An Introduction to
matter and exploring the features that make it distinct from other related areas.
The influence of key research groups and studies, characteristics of the changing
world of work, and legislative developments that have contributed to the
development of the discipline, are considered. The chapter closes by introducing
the bodies that represent and support research, training, and professional
practice in occupational health psychology on the international stage.
There are numerous descriptors for subject specialties that concern the application of
psychology in the workplace: industrial and organizational psychology, work and
organizational psychology, work and health psychology, vocational psychology, and
occupational psychology to name but a few. Each of these specialties has a distinct
perspective on the dynamic relationship between work and the worker (although some
overlap is inevitable), and exists as a formalized entity supported, to varying degrees, by
representative bodies, academic and practitioner journals, international conferences,
and professional training pathways. To this collection there is a new entrant that since
the early 1990s has attracted interest, but about which little has been written for the
student embarking upon study of the specialty: occupational health psychology.
In this chapter we set out the nature and definition of this specialty, and trace its
emergence by selectively highlighting a series of influential research groups and studies,
characteristics of the changing world of work, and legislative developments that have
materialized during the twentieth century in Europe and North America. We conclude
in which consideration is given to structures that exist to support the research, training,
and practitioner activities of an expanding international constituency.
What is Occupational Health Psychology?
Where did the term ‘occupational health psychology’ originate?
What is the vision of occupational health psychology?
Why is occupational health psychology important?
Occupational health psychology (OHP) is a youthful discipline with much to offer
the aspiring practitioner. This book is designed to facilitate the knowledge development
of those who wish to develop a career in OHP: individuals with a curiosity and
enthusiasm for the application of psychological theory and evidence to bring about
improvements in the health of workers. Theterm ‘occupational health psychology’
was coined in 1990 at the University of Hawaii by a team of academics who observed
unfulfilled potential for psychologists to support the development of healthy work
environments (Raymond,Wood, & Patrick, 1990). OHP has grown at a rapid rate in
the two decades that have passed since Raymond and colleagues set in motion a new
specialty. This can be seen in, among other things, the ongoing rise in the submission
rate of scientific articles to the discipline’s dedicated academic journals (Journal of
Occupational Health Psychology and Work & Stress), and the influence of these
journals within the broader applied psychology field; the growth in researcher,
educator, practitioner, and student attendance at international OHP conferences;
the expansion of OHP training provision in Europe and North America; the growth
in employment opportunities for OHP practitioners; and the expansion of outlets
for practitioners to publish and share best practice.
Alongside these activities, debate on the nature and scope of OHP has crystallized
and consensus has developed among academics and practitioners on its aims and
objectives. This has allowed for the advancement of a shared vision whereby OHP is
understood to have its focus on the creation of ‘healthy workplaces in which people
may produce, serve, grow, and be valued’ (Quick et al., 1997, p. 3). Within this
vision, healthy workplaces are understood to be ones ‘where people use their talents
and gifts to achieve high performance, high satisfaction, and well-being’ (ibid.).
The appeal of OHP can be found in the important and unique role it plays in the
management of challenges to safety and health in the organizational context. For
many decades, prior to the advent of OHP, occupational safety and health professionals
had at their disposal a knowledge- and skill-set that was fit for purpose in
respect of the control and prevention of exposures to traditional work-related
hazards such as physical, biological, or chemical agents (Sauter&Hurrell, 1999).
