What is Occupational Health Psychology?
When agricultural society first transitioned into the industrial era, it was only natural that companies put material production first and the conditions of workers second. It made sense to prioritize that way, because it was believed that one could not have both. But today we know better.
Roughly a century of solid psychological research has proven that in order for businesses to thrive, its employees must do so first. Modern companies have started taking this to heart, and begun applying this principle to the workplace.
However, it isn’t enough. Scores of workers and businesses from all sectors remain pained by the resulting stress and frustration of organizational dysfunction. They need psychological competence that can guide them to greener pastures. Will you answer that call?
Occupational health psychology (OHP ) is a specialty in psychology which focuses on improving the safety and health of employees in the workplace through application of psychotherapeutic principles and behavioral change.
OHP encompasses both research into employee health and safety, or application thereof in the workplace. OHP services may be part of an EAP (Employee Assistance Program). EAP’s typically contract with a workplace to provide short term psychological services to employees, and/or develop programs to improve employee health.
OHP involves evaluating the formal, written procedures and policies in a work place, as well as how employees actually operate day to day, patterns of productivity, accident and illness rates in a workplace, employee morale, management style, and turnover. Based on this evaluation, a plan can be developed to reduce workplace injuries or illness, maximize productivity, improve morale and job satisfaction, and decrease turnover.
OHP can take dual perspective; the group processes within an organization can be the focus, or OHP may focus on individual employee issues in the context of the organization. This could include employees with addictions, depression, or family or marital issues which interfere with productivity, or could compromise the safety of other employees.
Ideally, OHP can provide the proverbial win-win situation, in which employees will be satisfied and productive, in a vibrant workplace where they are valued. In return, absenteeism, turnover, and performance problems are minimized, productivity is maximized, and management is happy.
Occupational health psychology is not synonymous with clinical, but does have a multitude of similarities. It too has health and well-being at its core.
What Does an Occupational Health Psychologist Do?
Occupational health psychologists (OHP’s) are a relatively new group of psychologists with expertise in the management of workplace stress and improving the quality of work-life. Through the application of psychological principles and interventions, they work to encourage a positive, healthy and safe work environment.
Some OHP’s remain in the academic setting. Here they are at the forefront of research and gather data using scientific research methods. Research tasks involve investigating ineffective or unhealthy working conditions from a theoretical perspective. Sometimes findings are published in academic journals. They are also educators and train future psychologists for a career in occupational psychology.
OHP’s are found in a variety of occupational settings from factories to corporate offices, from private business to government agencies. The primary role of the OHP is to manage the employee/organization relationship and employee mental health concerns.
Upon collecting nuggets of valuable information, the OHP decipher the results using sophisticated methods of analysis. The psychologist may then apply them to the workplace in a fashion that increases the well-being of both workers and the organization.
Other responsibilities will vary based on the setting and can include assisting human resources, working with management regarding changes in the workplace environment, participating in project management or meeting with employees to address workplace wellness concerns.
OHP’s may assist with screening or assessment for job placement or performance. They gather information with various assessment tools including personality inventories, direct observation, or interviews.
When new projects arise, the OHP may design interventions to gather relevant data for new or existing projects. Task analysis or time management studies provide useful data for the project management team to consider.
Designing programs to improve the employee’s quality of work-life and promote safety, health and general wellness is a key task for the OHP. They may work with groups of employees or with individuals.
Psychoeducational workshops focused on wellness topics, stress management or managing workplace aggression are common group activities. Working one-on-one, the OHP can help the employee address specific emotional or work-related wellness issues. Typical interventions might include teaching coping skills such as stress management techniques or communication strategies so that the employee can manage his/her own work-related wellness.
The OHP is also at the forefront when addressing behavioral issues occurring in the workplace such as aggression or harassment. Interventions might include threat of violence assessment, brief counseling, mediation or referral to an outside resource.