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What is occupational psychology?

What is occupational psychology?

Dr Richard A. MacKinnon, insight director

Working as a psychologist, one of the most frequent questions I get asked by people (aside from ‘Can you tell what I’m thinking?’) is ‘What do occupational psychologists actually do?’

First, let’s put to rest any images of the “patient” lying back on a couch and telling the “therapist” all about their dreams and their childhood. This is not that kind of psychology.

Simply put, occupational psychology is the branch of psychology that studies people at work. This specialism is interested in what people think, feel and do when it comes to work – from careers and dealing with change to benefiting from training and coping with stress.

Occupational psychologists tend to specialise in one particular area, but they all use common scientific methods, which is what makes them psychologists. It’s worth noting that they don’t always refer to themselves as “occupational” psychologists and sometimes use the terms “industrial” or “business” psychologist instead.

Here are five examples of what occupational psychologists might do:

  1. Help people just starting their careers to identify what interests them and to prepare for the application process.
  2. Help organisations to recruit the right people by developing psychometric questionnaires or writing interview questions.
  3. Organise work into discrete, coherent and rewarding jobs.
  4. Design the work environment to make people as productive and happy as possible.
  5. Coach people through changes and challenges in their careers.

As you can see from these very brief descriptions, occupational psychology is an incredibly interesting and varied profession and one that has the potential to affect more people than any other psychological discipline. After all, there are about 30 million of us at work in the UK right now. Many tens of thousands are looking for employment, with thousands more leaving the education system to find work each year.

Our fundamental goal as occupational psychologists is to make the interaction between the person and the job as rewarding, productive and enriching as possible. This benefits the employee, the team, the organisation and society as a whole. You can’t ask for much more than that!

Is there something you’d like to know about occupational psychology?

Ask us in the comments!