Can Occupational Psychology play a part in saving the world? Absolutely, insisted Prof Stuart Carr in his keynote presentation at the DOP conference. After all, work is deeply woven into the world, so transforming one can influence the other. Carr brought this home through examples of the United Nation's 2015 Millennial Development Goals, which include reduction of poverty, which manifests in the wages that workers derive; education, which depends on the capability of teachers and other staff; and gender equality, which can be combated in the workplaces in which we spend much of our waking hours.
This exemplifies a humanitarian approach to work psychology, ensuring decent work for all workers and ensuring that the work they do meets responsibilities towards multiple stakeholders, rather than the bottom line. Carr provided some examples of how he and collaborators are making inroads into this, for instance by organising a Global Special Issue on Psychology and Poverty reduction that spanned multiple journals, raising awareness of how psychology can point at these issues.
Carr also raised another way to use psychology to improve the world: by applying it directly to the conditions of those involved in Humanitarian Work. These roles can involve risk and be demanding, so it would be useful to investigate this and take steps to foster well-being. And any way to improve the impact of the humanitarian work itself would obviously be beneficial. Carr reported on the creation of online networks such as Humanitarian Work Psychology that connect researchers, students and those on the ground, who are commonly isolated, to allow them to share knowledge and put it to work on actual problems.
So we can change the world through 'Humanitarian' Work Psychology to make conditions of work decent everywhere, coupled with 'Humanitarian Work' Psychology that focuses attention on those aspiring to be levers of change in the world. Further examples abounded in the presentation, including a global task force to address pay disparities in humanitarian work: the dual pay levels for foreign and national staff causing distancing of the two groups due to negative appraisals - the former rationalising the latter's low pay as reflecting their capability, the latter becoming demotivated and distrustful of the attitude of the foreigners, causing a vicious cycle.
There is much more to do, and the keynote was a call to arms to the profession as a whole. As Carr reminded us, much occupational psychology work developed in the Peace Corps in the 1960s and following, and only later became concentrated in focus on the for-profit sector. A shift is possible and long overdue. Carr likened this to a Koru, the fern frond native to many countries including his home in New Zealand, whose spiral shape suggests a return to beginnings, and whose swift unfurling denotes the possibility of change.