Work Psychology in Action

by Anna Sutton


A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


360º appraisal: A way of measuring an employee’s performance which draws on the evaluations of superiors, peers, subordinates and sometimes even customers or clients (also known as multisource appraisal).

Abnormal psychology: The study of deviations from the ‘norm’ of human psychology. (Note that there is debate over what constitutes normal psychology.)

Action research: Research based on a thorough analysis and understanding of the situation (‘research’) and which takes action to achieve the desired change.

Adverse impact: Sometimes, groups of people score differently on a selection measure. If this difference means that one group is less successful in gaining the job, then the measure has an adverse impact on that group.

Affect: A general term for our emotional responses.

Applied psychology: Takes the theories and models from theoretical psychology and applies them to understanding and solving real-life problems.

Assessment centre: A combination of several selection methods to distinguish between job candidates, usually based on a competency framework.

Assumptive world: Our set of assumptions about the world and our place in it. This can be challengedwhen we experience change.

Attitude: An evaluative judgement of an object.

Attributions: The processes we use to make sense of other people’s behaviour, the reason we think they did something.

Authentic leadership: Leadership that is based in the leader’s personal values and involves a high degree of self-awareness. Authentic leaders are set apart from other leaders by their high moral character.

Autotelic personality: People with an autotelic personality engage in activities because they find them inherently rewarding rather than to achieve some external reward.


Behaviour modelling training (BMT): A type of training based on social learning theory that defines the behaviours to be learnt, provides clear models of those behaviours and gives feedback as people practise them.

Behaviour Observation Scale (BOS): A performance-rating scale that is used to measure how frequently an employee engages in specific job-related behaviours.

Behavioural theory of leadership: Attempts to identify the behaviours that leaders exhibit rather than their personal traits. These behaviours are often categorised as people-focused or task-focused.

Behaviourally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS): Used to measure employee performance, these are numerical scales that are ‘anchored’ by specific behaviours. Less effective behaviours are given a low score while more effective behaviours are given a higher score.

Bias: In selection procedures, bias occurs when a measure systematically over- or under-estimates the performance of people from different groups.

Big Five: A comprehensive, universal model of personality that recognises five broad traits:
Extraversion – outgoing and confident vs reserved and quiet
Agreeableness – friendly and considerate vs forthright and argumentative
Emotional stability – calm and unemotional vs sensitive and easily upset
Conscientiousness – organised and dependable vs flexible and disorganised
Openness to experience – creative and imaginative vs down-to-earth and conventional

Biodata: A collection of information about a person’s life and work experience, such as qualifications or job history.

Biological determinism: The belief that our behaviour is primarily determined biological factors such as genes and brain structures.

Biological psychology: The study of how our physical makeup explains or affects our minds.

Broaden and build theory of positive emotions (Frederickson): A model of the evolutionary value of positive emotions which postulates that when we experience positive emotions such as love, joy or pride, our thought-action repertoires broaden and we build our personal resources. These personal resources include resiliency, social relationships, new ideas and so on.

Burnout: The end result of prolonged stress at work: emotional exhaustion, cynical attitude towards clients, and dissatisfaction with oneself and one’s work efforts.


Character Strengths and Values (CSV): An attempt to provide a universal model of human strengths and values, developed as an attempt to summarise what can go well in human psychology.

Classical conditioning: Simple associative learning: we learn to associate a new stimulus with a certain response.

Coaching psychology: Psychological approaches and models which are used to enhance a client’s well-being and performance at work and home.

Cognitive appraisal: Cognitive appraisal is the process by which we determine whether a particular encounter or experience is relevant to our well-being.

Cognitive bias: Shortcuts that our minds make to try to save us time when dealing with a complex world can become the source of biases in decision-making, for example when making decisions in interviewing (see Chapter 2 for details of these biases).

Cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger and Carlsmith): This theory posits a mismatch between our privately held attitudes and publicly displayed behaviour (or between two different attitudes); it suggest this is uncomfortable and that we will want to change either the attitude or the behaviour to match.

Cognitive evaluation theory (Deci and Ryan): The suggestion that it is not a particular reward itself that affects our motivation but our interpretation of that reward as either an indication of our competence or a sign of control over our behaviour.

Cognitive load: The demands which a task places on the mental resources we have available (such as memory).

