Can occupational psychology be applied to life problems

In the 1880’s psychology emerged as an independent academic discipline and during this period and for a long time after psychologists confined their activities mostly completely to research in universities, colleges and teaching. From the 1950’s, a new number of applied psychology began to emerge and the basis of this a range of non-academic professions of psychology developed. Psychology consists of psychological research that is designed to help individuals overcome practical problems and the application of these research findings in an applied setting. One primary subject of applied psychology includes areas of occupational psychologist (industrial and organizational). (note book ref)

Occupational psychology has been labelled many names and is also known as industrial psychology, organisational psychology and due to its focus on the work environment is also referred to as work psychology. Nevertheless the distinction between these labels is that some are individual orientated whereas (occupational) whereas other are organisational orientate. (ref interline, more detail notes)

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Occupational psychologists are concerned with how individuals, group and how organisation function as well as people’s performance at work and aims to explain, predict and control people behaviour at work (ref interline) .

Their expertise comprise of applicable knowledge on many aspects in relation to work ranging from job satisfaction, hiring job applicants who will prove to be successful, motivation, training individuals in specific skills, implementing management and designing objective performance appraisals.. They help organisations select and train employees by measuring their job performance with the use of different data collection methods such as interviews, psychometric test and so on, whilst keeping in mind the employees best interest by not just simply fitting an employee to a job but also fitting the job to the employee (book ref). They aim to help an organisation get the best performance from their employees and also to improve employees’ own job satisfaction. All of these practices and professions involve applying psychology to real life problems. This contrasts sharply with basic research in academic psychology, in which understanding and explanation of behaviour and mental experience are regarded as sufficient ends in themselves, although practical applications are sometimes also of interest to basic researchers. Pure research can be considered important, irrespective of its immediate or potential usefulness for solving practical problems of everyday life, if it uncovers or helps to explain some previously unrecognized or poorly understood function or phenomenon of behaviour or mental experience (interline ref).

Occupational psychology can be defined scientifically and practical, scientific seeks knowledge about the people at work whereas practical ( professional) aspects is concerned with the application of knowledge to solve real life problems in the work world.( Muchincky, 1987, pg77). Through these concepts and methods occupational psychologists attempt to apply psychological knowledge, theory and practice to the world of work to contribute to solving real life problems, but do they achieve this? In following discussion I am going to investigate this research question and how effective certain areas in occupational psychology have been in solving human problems. The areas I am going to focus on are stress which has been a persistent issue over decades in the real world especially in regard to the working environment and has been subjected to an substantial amount of research since the 1980’s, and personnel assessment and selection which is known to have greatly benefited to world of business .

One major area in which occupational psychology has contributed profoundly in producing research that can be applied to reducing real life problems; in this case related to the working environment is personnel assessment and selection. This knowledge has generated a significant framework/guide especially for many businesses and organisation.

Another significant area in occupational psychology is stress. A stress reaction is a response to a perceived threat and is caused by an imbalance between the demands upon an individual and their ability to cope with those demands. These demands are perceived as challenges which may arise from either external or internal sources (Coolican, 2005). The main component of this reaction is known as a stressor which is the object or event that the individual perceives to be disruptive. Stress results from the perception that the demands exceed one’s capacity to cope (Horowitz, 2001). Stress plays a major part is people satisfaction at the workplace but occupational psychologists aim to eliminated this factor resulting in a more job satisfaction which organisation in return could benefit from.

Occupational psychologist attempt to eliminate the sources of job or organisational stress that occur at work. This is achieved by improving the adaptability of the individual to the environment by changing his or her behaviour and improving their lifestyle or stress management skills (Cartwright and Cooper 1994). Factors that are responsible for work related stress could be shift work, long hours, new technology, work overload etc and in organisation role ambiguity, role conflict, personality and more. Etkin and Rosch, 1990, presented a range of possible steps organisations could take to reduce stress for instance, redesign tasks, redesign work environment and establish goals.

Potential stress costs outlined so far contribute to the lessening of satisfaction obtained from work and reduction of job performance, which are the main objectives for occupational psychologist to enhance. So how can this be change? How can the effects of stress on the individual and their work be removed?

