It’s not my intention to give full information or an extensive discussion on every theory. This website is intended to be a starting point and the main difference with other websites is the visual representation of the theory, which I hope will help get to grips with the theory. There are also links it the bottom to get your further research started.

Psychology of working

David L. Blustein, Ryan D. Duffy, Matthew A. Diemer, Kelsey L. Autin 2013

 

Work is a theatre in which life is enacted. David L. Blustein

Introduction

Psychology of Working (PoW) aims to integrate, or at least bring together in one model, the different theories in the field of personell psychology and vocational guidance theory that developed during the middle of the 20th century. Blustein feels it’s a way to include everyone in how we think about work. He argues that most people around the globe don’t have a choice and take what they can get work-wise, for a wide variety of reasons linked to culture, financial or familial necessity, race, orientation, social status, etc… Bluestein, coming from his background in psychology and psychotherapy, argues that especially psychotherapy hasn’t dealt with work well by integrating it as an important aspect of people’s lives. This implies that this part of a person’s life is ‘dealt with’ by another kind of professional. I would suggest one of those is us, career professionals/counsellors. I feel that at the same time we are not necessarily there as counsellors anymore but more as problem solvers towards the future for the client. This, I would argue, is exactly what the Psychology or Work perspective tries to resolve by proposing a more holistic approach integrating all these aspects.  

The above may make it seem like this is more ‘a problem psychotherapy struggles with’. But where it gets more interesting for us career professionals is when Blustein starts talking about the different aspects to issues his clients have come to see him with over the years. Especially where his clients felt a mismatch between their interests and values on the one hand and the career they were in or the job they were doing on the other.

Blustein argues there are three aspects to ‘work’:

  1. It allows us to survive
  2. It provides us with social connections – work is a place where we can feel connected
  3. Work allows us to self-determine our future and our lives – it provides us with meaning, a sense of accomplishment and an identity

In addition to this, or linked to the last point, work can provide us with a sense of dignity. Even jobs that don’t appear glamorous can offer a sense of dignity when the ‘worker’ in those jobs can feel that social connection as well as a sense of competence or ‘making a difference’.

I feel our professional practice can offer support and guidance in all three of those for many of the clients we see.

More in depth…

Psychology of Working doesn’t aim to be a theory per se but tries to be more inclusive and cross the boundaries between disciplines, not necessarily limited to psychology. It is rather a perspective that emerged from existing dominant discourses in the different fields above. It aims to be an ‘inclusive, empathic and just approach to understanding the role of work in people’s lives’. This to me indicates it tries to be on the one hand a synthesis of existing discourses and also a critique. On the other hand it tries to incorporate important points about the existing discourse and critique. This, together with its aim to incorporate broader aspects of career into life and it seeing work as part of life rather than something separate, makes it a quasi-holistic perspective.

Psychology of Working doesn’t purport to be part of a ‘school of thought’ or linked to one theorist, but as I mentioned, a critique on established assumptions and perspectives, and thereby a well-needed evaluation. It aims to deal with the different biases that exist in established approaches and views or ways forward.

Psychology of Working as critique

The Psychology of Working perspective recognises critique on established practice from different directions, for instance from:

  • Gender and feminism – overt and covert ways women are discriminated against in the workplace and careers
  • Race and Culture – the impact of race and culture on the study within the field through bias and how race and culture affect an individual in career and work
  • Sexual orientation – the constraining influence a non-heterosexual orientation has on career and work through (fear of) verbal and physical abuse
  • Disability – limiting of choices and opportunities through stigma that isn’t related to performance issues
  • Epistemology – social constructionist critique towards a more relativist perspective and discourse about work and career

The main tenets in this critique are (with significant exceptions):

  1. The traditional perspectives and theories have invariably set out to define the depth and nature of discourse and how well-being can be achieved.
  2. This has resulted in neglect of those who don’t have as many options in their working lives, such as those in those in the groups above.
  3. With notable exceptions, the important and pervasive role of social barriers and the consequential barriers it generates for many has been neglected.
  4. The psychological study of working, with exceptions, has become increasingly insular and separate to the broader fabric of life and society.

The Psychology of Working as perspective

Whereas the previous paragraph was one of looking back and where we are now, this paragraph is focused on where we are now and what direction the future could or should take. According to Blustein [1], the development of the Psychology of Work perspective can be traced back to Richardson who argued in 1993 already that psychologists need to reframe their foci by:

  • Emphasising work rather than careers
  • Embracing social constructionism
  • Including attention to both ‘care work’ and ‘market work’
  • Exploring working from a multi-disciplinary perspective

The core assumptions of the Psychology of Working – a summary of the main points [1]

  • The choice of epistemologies ought to be based on the questions that are posed and the values that are inherent in a project. Positivism is not better or worse than social constructionism for instance.
  • Work is a central aspect of life – which the Psychology of Working shares with integrative approaches such as Life is Career.
  • Working is central to mental health. This refers back to the 3 main tenets above.
  • The Psychology of Working includes everyone who works and also those who want to work. So this perspective includes issues such as underemployment and unemployment.
  • Work and non-work experiences are often seamlessly (without distinction) experienced in the natural course of people’s lives.
  • Any exploration in psychology of the world of work needs to be as near to the real experience of work as possible.
  • The influence of social, political and economic forces influence work is a focus of the Psychology of Working perspective
  • It embraces different contexts of work, both in the market and in caregiving functions
  • Conceptualisations of working in cultural and relational aspects is also embraced. Culture and relationships are the means by which individuals attach meaning to work and make sense of work in their lives.
  • The Psychology of Working framework doesn’t intend to replace existing theoretical frameworks but aims to enrich them.
  • In optimal circumstances, work has the potential to fulfil core human needs and values in:
    • Offering the means to survive
    • Providing us with social connection
    • Offering self-determination and fulfilment

 

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