Cognitive psychology: The study of our mental processes, such as perception, memory, attention and thinking.

Cohesion: The strength of the interpersonal bond between group members.

Collaboration technologies: Programmes or features that support group work, including email, instant messaging, shared calendars and document markup.

Competency: Meaningful workplace behaviours or outcomes that are associated with effective performance in a job. Often used as the basis for selection decisions.

Competency framework: A detailed description of all of the competencies required for a particular job, which can be used as a basis for selection, development and performance appraisal. An organisation-wide competency framework outlines the competencies required by workers across the whole organisation.

Construct validity: The extent to which a test accurately measures the construct that it claims to.

Consumer psychology: The study of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours in relation to products or services that we buy.

Content validity: The extent to which a measure is representative of the whole of the ability or attribute that it claims to measure

Contingency theory: Recognises there is no ‘one best way’ but that the best course of action is dependent (contingent) on the situation. Contingency theories attempt to define the characteristics of a situation that determine which approach will work best.

Contingency theory of leadership (Fiedler): Defines aspects of the situation that interact with leader styles to determine effectiveness.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR): A strategic approach to setting out the ethical principles which guide the organisation’s actions, including taking responsibility for the effect of those actions on all potential stakeholders.

Criterion validity: How well a measure predicts something important in the real world of work. This link can be established concurrently or predictively:
​Concurrent criterion validity is where the test and criterion measure are taken at the same time – indicating whether the test predicts current employees’ performance. Predictive criterion validity is where there is a time gap between the two – indicating whether the test predicts future performance.


Declarative knowledge: Knowledge that you can express, for example in a written test.

Demand-Control-Support model of stress: A model which explains how the mental strain we experience is the result of the balance between the demands of our job, the control we have over the job and the social support we can access.

Demands-Resources model of stress: A model which captures both the positive and negative aspects of stress and shows how they are related to job demands (such as workload and pressure) and job resources (such as feedback and participation).

Developmental psychology: The study of the human lifespan, looking at how we change and develop from birth to old age.


Economic psychology: The study of the causes and consequences of economic behaviour.

Emergent change: Change which is made up of ongoing adaptations and alterations that ultimately produce fundamental changes that were not planned for or perhaps even expected.

Employee assistance programme (EAP): Umbrella term for a collection of assistance programmes and well-being initiatives that an organisation can introduce to help employees deal with potential stressors.

Employer branding: The idea that an organisation can build up a brand (or reputation) for itself as an employer: a good employer brand can help the organisation to attract and retain the best calibre and best suited employees.

Engagement: Feeling positive towards work and being actively involved in it.

Equity theory: Suggests that we want fairness and are motivated by how equitable we think our efforts and rewards are in comparison with other people’s.

ERG theory (Alderfer): A theory that suggests we are motivated by the needs for existence, relatedness and growth.

Eudaimonia: In positive psychology, this term is used to indicate happiness from seeking to use and develop the best in ourselves.

Expectancy theory (Vroom): This theory states that our level of motivation for a particular action is based on our expectations about the outcome or end result of our efforts. The more likely we feel it is that our efforts will result in a desirable outcome, the more motivated we will be.

Experiment: A research design characterised by clearly defined, measurable variables and strict control over the experimental conditions.


Face validity: A measure with face validity appears to the observer to assess what it claims to.

Flow experience: A state of complete absorption in what we are doing so that we lose awareness of other things.

Functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI): A method of imaging the brain to see what parts are activated in response to different stimuli.

​Fundamental attribution error: A cognitive error that commonly occurs when we are attempting to explain people’s behaviour: we tend to overestimate the effect of personality or internal qualities and underestimate the effect of the situation.


General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS): A model of our reactions to continuous or chronic stress. The GAS has three stages: alarm, resistance and exhaustion, which we go through in an attempt to protect ourselves from harm.

General mental ability (GMA): The psychometric term for intelligence, a measure of how accurately and quickly you can process complex information.

Goal attainment scaling (GAS): A way of measuring progress towards goals which involves a coach and a client jointly identifying goals and developing a scale to measure progress towards them.

Goal-setting theory (Locke and Latham): A theory of motivation and performance that emphasises how conscious goals can affect performance.

