologist’ was established. This provided the opportunity of a professional career for people wanting to specialise in applying occupational, experimental or social psychology in the workplace. From the outset, this attracted many applicants, although they were not required to have any higher degree nor were they required, ironically, to go through a rigorous selection process (Shimmin and Wallis, 1994).
Psychology was also applied to civilian employment and training through the central department responsible for national employment policies. Initially the department was known as the Ministry of Labour, but in 1967 it was rebranded as the Department of Employment and Productivity with powers of intervention in aspects of employment, vocational training and industrial relations. The first Ministry of Labour psychologists worked in employment rehabilitation units, which were originally established to enable the return to work of people who had suffered disabling industrial accidents. These psychologists were the first in the UK to participate in a nationwide service offering support to disadvantaged people. This support mostly involved personal assessment and vocational guidance, but by 1968 over 12,000 injured or disabled people had been helped to gain employment (Shimmin and Wallis, 1994). The Ministry also allocated some psychologists to give professional support to vocational and career guidance staff who gave advice to school leavers, through what was then named the Youth Employment Service (later known as the Careers Service). They were able to provide important advice, in particular in evaluating the assessm...

Table des matiĂšres

  1. Cover Page
  2. Halftitle Page
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Contents
  6. Preface: How this book is structured
  7. About the editors and contributors
  8. Companion website
  9. Part I Introduction to work and Occupational Psychology
  10. Part II Key areas in Occupational Psychology
  11. Part III Considering the future
  12. Author index
  13. Subject index