Well, the British Psychological Society states that ’Psychology is the scientific study of people, the mind and behaviour.’ Business psychology or occupational psychology (which is the chartered route for practicing psychology in the workplace) is basically the above, but in a work setting.
The chartered route is the higher qualification in the field and means an extra two years of study to reach the level at which you can use the label ‘occupational psychologist’. You can also become a business psychologist; they do similar things but are usually only qualified to MSc level. I will discuss the qualifications needed to become both later in this article.
So, what do psychologists in the workplace do?
These are the basic blocks that make up the profession:
- Design of work environments
- Personnel selection and assessment
- Performance appraisal and career development
- Counselling and personal development
- Human-machine interaction
- Employee relations and motivation
- Organisational development and change
You might think that a lot of these sound similar to the role of human resources (HR)... well, they are! Much of what business psychologists can do is similar or aligned to what HR professionals do - training of employees; designing training; design of work environments (things like how your desk is set up, or, in factory spaces, how the machinery is set up to ensure safe and efficient working - also known as ergonomics); recruitment of staff; employee relations (employment law, pay / sickness / reward); performance appraisals (design and development of them, conducting appraisals and career development planning), to name a few.
The difference between a business psychologist’s skill set and an HR person’s skill set is that psychologists have a deeper understanding of the reasons behind behaviours, actions, emotions and moods in the workplace, and these are supported further by scientific enquiry. HR professionals have a deeper understanding of the transactional, legal and financial elements of many of the above topics.
There are also a few areas mentioned above that are less frequently covered by HR professionals:
Human-machine interaction studies how people and computers interact, including user interfaces and website design. From a psychological perspective, business psychologists have an understanding of how the brain works, how humans perceive things, how they remember things, what appeals and doesn’t appeal when it comes to colours and design etc, so they can help with the design through their knowledge of human behaviour.
Counselling and personal development is probably the more traditional view of what psychologists do and includes things like careers counselling and coaching, mentoring and offering confidential counselling services in the workplace. Non-psychologists can also train to do these things, but I believe a psychology background provides a great foundation to work in these fields.
Lastly, organisational development and change is about managing how people adapt to change at work. Workplaces are changing all of the time; new systems, new processes, moving offices, new company objectives forcing changes in how people work with each other and cultural changes. This is very popular and is an area many business psychologists can get work. It is also now an area that is becoming more relevant within the HR field and many HR practitioners are training in change management. Again, my view is that the psychology background can be a great benefit in assessing and making changes in the workplace and gives psychologists the edge in this area of expertise.
So, that’s a snap shot of what business psychologists cover. It’s pretty varied but fundamentally it boils down to understanding people and what makes them work more effectively.
The average salaries of a business psychologist (occupational psychologist will usually demand more still) in the UK are roughly:
Qualified (usually higher
if self employed)
£35,000 - £80,000 or higher
Experienced 6 – 9 Years
£60,000 - £100,000 or higher
These salaries are completely dependent on your experience, talent, geographical location and of course what your employer can afford to pay you. It also depends on what area of business psychology you focus on. Change management, counselling and selection and assessment typically pay higher than recruitment for example. A large firm may pay you a generous wage if you work in house. But if you set up your own business rather than work for a large company you may get more money or less depending on how much work you get.
What Qualifications Are Needed?
As I mentioned earlier, there are two different routes – business psychologist and occupational psychologist (the chartered route).
In theory, anyone can call himself or herself a business psychologist, but traditionally a business psychologist has the following qualifications:
- A psychology degree
- An MSc in Occupational or Industrial Psychology
If you wish to become a chartered occupational psychologist, the degree and MSc listed above must have the Chartered Basis for Registration with the British Psychologist Society (BPS). Once you have this, you can apply to become charted and spend two years providing evidence for your practice. At the end of the two years you are awarded your chartered status. The British Psychological Society website provides more details if you are interested in this career path.
Becoming a chartered occupational psychologist is a long road and there is a need to constantly keep your skills current by attending regular courses and training and being registered with the appropriate bodies to enable you to practice and hold your occupational psychologist title.
As a business psychologist you are also required to keep your knowledge up to date, especially if you work for yourself and are looking for new business, but your practice is not assessed by the BPS. This is both a good a bad thing; good in that you are under less pressure to prove your worth (because your rates are less), bad in that someone with chartered status will likely get the work above you (although they will cost more!).
These days business psychology and the HR fields are merging; HR is becoming more and more about aligning people to business - understanding what people can offer to help the business grow, and using HR practices and policies to do this. This is certainly not making the business psychologist role obsolete; it is making it more relevant. Business professionals are now beginning to see the value in psychology at work and the demand for our skills is on the increase.
It is hard work to make it to the top, but being a business psychologist is hugely rewarding and I highly recommend it. Dealing with people in their everyday settings and helping them to work more effectively, efficiently and be happier in the workplace is a challenge but you meet many different people from CEOs to PA’s all with different issues, views and ideas. The challenge is finding a solution that suits everyone! The great thing is, once you have the basic principles and theories down, you can be as creative as you wish!