Groupthink (Janis): The tendency some groups have towards seeking agreement, to the exclusion of a realistic appraisal of the situation or consideration of alternative courses of action.


Habituation: A simple kind of learning where we become accustomed to a stimulus and begin to ignore it.

HARKing: Hypothesising After Results are Known – a widespread but very poor research practice. Instead of developing hypotheses and then testing them, this practice involves conducting the analysis and then developing hypotheses that fit in with any statistically significant findings.

Hedonia: In positive psychology, this term is used to indicate happiness from seeking pleasure.

Hubris syndrome: A personality disorder defined by a narcissistic attitude and excessive self-belief.


Implicit leadership theory: Suggests that a leader’s effectiveness is to a large part determined by the followers’ perceptions, and that the followers have an unconscious set of expectations about what a leader will be like. Those leaders who conform better to the expectations are seen as more effective.

Implicit needs (McClelland): This theory holds that motivation is based on our individual levels of three main (unconscious) needs:
Affiliation – desire to build friendly, cooperative relationships
Achievement – drive to do well, to succeed
Power – desire to have influence over others.

Individual differences: The study of how and why we differ from each other, particularly in terms of personality and intelligence.

Input-mediator-output model of teams: A model for understanding the complex interactions of different variables on the teamwork process which identifies the inputs to the teamwork and the variables that mediate those inputs into relevant outputs.

Instrumental risk-taking: Taking risks in order to achieve a particular outcome.

Inter rater reliability: A measure of how well two or more different raters (e.g. interviewers) agree in the ratings they give to an individual.

Internal consistency (internal reliability): This is used to check that different parts of the test are measuring the same thing. For example, if we have a questionnaire that measures cognitive ability, are a person’s scores on one half of the questionnaire similar to their scores on the other?

Intrinsic rewards: The inherent rewards (for example, a feeling of enjoyment) we experience simply from undertaking an activity.


Jargon: Vocabulary or terminology used in a particular organisation or group that is unfamiliar to people outside that group.

Job analysis: A process of identifying the knowledge, skills and behaviours associated with job performance.

Job characteristics model (Hackman and Oldham): A theory that emphasises how particular job characteristics (such as skill or task variety) influence our internal motivation.

​Job satisfaction: A job attitude which is an evaluation of how happy or content we are with our jobs.


Karojisatsu: Japanese term for work-related suicide.

Karoshi: Japanese term for death from overwork.

Kinesics: The movements we make when we communicate, such as gesturing with our hands, nodding our heads or making eye contact.

​KSAs: Knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform effectively in a particular job.


Leader: Someone who is able to influence others to work towards a goal.

Leader–member exchange theory (LMX): Recognises that leaders have different relationships with different followers: high quality of exchange with an ‘in-group’ and low quality of exchange with an ‘out-group’.

Learning organisation: An organisation that is proactive in its approach to change, encouraging and facilitating learning by all of its members and engaging in continual transformation and development.

Learning style: The suggestion that different people learn things in different ways, that each of us has a ‘style’ that suits us best and we should try to find learning opportunities that match our style. Evidence indicates this is not the case.

Linguistic communication channel: Written or spoken language, including intonation, rhythm and paralanguage.


Management by objectives: A form of performance management where goals are agreed between the employee and the manager and later performance appraisals are based on the extent to which these goals are achieved.

Mobile robotic telepresence or mobile remote presence systems (MRPs): A system which combines videoconferencing with mobile robots which can move around in and interact with the environment.

Motivating potential score: A way of scoring different jobs for how potentially motivating they are, based on an evaluation of their job characteristics.

Motivation theory: An explanation of the intensity, direction and persistence of the effort we put into work.

​Multitasking: The common term for the perceived ability to do more than one thing at a time. Multitasking is only possible for activities which require no conscious processing. In reality, when we think we are multitasking we are actually switching our attention from one task to another repeatedly.


Non-linguistic communication channels: Non-verbal communication, including body movements, the intonations or emphasis we give to words, facial expressions, and physical distance.


Open access: Journal articles that are freely available to read on the internet.

Operant conditioning: Explanation of how the consequences of a response or action influence our learning.

Organisation development (OD): An approach to organisational change that emphasises organisation-wide interventions to ensure continual organisational survival.