The practitioner’s professional toolkit was robust and effective in so far as it was
designed to deal with the prevalent work-related hazards of the time. The adequacy
of the toolkit was, however, called into question towards the end of the twentieth
The OHP moniker was coined in 1990, since which time the discipline has flourished
in Europe and North America. Agreement can be found on the vision for OHP, and
the discipline now plays an important role in the prevention of occupational illness
and injury, and promotion of occupational health and well-being.
precise definition in respect of its key ingredients or features. OHP is no exception;
although there is agreement among the discipline’s protagonists on its aims and
objectives, evidence of divergence can be found between North American and
European perspectives on its definition (Cox, 2000). This is specifically so in
relation to the specialties that inform and comprise OHP. At one level it could
be argued that divergence is a mere matter of semantics because OHP protagonists
the world over adhere to a universal understanding of the discipline. However,
because the definitions adhered to by academics will determine, in part, the
content of training programmes, divergence may have the unfortunate consequence
of conspiring against the creation of programme accreditation procedures
and professional training pathways that are required to sustain the discipline in the
For this reason, it is imperative that international consensus is ultimately
achieved on the definition of OHP. Fortunately, despite the absence of a shared
heritage across the international OHP community, broad agreement on the nature
of the discipline can be found in the definitions advanced by the discipline’s
European and North American representative bodies. In Europe, the generally
accepted definition is that advanced by the European Academy of Occupational
Health Psychology (EAOHP). This is based on the definition posited by Cox,
Baldursson, and RialGonza´lez (2000), whereby OHP is considered ‘the contribution
of applied psychology to occupational health’ (p. 101). This definition locates
OHP at the interface between occupational health and psychology. Cox and
colleagues suggest that the areas of psychology that might be applied in addressing
occupational health issues include health psychology, work and organizational
psychology, and social and environmental psychology. This perspective is illustrated
in Figure 1.1. The contribution of these areas of psychology implies that
OHP practitioners have their focus on the psychological, social, and organizational
Figure 1.1 Foundations of European occupational health psychology.
occupational health is a multidisciplinary area and that OHP practitioners offer a
focused specialization that they may usefully apply within multidisciplinary teams.
In this way, it ‘requires that European occupational health psychologists are aware
of and recognize the contributions that can be made by others, and can appreciate
their intellectual positions, knowledge and practical skills’ (ibid., p. 103).
The North American perspective on OHP is in large part consistent with the
European approach. Nevertheless, differences can be identified. Whereas the
European tradition draws on procedures, practices, and methodologies from various
fields of applied psychology, North American definitions encompass psychological
perspectives alongside those from other occupational sciences such as occupational
and environmental health, organizational behaviour, human factors,
sociology, industrial engineering, ergonomics, and economics (Adkins, 1999;
Chen, Huang, &DeArmond, 2005). This perspective gives rise to the definition
advanced by the North American representative body for the discipline – the
Society for Occupational Health Psychology (SOHP) – whereby OHP is viewed as
The interdisciplinary partnerships of psychological and occupational health science
professionals seeking to improve the quality of working life, and enhance the safety,
health and well-being of workers in all occupations. Because it exists at the intersection
of behavioral science and occupational health disciplines, OHP is inclusive
of knowledge and methods from psychology, public/occupational health, organizational
studies, human factors, and allied fields (such as occupational sociology,
industrial engineering, economics, and others). (Society for Occupational Health
This multidisciplinary perspective, illustrated in Figure 1.2, was established at
the outset of the discipline’s existence in North America. In their seminal
article, Raymond, Wood, and Patrick (1990) called for training in a discipline
that ‘would integrate and synthesize insights, frameworks and knowledge from a
diverse number of specialties, principally health psychology and occupational
Figure 1.2 Foundations of North American occupational health psychology (adapted
from Adkins, 1999).
(public) health but also preventative medicine, occupational medicine, behavioral
medicine, nursing, political science, sociology and business’ (p. 1159).
