Three women who made seminal contributions to occupational health psychology and research were honored posthumously at the fifth "Work, Stress and Health Conference: New Challenges in a Changing Workplace," convened by APA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Queen's University School of Business, March 20-22 in Toronto. The health and well-being of women in the workplace was one of the topics addressed at the conference, which drew 650 researchers and medical and psychological health practitioners from 26 countries.
During the conference, NIOSH and APA "brought together a group of international experts on women, work and health to participate in a special workshop designed to broaden the conceptual framework for the relationship between the organization of work, health and well-being to specifically include women," says organizer Jeanne Mager Stellman, PhD, professor and deputy head of the department of health policy and management at Columbia University in New York and a member of the conference's scientific organizing committee. "This was a landmark occasion, and the ideas generated by the [workshop participants] really set the stage for a research agenda."
Stellman presented one of the three Distinguished Leadership Awards in Occupational Health Psychology in memory of Josephine Goldmark (1877-1950). Also honored was the Russell Sage Foundation, which in 1912 published Goldmark's "Fatigue and Efficiency," a landmark compendium of historical, political, social, economic, and physiological analyses. "If the contextual cues could be stripped from her groundbreaking publication...this work would be readily admitted into today's literature," says conference organizer Steven L. Sauter, PhD, chief of the Organizational Science and Human Factors Branch of NIOSH, who nominated Goldmark for the award.
Also honored for her lifelong contributions to occupational health psychology was Marie "Mitzi" Jahoda (1907-2001). APA's Div. 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues), of which Jahoda served as president from 1955 to 1956, was also recognized.
"Jahoda's work has profoundly influenced our understanding of the meaning of both employment and unemployment, and their consequences," says conference co-chair Julian Barling PhD, associate dean of the Queen's University School of Business in Kingston, Ontario.
Carlla Smith (1947-2002), who helped establish one of the first occupational health psychology programs in the United States at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, was honored for her research on occupational stress and the effects of shift work. The university was also honored for supporting Smith's program.
Other topics addressed at the conference included terrorism and mass disaster; work-family balance; restructuring, downsizing and precarious employment status; the impact of new types of work contracts; reducing occupational stress; cardiovascular disease and psychosocial workplace factors; workplace violence; burnout; and the organization of work.
"This was a particularly thought-provoking and energizing conference with some of the world's foremost scientists presenting cutting-edge research and with a good deal of vigorous exchange and interaction," says conference co-chair Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, PhD, director of the APA Women's Programs Office and associate executive director of the APA Public Interest Directorate. One of those experts was APA President-elect Diane Halpern, PhD, who reported on how and why employers benefit from providing their employees with flexible work arrangements. Workers who have more control over their time have fewer incidences of reported stress, miss fewer days of work and are more committed to their employers, reports Halpern, director of the Berger Institute for Work, Family and Children at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.
"The findings made perfect sense," Halpern says. "This sort of research translates into savings for the employer."
Current events were especially relevant to the conference's focus on worker health. That the meeting opened a day after the invasion of Iraq and coincided with reports of an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Toronto was significant to many participants, says Queen's University's Barling.
"There were numerous sessions trying to get to grips with the psychological sense of safety and security, and the consequences of feeling a loss of control over one's safety. Several papers also attempted to quantify the negative effects of the attacks on 9/11," he says. "Clearly, when we think of people's mental health in the workplace, we now have a significant new issue to confront."