Organisational commitment: A person’s psychological bond to an organisation: how attached they feel and how much effort they will put into supporting it.


Paralanguage: Any noises we make that are not speech itself but still serve to communicate a message.

Parallel forms reliability: If we have more than one version of a test, a person’s scores must be similar on both versions in order to be reliable.

Path–goal theory of leadership (House): This theory states that leadership is essentially motivational: that is, an effective leader motivates followers by clarifying the path they need to take in order to achieve goal.

Personal transitions: The psychological processes we go through when dealing with change.

Procedural knowledge: Knowledge of how to do things, also known as skills.

Projective test: A measure of aspects of the unconscious mind. The idea behind these tests is that when there ambiguities in how something can be perceived, we project our own internal thoughts and feelings onto the picture. The psychologist can then interpret these projections as indications of our unconscious mind.

Proxemics: The study of the role of interpersonal space and touch in communication.

Psychometrics: Literally a ‘measure of the mind’, these are systematic ways of trying to measure psychological phenomena, such as intelligence or personality traits.

​Psychopathology: See abnormal psychology.

Punctuated equilibrium model of change: This model proposes that sudden large changes are interspersed with longer periods of relative stability.


Reference: Information given by a previous employer about a job candidate’s performance, commonly used as part of the selection process.

Reliability: A measure of the extent to which a psychometric test gives consistent results.

Risk perception: Our perception of the risks associated with particular actions, including an assessment of the uncertainty involved and how much we believe we can control it, as well as how serious we believe the consequences might be.

Risk propensity: Our tendency to take or avoid risk, closely related to our attitude towards risk.


Scientific management: An attempt to use the scientific method to study management techniques; it aims to find the most efficient ways of doing a job in order to improve productivity.

Scientific method: Five-stage process for explaining why things are the way they are:
Observe patterns or regularities in the world
Develop a possible explanation (theory)
From that explanation, develop a specific prediction
Test the prediction Evaluate the explanation and refine it if necessary.

Self-actualisation: Striving towards fulfilling our full potential. A centrally important theme in humanistic psychology.

Social learning theory: Suggests we learn complex behaviours by copying other people.

Social psychology: The study of how we interact with other people and behave in groups.

Statistical significance: A measure of how likely our research findings are to have occurred by chance. The commonly used cut-off point is p<0.05.

Stimulating risk-taking: Taking risks because it makes us feel excited.

Strengths-based development: An approach to personal and professional development which builds on our strengths and finds new ways of applying them, rather than focusing on weaknesses.

Stress: A general term for the sense that we are under pressure, usually used to mean negative pressure or levels that we can not comfortably cope with. Eustress – positive stress Distress – negative stress

Systematic review: A type of research study which systematically draws together and evaluates a wide range of evidence to address a practice-based question.


Talent management: Attracting, developing and retaining the people the business needs to meet its current and future goals.

Test–retest reliability: A measure of the consistency of a test when given to the same people on different occasions.

Thematic Apperception Test (TAT): A type of projective test used to measure a person’s implicit needs: the person is shown an ambiguous picture and writes a brief story in response to it. The psychologist then analyses the story to identify the unconscious needs or motives that it demonstrates.

Trait theory of leadership: Centres around identifying the personality traits associated with leadership.

Transactional leadership: Leadership based on a transaction between the leader and the follower in which good performance is rewarded and poor performance is punished.

Transfer of learning: An area of study which tries to determine how best to help people transfer or apply their learning from one context to another, because the content of what we learn is often reliant on the context in which we learn it.

Transformational leadership: Leadership based on engaging followers’ emotions and inspiring them to achieve certain goals.

Two factor theory (Herzberg): A motivation theory which suggests that hygiene factors (such as a good working environment) are important for removing worker dissatisfaction but that only motivational factors (such as recognition or responsibility) can bring about satisfaction.


Validity: The extent to which a psychometric test is actually measuring what it claims to.


Well-being: General term for psychological, social and physical health and contentment.

Work sample: An exercise that is designed to be as close as possible to the work done in a particular job. A work sample provides evidence of how a job applicant performs in a realistic job situation.

Work–life balance: A balance between the time and resources we invest in work and home or leisure activities. Sometimes also referred to as work-non-work balance to emphasise that work is a part of our lives.