The 21st Century Workforce

Learning to use psychology to manage the workplace of the 21st century.

What can psychology contribute to our work lives?

Work and psychology: A relationship?

I am delighted to enter this world of blogging; I hope that my passion for the psychological exploration of working is intriguing to some of you and, ideally, helpful. In this blog, I will introduce some of my ideas and relate them to the challenges that individuals face in the world of work and to the challenges faced by employers and organizations.

I have recently written a book entitled "The Psychology of Working" that has presented my thinking about work. Over the course of the next few entries, I will outline my perspective with a focus on various issues that all of us face. For now, I want to respond to the question that I posed-what can psychology do for us as we face the Great Recession, a dramatically changing work context, and increasing insecurity? Before we think about how psychology can help, let me first summarize what we already know-the world of work is changing fast and is morphing into something that we cannot even predict.

While it has been common to write about the changing world of work for many decades, this time we are not crying wolf. The current recession, while stressful and painful for all of us, is also foreshadowing a change in the labor market that will be felt for years to come. The rising unemployment rate is a signal that things are really serious; moreover, most economists are suggesting that we may experience a recovery without significant improvements in employment. I will be writing more about this challenge in the coming months; for now, I want to set the stage for my proposal that psychology can help us individually, organizationally, and socially. In this posting, I will focus on the individual needs, with the organizational and more systemic/social needs following in future entries.

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At the individual level, I have proposed that work has the potential to fulfill three fundamental human needs: need for survival, need for social connection, and need for self-determination. The need for survival refers to the bottom line issues-money to support ourselves and our families. The need for social connection refers to the relationships that we establish at work; it also includes the connection that we have to the overall social world. The third need is for self-determination, which refers to the hope that work can provide a means for the expression of our selves in the world-a way for us to determine the course of our lives. Without work, these needs go unmet or are frustrated. One of the key elements of the psychology of working is that work is essential for psychological and physical health.

What can psychology do? First, we can provide a means of elaborating on the importance of work in people's lives so that policy makers can understand clearly that full employment needs to be a central goal for healthy society. Second, psychology can provide the tools for individuals to cope with the dramatic changes in the world of work. Third, psychology can inform the development of career counseling and work-based therapy that can address the more substantive problems that arise in the employment-unemployment cycle.

I would like to ask you to comment on what you think that psychology can contribute to our understanding of work. I will have more to say in future blog entries, but I want to hear from you. I also will be writing about how the psychology of working can help organizations and employers manage workers and enhance the productivity and satisfaction of one's workforce. As you can sense, I think that psychology has a lot to do with creating the knowledge that help individuals and organizations not just survive this crisis, but plan for the post recession world.


Resources

Blustein, D. L. (2006). The psychology of working: A new perspective for counseling, career development, and public policy. NY: Routledge.

 

David Blustein, Ph.D., is a Professor of Counseling Psychology at Boston College and the Director of Career Development Services at Child and Family Psychological Services in Norwood, MA.

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