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Working in organisational psychology

By Joanne Fitzgerald

I wanted to be a psychologist ever since my final year at high school. At university, I set my sights on a career in forensic psychology. When I was offered a job after graduation as a provisional psychologist with the Queensland Corrective Services Department, I thought fabulous!

After two years in a prison-based role, however, my interest was piqued more by the system surrounding the inmates than the inmates (and their endlessly fascinating life stories) themselves. I relocated to Perth to complete my Masters in Applied Psychology (Organisational and Clinical). Several jobs later, I began working as an organisational psychologist for the Ministry of Justice in Western Australia.

Working with different groups and managers in a range of settings including prisons, courts, justice centres and community corrections gave me the solid grounding I needed to establish my own organisational psychology business.

My background in the justice sector enabled me initially to establish credibility as a consultant in this field. Now I also work with the private financial sector, private health providers, government departments, local government, private prisons, large not-for-profit organisations and smaller family businesses.

Dealing with different workplace cultures as they integrate and influence each other during the transition of mergers and acquisitions is some of the most challenging work I encounter. Major changes within organisational settings pose enormous challenges for the workforce, management and leadership teams.

One project involved working with (i) a newly appointed Board, (ii) the dedicated senior management team and then (iii) the staff of the two pre-merger organisations, which posed an exciting challenge. My role was first to consult to the Board in relation to its start-up dynamics, and to assist the leadership team in defining the culture and direction of the new organisation. I then worked with the two groups of staff to give voice to the experience of the merger and to integrate the cultures and operations of the staff groups. It was a comprehensive consultancy which provided me with great satisfaction.

Another challenging project involved working with a major bank to restructure one of its operations. Helping staff resolve issues of loss and identity, and assisting the bank to foster engagement and commitment was very rewarding for me.

I can happily say that very few work days are the same for me. A ‘typical' day, however, may include client meetings, executive coaching sessions, meeting with working groups to oversee projects and interventions, and facilitating workshops.

From my personal experience, the professional placements we undertake as psychology students are absolutely invaluable. My advice to students is to choose placements that offer you a chance to trial areas of interest. Learn as much as you can from the experienced psychologists around you and use the placement as an opportunity to ‘show your wares' as a developing psychologist.

I would also emphasise the importance of good supervision throughout your career. I believe that sound professional psychology practice is enhanced by ongoing supervision, with the supervisor and the supervisory relationship changing as we develop and mature in our roles. I have been fortunate throughout my career to have chosen a number of experienced psychologists as professional supervisors. I have worked closely with each of these people, felt supported and challenged by them, and learned a great deal.

Psychology is part of my identity as a professional, a consultant and a person. I believe that the application of psychology within organisations enriches the lives of those employed by and involved with the organisation. Within the field of organisational psychology, I never stop learning or cease to be amazed by the possibilities of people working together.