THE PSYCHOLOGY OF WORKING: A New Perspective for Career Development

Article excerpt

Abstract

In this article, we present the psychology of working as a new, inclusive, and potentially, a socially just perspective for career development theory, research, practice, and public policy. The psychology of work perspective seeks to include everyone who works, not just those with access to choice and volition. We describe how working functions to fulfill three basic human needs: the need for survival and power, the need for connectedness, and the need for self-determination. Finally, a number of public policy implications from the psychology of working perspective are discussed in relation to training and skill building, mental health issues, unemployment, and poverty.

This article presents a new perspective, the psychology of working (Blustein, 2001, 2006), for career development that seeks to expand the purview of career development in research, theory development, counseling practice, and public policy. The conceptual framework and objectives of the psychology of working are constructed around a number of interrelated assumptions that fit well with the focus of this special issue of Career Planning and Adult Development Journal. The overarching goal of the psychology of working is to create a way of thinking about work and career development that includes everyone who works or who wants to work, not just those with access to choice and volition about their educational and career options.

One of the core assumptions of the psychology of working is that work is a central activity in human life that is fundamental to the survival of human beings (Blustein, 2001, 2006). Another key assumption is that working intersects naturally with the diverse roles that people occupy in their social and economic lives. In addition, working is critical for psychological health and for the vigor and structure of our communities (Blustein, 2006; Wilson, 1996). As career practitioners and scholars have aptly observed (e.g., Betz & Fitzgerald, 1987; Helms & Cook, 1999), access to the resources needed to construct a meaningful and satisfying working life is regrettably not equal. As such, the psychology of working is an explicitly contextualized discourse that seeks to delineate the impact of sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, and disabling conditions in relation to the full range of working experiences.

The psychology of working has emerged logically from existing critiques of contemporary vocational psychology and career development (e.g., Betz & Fitzgerald, 1987; Carter & Cook, 1992; Helms & Cook, 1999; Richardson, 1993). While mainstream career development theory and practice has focused on the needs of individuals who have access to education and work that match their goals, interests, and values, the vast majority of people around the globe have not had such privileged lives. Building on the contributions of scholars who have explored the impact of social class (e.g., Fouad & Brown, 2000), race (e.g., Helms & Cook, 1999), gender (e.g., Betz & Fitzgerald, 1987), disabling conditions (e.g., Szymanski & Parker, 2003), and sexual orientation (e.g., Fassinger, 2005) in career development, we seek to understand the experiences of everyone who is working or who seeks to work.

The Role of Working in Fulfilling Fundamental Human Needs

According to this new perspective, working functions to provide people with access to three fundamental human needs: need for survival/power, need for connectedness, and need for self-determination.

Work as a Means of Survival

The purpose of work has historically been based upon human beings' need to survive. People have always worked to provide food, water, and shelter for themselves and their families by hunting and gathering or by performing an alternative form of labor in exchange for food, water and shelter (Blustein, 2006). An examination of Maslow's (1968) hierarchy of needs provides a relevant theoretical framework from which to understand the discrepancy of individual experiences related to the pursuit of work in the 21st century. …