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Psychology in Management and other Graduate Careers

By: Roger Cook - Updated: 18 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
Psychology Management Work Research

Many psychology undergraduates do not opt to continue to study at the postgraduate level (for graduates in 2006/07 51% had gone into full time work and 32% were continuing their studies) and instead go into more general fields of work. Some of those in work (especially part time work) probably will continue their studies at a later stage, but, as noted elsewhere, entry to the various postgraduate training courses is very competitive (and not always possible immediately after graduation).

Psychology graduates are very employable in a variety of jobs in organisations. Employers value the mixed skill set that comes from studying a discipline that is both numerate and literate and the well developed research skills. Equally, the subject matter gives a variety of practical insights into human behaviour at work and in organisations.

Research And Management

The other linkage between psychology and management is in terms of research.

As noted, occupational and organisational psychologists often work directly with companies. Their focus is on aspects related to HR work, such as recruitment, staff appraisal, work design and ergonomics.

Studying Organisations

In addition many psychologists actively study the nature of work, and how individuals behave in organisations.

One strand is to study decision making in the workplace, and to see what sort of intervention can improve (or at least make it easier) performance. Research in this field looks at how people represent problems (and thus what solutions are available) and what sort of information is used in making decisions. This area of research looks at decision making under conditions of uncertainty and some researchers see organisations as a coalition of potentially competing political entities (rather than the model used by economists of a unified organisation with all parts seeking the same goal) and thus decision making is effectively a negotiating process.

A related field is the study of how organisations gather and use information to support decision making. One finding is that many managers collect too much information than they can use – a suggestion is that this is done not to improve decision making but to send a message about their decision making behaviour (i.e. if I make a decision based on lots of information I am probably less likely to be blamed if it goes wrong, and, it allows me to claim to be rational in my assumptions).

Other psychologists have studied how people understand the organisations they worked for. Much of the research suggests that this is an active process and one where individual’s views are influenced by their immediate work environments. In this context, people are constantly seeking to gather information about their organisation (gossip) and to interpret this by testing it against known actions. Effectively, this starts to explain why the perceptions of staff at different levels might be very different when faced by a new situation.

These insights can then be applied to studying what constitutes effective leadership. Another consequence is into assisting organisations to spread and share knowledge so as to improve overall performance.

Two Contributions

Many psychology undergraduates opt to go into more general work rather than continue and specialise in the subject. As such, their degree is a particularly valuable type of social science degree, especially given its mixture of numeracy, literacy and the approach to using research.

The other main contribution is in terms of research focus. Some psychologists work in support of organisational management through their study of issues related to HR. Others look at organisations in their entirety and then consider the implications of this for decision making and the sharing of knowledge within the company.

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