Work Organization and Health
Michael P. O’Driscoll and Paula Brough
The previous chapter in this volume (by Cox and Griffiths) has provided
a valuable review of various theoretical accounts of work-related stress and
well-being. The present chapter builds upon their conceptual overview by
describing some of the key relationships among work/organization factors
and workers’ health and well-being outcomes. The chapter specifically examines
psychosocial hazards or stressors which have been demonstrated by
research to have a bearing on either individual well-being or organizational
productivity-related variables (such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment,
job performance, absenteeism, and turnover). Our aim is not to
present an exhaustive review of the vast literature on these topics, but rather
to provide representative evidence and discussion of relationships between
workplace hazards and health, along with suggestions for future research
developments in this field.
health and well-being of workers has been clearly established in research spanning
more than 50 years, along with the notion that individuals and organizations
share a responsibility to optimize well-being. To achieve this optimization, it is
essential to examine the range of factors which may significantly contribute to
physical health and psychological well-being, to determine the influence which
these exert and, most importantly, to ascertain how work-related factors may be
workers, and ideally that they make a positive contribution to their health and
well-being. The aim of the present chapter is to provide an overview of some of
the more common work-related predictors of physical health and psychological
well-being and to summarize conclusions which have been drawn from research
on these variables.
Above we introduced the concepts of ‘hazards’ and ‘stressors’, both of which
have been used in the stress and well-being literature. These terms refer to
occurrences or events which individuals are exposed to which may threaten their
health or well-being. The concept of hazard derives from the literature on risks and
risk management, whereas the term stressor is more closely aligned with theoretical
models of stress and stress management (including coping). For present purposes,
however, they are functionally equivalent and (for simplicity) we will use the
expression ‘stressors’ when describing stimuli which have the potential to generate
negative outcomes for individuals.
The chapter focuses on two major issues: types of stressors and types of people
who are likely to experience these stressors. First we discuss research on a selection
of stressors which have figured prominently in the literature on work-related
health and well-being. Specifically, we describe seven types of stressor which have
been frequently researched. As noted above, our intention is not to offer an
exhaustive review of research, but rather to summarize the major findings and
their implications. Following this overview, we examine specific groups of
workers who are more likely to have exposure to these stressors, in particular
high-risk occupations (such as police officers and corrections employees), female
workers, and employees with dependants (who are more prone to experience
work-to-family conflict). The chapter concludes with some general observations
about the impact of work stressors or hazards, along with suggestions for future
research and practice.
(or hazards). These taxonomies are valuable in that they provide a set of categories
of different types of stressor which may have a substantial impact on health
and well-being at work. Cooper and Marshall (1976) made an early attempt to
categorize job stressors, which was updated by Cartwright and Cooper (1997).
Much of the current thinking on what it means to promote health at work
is based on contemporary definitions of ‘health’ and ‘health promotion’;
hence this chapter will begin with a discussion of these background concepts.
We will then examine the two dominant approaches to promoting health at
work – the individually-oriented lifestyle approach and the more holistic
settings-based approach – and will use the literature to emphasize the need
for practitioners to make a shift from the former to the latter. The extent to
which WHP initiatives actually protect and promote health rests heavily on
howprogrammes are planned, implemented, and evaluated. The final section
will therefore focus on a programme-planning framework that can be used
to guide the development of comprehensive WHP programmes that respond
to the needs of both employees and employers. As workplace health professionals,
organizations will expect that occupational health psychologists
(OHPs) will play leading roles in the development of comprehensive,
settings-based WHP initiatives. With this in mind, it is critical that OHPs
have a sound understanding of the processes, methods, and resources
involved in developing settings-based programmes.
in a company-sponsored ‘workplace health promotion’ programme. The friend
(hereafter referred to as John) was a senior sales consultant with an international
school-aged children. The company was widely considered a market leader and, in
his time at the company at least, had experienced consistently solid growth in both
market share and overall profitability. However, like most companies operating in
an increasingly globalized, cost-conscious marketplace, customer loyalty was harder
to maintain and competition between companies was fierce. Sales had dropped
markedly over the previous 12 to 18 months and everyone was under pressure to sell
more, but of course to do this with increasingly tighter budgets. To make matters
worse, a new manager had been appointed to lead the sales department and whilst
being an outright genius when it came to winning new accounts, he was way out of
his depth when it came to managing and leading people. Not only did he try to
micro-manage seasoned sales staff, scrutinizing their every move, but he also
introduced a series of performance incentives that effectively pitted colleague against
colleague. John had approached his new manager on a number of occasions over
these and other issues but, with their relationship rapidly deteriorating, he decided
that the best course of action was to avoid the manager as much as possible.
