Occupational Assessment: Part III of Returning to Work


Occupational Assessment: Part III of Returning to Work

  • By Ian Bradley
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This is another post in the series about returning to work from a psychological disability. Previously, I described some issues involved in assessing the clinical or psychological aspects of a workplace disability.  Now, we will examine the second half of the assessment, the occupational.

I begin with what the Industrial Psychologist calls the KSA’s, or my client’s knowledge, skills and abilities.  I routinely ask to see the client’s CV, recent performance appraisals, or even non-confidential work samples to get a better idea of how my client executes his or her job. Most often, I’m impressed by the competencies that I see in my clients. In other areas, I’m able to pinpoint skills that need to be acquired or styles of execution that need to be changed.

In the stylistic area, I recently saw an engineer who managed several large manufacturing facilities. He complained that his written correspondence took too long. I quickly saw why. Every memo to his plant supervisors was tediously long and painful even for me to read.  Each recommendation came with possible objections that were then logically refuted in Jesuit-like logic.  Upon questioning, it became apparent that he was writing the memos to avoid any potential disagreement – a kind of ineffective psychological insurance against conflict.  We discussed what conflict meant, and concluded that reasonable objections to his recommendations could actually be a good thing rather than something to avoid.

Besides the individual’s own skill set, I’m also very much interested in organizational aspects including reporting structures, areas of responsibility and recognition policies / procedures in the organization.  Regrettably, it is in this area that I am saddened to find the source of distress of many of my clients.

I say that because I think many of the organizational problems that I encounter are simple to solve.  I don’t have a clue about how to build cars, run a telecommunications system or manage large tracts of rental properties, but I do know that it’s a good idea to do the following:

clearly tell employees what they should do

perhaps train them in some explicit way

measure their performance in some semi-objective fashion

reward them accordingly

To me as a psychologist this is all painfully simple, but for most of my clients, their workplace violates some basic tenets of good psychology and management.   I’ve had employees with bosses who took credit for their work, or with colleagues who jealously guarded important information as a form of job security. I’ve seen family business meetings rocked by emotional outbursts that would have shocked even season family therapists.

Paradoxically, many of these observations have been personally disheartening, but in a way a relief to my clients who began to realize that their working climate might have direct bearing on what they are feeling.  Clearly understanding the working style of the worker and their unique organizational context comprise the important second step of the assessment process.

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