Understanding human behaviour in the
Cary L. Cooper Ivan T. Robertson
Work psychology: its origins, subjectmatter and research techniques OBJECTIVES
After studying this chapter, you should be able to:
~ Describe important features of the history of work psychology. ~ Specify the topics covered by work psychologists.
~ Describe the main elements of a psychological theory, and explain the links between those elements.
Discuss the relationship between work psychology and common sense. ~ Describe five methods of data collection used in research by work psychologists.
~ Describe the key features, advantages and disadvantages of four research designs used by work psychologists.
This chapter begins with a brief look at the roots and history of work psychology, including the Hawthorne studies and other key milestones. Attention then turns to modern work psychology: the topics it covers, the relationship between theory and practice, and professional affairs. The issue of whether work psychology is more useful than so-called common sense is examined. If it is to be useful, work psychology must be based on sound information and appropriate techniques. This chapter therefore concludes with an analysis of how work psychologists obtain information using research methods. The strengths and weaknesses of each method are illustrated with examples. By the end of the chapter the reader should know the topics that work psychology covers, and be able to describe and evaluate the research methods used by work psychologists.
3.2 THE ORIGINS OF WORK PSYCHOLOGY
Work psychology has at least two distinct roots. One resides in a pair of traditions that have often been termed 'fitting the man [sic] to the job' (FMJ) and 'fitting the job to the man [sic]' (FJM). The FMJ tradition manifests itself in employee selection, training and vocational guidance. These endeavours have in common an attempt to achieve an effective match between job and person by concentrating on the latter. The FJM tradition focuses instead on the job; and in particular the design of tasks, equipment and working conditions which suit a person' s physical and psychological characteristics.
Much early work in these traditions was undertaken in response to the demands of two world wars. In the UK, for example, there was concern about the adverse consequences of the very long hours worked in munitions factories during the First World War and again in the Second World War (Vernon, 1948). The extensive use of aircraft in the Second World War led to attempts to design cockpits which optimally fitted pilots' capacities. In both the UK and the USA, the First World War highlighted the need to develop methods of screening people so that only those suitable for a post were selected for it. This need was met through the development of tests of ability and personality. One important source of such work in the UK was the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, which was established by the influential psychologist C. S. Myers between the two wars, and survived in various forms until 1971. The UK civil service began to employ a considerable number of psychologists after the Second World War. Their brief was, and largely still is, to improve civil service procedures, particularly in selection. Especially from the 1960s onwards, some other large
organizations have also employed psychologists, and many independent consultants also work in these areas (see Stewart (1982) for examples of what such consultants do). The FMJ and FJM traditions essentially concern the relationship between individuals and their work. The other root of work psychology can be loosely labelled human relations. It is concerned with the complex interplay between individuals, groups, organizations and work. It therefore emphasizes social factors at work much more than FMJ and FJM. The importance of human relations was...