Stressed about Work? Occupational Health Psychology Can Help

Think about someone you know who really loves their job. Now think about someone you know who is frequently stressed about their job and dreads going to work. Have you noticed that some jobs appear to be more stressful than others? Perhaps it’s due to working too many hours, a supervisor that’s hard to work for, or a lack of balance between work and life outside of work.

If you have ever wondered about how job stress influences people’s health, well-being, and lives outside of work or wondered about ways to fix these problems, then the field of Occupational Health Psychology (OHP) may be a good fit for you! OHP brings psychological and occupational health science professionals together and draws from knowledge and methods from psychology, public health, occupational health, organizational studies, human factors, and other fields. Industrial-Organizational Psychology (I-O), social psychology, and health psychology are a few examples of graduate programs that offer concentrations in OHP.

What is Occupational Health Psychology?

Occupational Health Psychology, commonly referred to as “OHP”, is defined as: “the application of psychology to improving the quality of work life, and to protecting and promoting the safety, health, and well-being of workers” (NIOSH).

In other words, the purpose of OHP is to promote a happy and healthy workplace that benefits all employees, their families, and ultimately the workplace that employs them.

What do Occupational Health Psychologists Study?

OHP topics are recognized as some of the most popular topics in the field of I-O Psychology and are consistently ranked as some of the most important research trends year after year.

How is Occupational Health Psychology Related to Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

 OHP overlaps with many of the topic areas traditionally found within I-O psychology.

Some occupational health psychologists work to develop and implement wellness programs aimed at improving outcomes like physical health, work-life balance, and mindfulness. Part of their job also involves evaluating the effectiveness of these programs and developing ways to improve them.

Other occupational health psychologists study how safety cultures (i.e., norms, values, and beliefs held about safety protocols and procedures) develop and help workplaces implement strategies to improve their safety culture.

Another popular topic within OHP is burnout. Burnout can occur when workers are overworked and/or exposed to stress for prolonged periods of time. Researchers who study burnout are interested in the mechanisms that lead to burnout, its impact on worker motivation, and intervention methods that can be used to prevent and/or alleviate its negative outcomes.

What Other Disciplines is Occupational Health Psychology Related to?

 In addition to psychology and public health-related disciplines, OHP is also closely related to other scientific disciplines that are focused on worker health and safety. These related disciplines include ergonomics, occupational medicine, health physics, and industrial hygiene.

What Types of Occupational Health Psychology Jobs are Out There? 

  • Faculty member at a university who teaches classes and conducts research on OHP topics
  • Applied researcher, such as for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is a branch of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
  • HR manager who works for a company to develop wellness programs and administers and evaluates safety and health interventions
  • External consultant who works for a consulting firm and is assigned to projects with various companies to help develop workplace safety cultures

How Do you Get the Degree you Need to Succeed?

It can be confusing to understand where OHP falls within broader training programs within psychology. Generally, OHP graduate students earn a degree in I-O psychology with a concentration or additional training in OHP. Whether you’re a senior about to graduate, or a freshman who just discovered the field OHP, now is the time to take action to ensure you will be prepared and a competitive applicant for graduate school programs.

A key thing that you’ll want to do is to learn about research that is being conducted at your current university and get involved! Even if there is not a researcher or research lab that focuses specifically on OHP, working in a research lab will allow you to build the skills you need to be competitive for graduate school. This will also help you identify whether you want to pursue a research degree, like a PhD.

Here’s a timeline of the key things you should be focusing on during your time as an undergraduate student:

Let’s Talk Money

 Here are some costs associated with applying to graduate schools:

  • Sending your official transcripts from your undergraduate institution often costs money (~$10)
  • GRE study materials are fairly inexpensive and can be found online
    • We recommend getting materials made by ETS, the same company that creates the GRE
    • Check out free SmartPhone apps for GRE studying
  • Taking the GRE costs approximately $200. Sending your GRE scores costs money, too
    • When you take the test, you can send your scores to 4 graduate schools for free
    • Additional schools cost $27 each
  • Applications for graduate programs typically cost money (~$30 – $100)

Contact your undergraduate university to see if you qualify for a GRE fee and/or application fee waivers. You may be eligible if you qualify for financial aid or are a McNair Scholar, Gates Millennium Scholar, etc.

  • You can follow this link for more information on the GRE Fee Reduction Program
  • Contact graduate programs individually to see if they have a waiver form

Here are some costs associated with being in graduate school:

  • Many Master’s programs do not have funding to cover student tuition, stipends, or travel funding for conferences
  • Many PhD programs have funding to cover student tuition, stipends, travel funding for conferences, and other financial resources for research and professional development opportunities
  • For more information on deciding between a Master’s or PhD program click here

Interested in Learning More or Getting Involved in Occupational Health Psychology?

About the Author

Rebecca is currently a graduate student at Colorado State University (CSU) in the Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology program and a trainee in the Occupational Health Psychology (OHP) program. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Rebecca is currently conducting research on worker sleep, safety, health, and the work-nonwork interface. During her time in graduate school, Rebecca has worked on interdisciplinary teams to improve the safety, health, and well-being of workers in businesses throughout Colorado. In her free time, Rebecca enjoys yoga, hiking, and going to concerts.
Kelly is a graduate student at Colorado State University studying Industrial-Organizational Psychology and concentrating in Occupational Health Psychology. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in general business administration from the University of South Florida in 2016. Her research interests include, training, work-life balance, and safety. Kelly is passionate about translating occupational health research findings into practical solutions for organizations and has done so in numerous applied projects. In her nonwork life, Kelly and enjoys reading, spending time with her family, and exploring the different types of outdoor adventures Colorado has to offer.
Kelsie is currently at graduate student at Colorado State University in the Industrial-Organizational Psychology program, concentration in Occupational Heath Psychology. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology from Grand Valley State University in 2015. Her research interests include organizational culture, leadership, safety, sleep, and working caregivers. Kelsie enjoys spending her nonwork time working out, crafting, and cooking.