Occupational health psychology in times of change

Professor Gail Kinman reports on a British Psychological Society presence at the European Academy of Occupational Health Psychology conference.

The 12thEuropean Academy of Occupational Health Psychology (EA-OHP) Conference was held in Athens from 11 - 13 April. Reflecting the need for insight into the changing world of work and the impact on the wellbeing of workers, the theme for this conference was ‘Occupational Health Psychology in times of change: Society and the workplace’. The three keynote speakers were Joan Benach, Christina Maslach and Karina Nielsen, who delivered thought-provoking talks on this important topic.

Professor Benach discussed the impact of precarious employment on the health of workers, families and communities, while Profession Nielsen considered how organisations can design, implement and evaluate interventions to improve working conditions and health. Professor Maslach drew on her extensive research on the burnout phenomenon first developed in the 1970s. Although the emotional demands of human service work remain a major risk factor, she argued that technical and customer service work is rapidly becoming the new ‘burnout shop’ – to considerable human cost. Professor Maslach highlighted the risks of using burnout to label individuals a ‘failing to cope’ rather than seeing it as a logical reaction to untenable working conditions.

The British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology (DOP) was well represented at the conference. Many members were included in the scientific programme and the Division was invited by the Academy to contribute a symposium that showcased our research in the field. Our four papers explored various ways that women would benefit from additional resources in the workplace – whether being supported more effectively through personal challenges, or when doing work that is emotionally demanding and potentially traumatising.

The first paper, presented by Nicola Payne from Middlesex University, examined women’s experiences of combining work and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), with particular focus placed on their sense of entitlement to support. The findings highlighted the stressful nature of the IVF process and the difficulties that women commonly experience in the workplace.

Roxane Gervais gave the second talk which explored the wellbeing, performance and job satisfaction of women who are menopausal. More than 3.5 women over the age of 50 are currently working in the UK and many experience debilitating menopausal symptoms over many years, but it remains an under-researched and often taboo topic.

The next talk, my own, considered the importance of self-care and self-compassion for the wellbeing of female social workers, which can protect them against burnout. Self-care was also a theme in Almuth McDowall’s paper that examined the challenges that women face when recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. The findings indicated that trying to meet the demands of work and family, while simultaneously managing recovery can be extremely challenging.

For the last couple of years, the DOP and the EAOHP have been working together and exploring common interests and aims. Our relationship will continue to develop with considerable benefits for DOP members with an interest in occupational health psychology, as we can share research findings and disseminate best practice within the European community.  

- Professor Gail Kinman is at the University of Bedfordshire.

 

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