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Case Study on Application of Theory of Work Adjustment into Clinical Practice

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Guirong is having difficulty adjusting to change in expectations and coping with expanding job scope. As a junior manager, she has to manage the expectations of her direct reports, as well as that of her management. She felt that she wasn’t given sufficient tools by the management to motivate her team and she felt tired to be sandwiched between the management and the rank-and-file.Her workload has increase tremendously in the recent 3 years as her company adopts an e-economy approach and hire lesser people. In addition, there was a new project that started early this year, adding to her current workload. The project is to last another 2-3 years until 2021; thus her heavy workload is expected to remain or even increase further. She had voiced her difficulty to handle the increase workload to her boss, but it was rebutted, with her boss stating that this was the expectations of someone of her level and everyone had an increase in their workload. She is unsure should she continue in her current role and company or should she just leave.As she is struggling with people management and expectations of a leader, she is keen to just take up a job role as an individual contributor. However, she is concern of the possibility of lower salary, her career progression and the competition against fresh graduates.

Application of Theory of Work Adjustment into clinical practice

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This is a typical case of a client facing work adjustment issues as she progresses in her career into middle management and a leadership role. The higher expectations and job requirements displace the correspondence achieved earlier in her career. With that, the theory of work adjustment is applied as a framework in the clinical practice.Theory of work adjustment is about how individuals interact with the work environment in their work life. As a person-environment fit model, both the person and environment are important in applying the TWA framework. Thus, in the application of TWA, Parsons’ three steps of trait-and-factor approach are followed. Parsons proposed to (1) understand oneself, (2) understand the requirements and conditions of the occupation, and (3) match the abilities and values with requirements and reinforcers. However, most studies in the application of TWA measures characteristics of the person more often than the environment due to difficulty in obtaining the job description of the occupation and measuring the level of satisfactoriness. Similar to other studies in the application of TWA, this report will focus on the first step of Parsons’ three steps of trait-and-factor approach, i.e. understanding the client.

Assessing client’s values and needs

According to TWA, an employee seeks values and needs in a job, while providing their abilities to fulfil the job ability requirements. 20 needs were thought to be important, which are grouped into 6 value dimensions: (a) achievement, (b) comfort, (c) status, (d) altruism, (e) safety, and (f) autonomy. Therefore, to understand Guirong, we will need to identify what are her needs and values in a job.From our session, I assessed that she prioritize comfort and safety, more than the other values as she frequently mentioned independence, compensation and support from top management (supervision – human relations). It is possible that she may rank achievement and status next as she discussed about the lack of time to accomplish her tasks and her concern on advancement. However, this was not fully explored in the session.The session could be improved if more powerful and thought-provoking questions were asked. These may be “How did your boss support you previously, besides giving you promotion and monetary incentives? Why do you think verbal motivation is just lip service?” I could perhaps share that there were research done on verbal motivation and praise and that it does have positive impact in achieving better performance. I could also introduce to her and raise her awareness of the tools available to get a proper assessment of her values. This includes doing a values card sort with her or mention about the Work Importance Profiler by O*Net Resource Center.

Assessing client’s abilities

TWA proposed that there is a need for correspondence between an employee’s abilities and the job’s ability requirements to achieve a level of satisfactoriness. Depending on the level of satisfactoriness, an employee can be promoted, transfer or fire, of which all will lead to a new job ability requirements. For Guirong, she was promoted to junior manager and faced new ability requirements. Before we can establish that there is dis-correspondence between her abilities and the job requirements, we will need to find out what are her abilities. From our session, I gathered that she has the ability to think critically and strong in analytical and problem solving skills. She is responsible, patient, work independently and has high expectations of herself.

Upon reviewing the video, I realized that I have not fully explore her abilities, the perceived new job ability requirements and the level of satisfactoriness as a junior manager. I could have probe further as to why her boss promoted her to this level, allowing her to notice blind-spots and challenge her self-limiting internal behaviour that she does not have leadership qualities and skills. Besides that, I could have asked whether her boss has communicated to her about the new job ability requirements and have she gathered feedback with regards to her performance as a junior manager. Without probing and clarifying, I was unable to assess that she accurately perceives her abilities.

Process of adjustment – the Interaction Model

TWA postulates that both individuals and their environments seek to achieve and maintain correspondence. This process of adjustment depends on 2 variables: flexibility and perseverance. Flexibility is define as the ability to tolerate the mismatch between abilities and requirements and/or values and reinforcers, while perseverance is define as the length of time an individual/environment will continue to engage in adjustment behaviour. Hence, we will need to identify the degree of dis-correspondence felt by Guirong currently, before exploring problem-solving strategies.Although Guirong is having the thought of leaving at the back of her mind, she is still willing to adjust to the current environment. She mentioned that there are things in this company that is worth staying for. While she fears the uncertainty that the new project brings, she is also toying with the idea that she will survive and become a stronger, better person should she stay for another 4 years. Furthermore, there weren’t many attempts to change the work environment or herself except voicing her displeasure for heavy workload to her boss. Therefore, while her flexibility level has exceeded, the extent of dis-correspondence is not unmanageable or requires a change to another environment.

With that, I explored the two adjustment modes with. I started with the active mode on ways to change the work environment such as requesting for more reinforcers like better remuneration or asking for reduction in workload. She is willing to try but doubtful it will be of much use. Following that, I turned the attention to the reactive mode of personal development. She acknowledged that she is currently lacking in personal development as she struggles to have better management of her time. She would like to do something about it and we discussed about how to free up time by delegating and give more chances to her junior colleagues who fumbled initially.

After reviewing the video, I realised it would be better if I discussed and explored with her what type of personal development does she has in mind. This will allow her to think and come out with a more concrete action plan.

Effectiveness of TWA

TWA is a well researched theory with some constructs such as correspondence, satisfaction and satisfactoriness well supported with empirical evidence by its authors and their students. However, there are little independent verification of the theory as it is difficult to obtain the requirements and conditions of the occupation, and thus unable to match the abilities and values with requirements and reinforcers. Likewise, there is little support for adjustment style variables to conclude the relationship between adjustment and behaviour in a work setting. Similar to other studies, I felt that in this case, TWA is effective in creating self-awareness in Guirong but inadequate to address her adjustment issues. In the construct of perseverance, it is tough to quantify. While the project is to last for 4 more years, that does not mean her perseverance will last for the same period of time. We will then need to ask her what will make her snap and again this may depend on her alternatives, whether she can find other jobs. Hence, the process is to create more self-awareness, then solving the issue. Besides that, in this case, the assessment instrument General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB) does not measure leadership ability and there is a need to use alternative method such as performance appraisal to identify her work-relevant abilities.

Conclusion

Through this case study, I realized more research needs to be done on TWA to make it a more conclusive theory to apply and put into practice. In addition, clients may be at a crossroad due to a lack of information, which as a career counsellor, you will need to share and educate the clients about the labour market requirements. I have learnt that when you are facing the client in one session, it is extremely hard to put theory into application and approach the issues systematically as you wouldn’t have the full complete picture of the situation without probing and clarifying. Therefore, it is essential to have counselling skills coupled with career theories to provide proper career counselling and guidance.

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