Stress plays a major part in people’s life satisfaction from their personal everyday life to their profession. Research has suggested that major stressors in our lives are life changes, for example, moving house, marriage or relationship breakdown. Also work-related factors including unemployment are also common causes of stress. Consequently, as work makes more and more demands on time and energy, individuals are increasingly exposed to both the positive and negative aspects of employment (Locke & Taylor, 1990). Stress and the work place has been the focus of occupational psychologist who aim to minimize work place stress which has the tendency to also reflect on individuals personal lives

Holmes and Rahe (1967 cited in cooper et al 1988) study indicated a direct relationship between the life style events of an individual with that of his/her physical, mental, social and spiritual well being. Their scale measured stress from the annual life change, any change in your life that might cause stress. Scores are calculated for a person’s experiences on the basis of the past year. Studies using the scale have found that high life change scores (300+) are linked high frequency of illness therefore indicating that stress could results to illness. However a negative aspect of this approach is that the ‘social readjustment rating scale does not take into account the fact that some people will find the same sort of event less stressful than others. Instead it puts greater emphasizes on the life changing events and ignores individual differences. For example, divorce could be perceived as a relief (not stressful) or a disaster (very stressful), depending on the individual. This factor is known as one of the main criticisms of this study as it questions the validity of this experiment; to what extent does this experiment measure someone stress levels when it does not take into account the individual difference and therefore their perception of stress. In relation to this criticism it leads to precluding any definite or accurate scale of measurement of stress in the real sense. Nevertheless the currently available stress measurement tests are also only random and should not be considered absolute indicators of stress in an individual; reliable predictions about risks of stress-related illness cannot be based on these scales (Horowitz, 2001).

Dealing with workplace stress: a problem solving framework was suggested by Cartwright and Cooper (1994) which included five steps, be ware that the problem exists, be able to identify and isolate the stressor, attempt to change the stressor in a way which provides a solution which is mutually beneficial, if the stressor can not be changed, then find a way of coping with the problem, and last monitor and review the outcome ///. In the stress transitionals that take place coping with stress is extremely significant as they take place over a persons life course. Ways of Coping Scales assess the main ways people cope with stress (Folkman & Lazarus, 1988; Lazarus and Folkman,1984)

Another significant area in occupational psychology is personnel selection and assessment is most likely where the biggest and most contributions have been made, which benefits the organisation as well as the individuals. Two main principles underlie the roles that personnel selection and assessment procedures play in an organisational setting. The first principle is that there are individual difference between people (e.g. different attitudes, skills and othere personal attributes). This principle concludes that that people are not equally suited to all jobs and suggests that procedures for matching people with jobs could have important organisational benefits. The second principle is that future behaviour is, at least partly, predictable. The goal of selection and assessment activities is to match the people to jobs and ensure the best possible level of future job performance ( Arnold, Cooper and Robetson, 1995). Occupational psychologists select potential employees with the use of job analysis and job descriptions to develop a persons specification to make it easy for select employees that meet the companies requirement. These are necessary elements to explicitly to define any job (Casio, 1987)

Personnel selection and assessment is most likely where the biggest and most contributions have been made, which benefits the organisation as well as the individuals. Two main principles underlie the roles that personnel selection and assessment procedures play in an organisational setting. The first principle is that there are individual difference between people (e.g. different attitudes, skills and othere personal attributes). This principle concludes that that people are not equally suited to all jobs and suggests that procedures for matching people with jobs could have important organisational benefits. The second principle is that future behaviour is, at least partly, predictable. The goal of selection and assessment activities is to match the people to jobs and ensure the best possible level of future job performance.( Arnold, Cooper and Robetson, 1995). Occupational psychologists select potential employees with the use of job analysis and job descriptions to develop a persons specification to make it easy for select employees that meet the companies requirement. These are necessary elements to explicitly to define any job (Casio, 1987)

Essential functions of personnel selection is that with the use of interviews, psychometric test and other data collection methods to estimate future job performance of candidates. Recruitment process to seek out potential employees and people seeking out good jobs in good organisations (Gregory and Burroughs, 1989)

Virtually every major organisations uses interviews as a selection method ( Latham, Saari, Pursell & Campion, 1980). Advantages of using interviews include that an interview is a useful information and communication device as the interviewer can describe the job in detail i.e salary, working conditions.

This is process greatly benefits people as it encourages organisations to raise questions such as what makes a good job? And why would an individual want to seek out and work for one company rather then another? Therefore considering the potential employee and their needs and requirement, for instance by making position less stressful, better pay or availabilities of promotion which help solve human problems that are related to work and lifestyle.

Conclusion

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