Occupational Health Psychology: Neglected Areas of Research

By Piotrowski, Chris | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September-December 2012 | Go to article overview

Occupational Health Psychology: Neglected Areas of Research


Piotrowski, Chris, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Since occupational health psychology is a relatively young specialty, it would be informative to gauge the extent of research emphasis on key topical areas in the sub-discipline. This study reports on a content analysis of journal articles (1996-2012) in the leading APA journal in the area: Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. The most researched topics were: Work-Family factors, strain-stress models, physical health, workplace health promotion, burnout, and well-being. The analysis identified a host of important areas within the domain of occupational health (e.g., person-job fit, workaholism, ergonomics, hazardous materials, discrimination, legal issues) that received sparse research interest. These findings a) support the Pareto effect-where the majority of research reflects a limited range of topics, and b) prompt the issue of whether research adequately informs practice.

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Within the general field of Psychology, the specialty of occupational health psychology is a relatively recent area of development (Quick & Tetrick, 2003). However, within the domain of occupational health, a host of important issues have had a long, central history that has been reflected in the research literature over the past century (e.g., workplace hazards, worker safety, boredom, shift work, absenteeism, legal protections). Since this sub-specialty is nascent in character within the discipline of Psychology, it would be of interest to determine the major areas of emphasis (and de-emphasis) from a research perspective. One aim of this study is to highlight some neglected areas of research in the field.

One approach to gauge developments or trends in research is to conduct a content analysis of the literature. Over the years, various types of bibliometric analyses have been utilized as valid methodological approaches in assessing research trends in the field of psychology (Meltzer, 1973; Piotrowski, 2012; Schui & Krampen, 2010) and management (e.g., Miles & Naumann, 2011).

Method

In line with recent analyses of topical content in leading APA journals such as the Journal of Applied Psychology (see Cascio & Aguinis, 2008), the current study conducted a content analysis, based on subject focus, of individual journal articles published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology: 1996-2012 inclusive. The author categorized each article in a topical designation that represented the main focus of the research. The data were then tabulated based on frequency counts.

Findings

Table 1 presents 3 topical groupings, based on frequencies greater than 9 (high research interest), from 5 to 8 (moderate interest), and 4 or less (low interest). Interestingly, topics of high interest are all well represented as individual chapters of major texts on occupational health psychology (Houdmont & Leka, 2010; Quick & Tetrick, 2003). At the same time, many areas of interest to both academicians and professionals in the I/O field (i.e., downsizing, tele-work, workaholism, person-job fit, motivation, discrimination, distributive justice, ergonomics, age issues) appear to receive limited attention from researchers. Undoubtedly, these critical issues are well represented in the general I/O literature and management journals. At the same time, it appears that topics that have a central role and define the field of 'occupational medicine'--such as pollutants, hazardous materials, noise, and environmental psychology (see Kowalczyk, 2010)--receive limited attention in occupational health psychology.

This analysis points to the challenges of an evolving sub-discipline and to concerns regarding comprehensiveness and durability of knowledge during a time of exponential growth in scholarly research (Neimeyer, Taylor, & Rozensky, 2012).

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