John spent considerably more time visiting clients and, in an effort to boost his
flagging sales figures, was working in excess of 60 hours a week, trying to drum up
new business whilst maintaining his existing client base.
John was not on his own in terms of his response to the situation and, being
acutely aware of the declining morale within the department, the manager encouraged
sales staff to take part in the company’s new workplace health promotion
programme. John knew little about why the programme had been introduced but,
given the pressure he was under, was attracted to the menu of health checks that
were on offer. He was particularly keen to take part in a one-on-one stress
counselling session, if only as a temporary release from the constant grind of
everyday work-life. However, John’s enthusiasm for the programme quickly turned
to frustration when confronted with the reality of what was actually involved.
John’s responses to a 20-question stress test indicated that he was in the ‘highly
stressed’ category. When asked what was contributing to the stress, John’s quick
but candid summary not only covered what was happening at work, but also
included how the demands of work were impacting on his home-life, especially
the quality of his relationships with his partner and children. It was at this point
that John expected that the counsellor would show sympathy and compassion,
perhaps acknowledge the difficulties he faced or even enquire about the strategies
he was using to deal with the pressures. Instead, the counsellor seemed preoccupied
with the time that had elapsed since their session began and quickly went into a
pre-programmed, patronizing spiel about how John needed to relax more, perhaps
go for a walk before or after work or join the local gym (and consume less coffee
and alcohol!). The final insult came when the counsellor said that these steps could
benefit everyone – himself, his family and the company – and that he was looking
forward to seeing John in 6 months’ time when they were scheduled to complete
another round of health checks. If John could commit himself to a general strategy
of ‘working smarter, not harder’, his results were sure to improve.
This chapter examines the direction that activity in occupational health
psychology might take as the discipline matures into its third decade.
It begins by considering what has been achieved in the discipline’s early
years before discussing important areas for development across the interdependent
domains of research, education, and professional practice.
evidence, and professional practice in occupational health psychology (OHP).
Collectively, they paint a picture of a thriving discipline characterized by a vision
to protect and promote worker health; one that is replete with theoretically and
empirically grounded processes and procedures by which that vision might be
realized. The quantity and quality of OHP activity that has emerged in the 20 years
since Raymond, Wood, and Patrick (1990) coined the term ‘occupational health
psychology’ is testament to the efforts of a dedicated international cohort
of individuals and institutions. Impressive progress has been made across the
research, education, and professional practice domains. The ever-growing body
of scientific OHP research finds support from numerous funding bodies that place
value on studies which seek to apply psychological principles and practices towards
facilitating our understanding and ability to effectively manage the dynamic
relationship between work and health. This research finds its voice in the pages
of two respected journals that are explicitly dedicated to the discipline (Journal of
publication outlets. Graduate education and training in OHP has been offered
since the mid 1990s, and students continue to navigate towards the numerous
programmes in ever increasing numbers. Finally, it is possible to identify a growing
constituency of OHP graduates that is offering its services to organizations and, in
doing so, establishing the foundations of an OHP career pathway and professional
Yet despite these successes, activity across the three domains remains unequal,
and each has not always informed and influenced the others as could and should be
the case. While research output has developed at a rapid rate, educational opportunities
have expanded only gradually despite student demand. The slow rate at
which universities have introduced OHP programmes has no doubt also contributed
to the paucity of efforts to establish professional career pathways and
governance structures for practitioners which, in turn, has limited opportunities
for OHP graduates to develop a practice-oriented career. Given the inconsistent
rate of progress on research, education, and practice in this young specialty it is
worthwhile considering what needs to be done in respect of each to maximize
OHP’s contribution to meeting contemporary occupational health challenges.
Thus, the following sections consider possible future directions in these interdependent
areas of activity.