The field of Occupational Psychology brings benefits to both organisations and the people who work in them. Occupational Psychology is discipline of Psychology and uses psychological knowledge, research and theories to address a wide range of organisational and employee issues such as; personnel selection, wellbeing, leadership, team performance, human factors and organisational culture but to name a few. The largest proportion of Occupational Psychologists in practice are employed in the public sector, others work in consultancies or independently. This in itself can create challenges. In competitive markets, employers or clients can ‘call the shots’ simply wanting to buy a service or have an off the shelf solution. Their decisions can be driven by what is popular or pressure to be seen to be doing something by tax payers, external bodies or shareholders. This can create a bias towards the interests of management and key stakeholders.
Academics in the field are driven by different contexts, such methodologically rigorous publishable research. They can be seen by practitioners as removed from the real world and needs of clients. Often these research findings are not easily accessed or understood by clients.
For the lay person it appears that there is nothing that Occupational Psychologists offer that other ‘management consultancies’ do not. What distinguishes us as Occupational Psychologists is our understanding of research, evidence and the application of scientific methods to address real world issues. We need to make sure we are able to translate and use this knowledge and science to present relevant, reliable meaningful information to our clients. Metrics need to show the value created. Often clients will know little of statistics or Occupational Psychology it’s how we communicate and translate our findings and approach it that’s important.
Organisational clients are the most powerful stakeholders for practitioners, and in their effort to address their urgent organisational issues, they can push practitioners towards Popularist Science. This involves the use of tools and techniques possess no scientific grounding at all. With the absence of a foundation in valid research, the techniques tend to be superficial, providing no long-lasting impact upon the organisation. These can be seen as a quick fix or management fad but delivers no sustainable change.
Anderson and Colleagues (2001) propose a useful model to conceptualise Occupational Psychology work. This model consists of 4 quadrants.
Quadrant 1: Popularist Science, this has high practical application but low methodological rigour. For example clients may know of something that has worked in another organisations or a popular fad in the media and want to apply it in their organisation.
Quadrant 2: Puerile Science, is where there is low practical application and low methodological rigour. It appears to be whimsical and although popular with the media quickly fades into obscurity with little or no organisational application. Large organisations facing scrutiny about their performance sometimes try to implement such interventions, spending considerable amounts but to no avail and quickly realise this is puerile and a waste of time and money. This may strike a chord with those of you who work in public sector organisations!
Quadrant 3: Pedantic Science, this is the combination of low practical application with high methodological rigour. This can often be viewed as typical of academic research. Clients reactions are often, “very interesting, but so what?”
Quadrant 4: Pragmatic Science, has high practical application is combined with high methodological rigour. Findings and recommendations are based on sound research and valid theory. These are regarded as pragmatic, relevant, practical and easily applied to the challenges faced by organisations.
I have on many occasions had to justify and argue the benefits of using scientific methods and have been encouraged to take a popularist approach … ‘oh you psychologists, can’t you just do it’. Being an Occupational Psychologist can be a tough job, not only in terms of delivering the work but also continuing to ‘sell the benefits’ of using a more methodologically rigorous approach. For almost every project or industry funded research I have worked on; I have had to have continual dialogue at numerous stages with the client and key stakeholders on why using scientific methodologies to implement and evaluate an intervention is fundamental to their success. The feedback is almost always the same that will take too much time I want results now. However through careful dialogue we can more often than not find can a middle ground where I’m able are to use pragmatic science to help clients address the challenges they face, and the methodological approach is still robust enough to meet academic rigour. Occupational Psychologists in both academia and practice have a lot to offer, we need to learn to communicate our value and approach more effectively to corporate clients, key stakeholders and policy decision makers.