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Work: 2024 trends of American Psychology Association

When it comes to employment, Americans in all sorts of occupations—from auto workers to Hollywood actors, from startup founders to restaurant servers—are feeling unsteady thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), reverberations of the pandemic, job design, and other factors, psychologists say.

“Instability of work is something that has been part of humanity, and it feels like it’s getting worse in some ways because it is getting worse,” said David Blustein, PhD, a professor in Boston College’s Department of Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology.

“The number one thing people are craving right now is stability—especially in their workplaces,” said Ella F. Washington, PhD, an organizational psychologist and professor of practice at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

But the future of work isn’t all bleak: An unstable ground is strengthening workers’ resolve to advocate for meaning, well-being, and work-life balance on the job, and psychologists are poised to help.

[RelatedA sense of belonging is crucial for employees. How employers can foster connection and social support]

“We know how to improve jobs and to improve motivation, to increase people’s satisfaction, and also to make it so that they add value,” said Susan J. Lambert, PhD, codirector of the Employment Instability, Family Well-Being, and Social Policy Scholars Network at the University of Chicago.

In other words, working toward greater stability, she added, “is good for business and it’s good for people, and I think it’s really good for society.”

Origins of instability

Instability at work doesn’t just mean the threat, or reality, of layoffs. Researchers define it as “a state in which the consequences of a mismatch between an individual’s functional and/or cognitive abilities and demands of their job can threaten continuing employment if not resolved” (Brain Injury, Vol. 20, No. 8, 2006).

Maybe someone’s not paid enough to maintain their lifestyle, maybe they can’t keep up with the pace, maybe they lack a sense of belonging, maybe their environment is straight-up toxic.

However workers experience it, the pandemic is perhaps the most blatant driver of instability at work—continuing to shake up the literal ground many employees stand on as employers experiment with hybrid schedules. While research suggests more flexibility largely benefits workers’ mental health and productivity, quickly-shifting mandates on who should work where and when can be disorienting, as can an office environment that’s just not the same.

Employees are “not necessarily in the same location when they are ‘on location.’ They’re not necessarily, or rarely, with the same configurations of people and activities that they were before,” said Amy Wrzesniewski, PhD, a professor of management at Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania who studies meaning at work. “So maybe people are in the office a few days a week, but the office isn’t the office anymore.”

Job design is contributing to instability too, said Lambert, a professor at the University of Chicago Crown School of Social Work who studies work scheduling practices among low-wage workers.

“A lot of jobs have just been so fragmented that people can’t complete a whole job from beginning to end, and they can’t take pride in it,” she said. It’s easier for a salesperson who sees a purchase all the way through to reap satisfaction, for example, than someone whose single duty is to price items.

Put another way: When jobs are designed so that people can be replaceable, they’ll feel replaceable.

Relatedly, an increasing reliance on contract workers over salaried employees is driving instability, Blustein said. This played out in the auto workers’ strike of fall 2023, he said, where the workers demanded automakers stop hiring so many temporary workers to do their tasks.

Wavering equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) efforts can also contribute to instability at work, particularly among employees from marginalized groups, said Washington, an EDI expert who serves as founder and CEO of Ellavate Solutions in Washington, D.C.

Washington said she’s witnessed many organizations ease up on their commitment to EDI—sometimes unintentionally, and often quietly, such as having a page on their website about inclusion go dark or an EDI director role go unfilled.

“To me that’s the more scary part of the change because—unlike the change in 2020—you can’t see it until it’s too late,” she said.

But employees from underrepresented populations can feel it and, as a result, start to psychologically retreat. That has implications for both them and their employers, Washington said.

“Research shows that when employees can be their authentic selves and they can work and play toward their strengths, they’re not only happier and feel more of a sense of psychological safety, but they also do better work,” she said.

Finally, how artificial intelligence is and will affect people’s livelihoods is contributing to both practical and emotional instability among workers.

In a follow-up to APA’s 2023 Work in America survey specifically about AI, 38% of respondents reported worrying that AI might make some or all of their job duties obsolete, and 64% of those who were worried said they typically feel tense or stressed during the workday.

Be able to transform a passion into your job

The personal dimension that I admire most in humans is their ability to transform a passion into their work.

Athletes and artists are among those recognized for their direct connection between their professional activity and their passion for sports and art. However, this can occur in any human endeavor. It takes courage and tenacity to pursue this personal project, as nothing is guaranteed when deciding to take this path. It’s the passion that sustains this way of gaining perspective even when there’s no certainty of achieving a satisfying result, which can be attained at the highest levels of success or perhaps in less obvious outcomes that are equally fulfilling for those who attain them.

Maintaining the connection between passion and work is challenging, and there are many questions and doubts that people encounter along this path. It’s a bond based on thinking big, fulfilling one’s dream, while having to act daily within one’s small environment. One must move forward with head held high, proud of the choices made, but also stay grounded, savoring the effort and setbacks that accompany this journey towards self-realization.

It’s a game where one must quickly learn to accept mistakes and defeats, knowing that the better equipped you are, the more easily you’ll rise from defeats.

In a world that demands security and guarantees of success, this approach represents precisely the opposite, telling you: ‘You’ll find yourself in difficult situations, you’ll make mistakes, you’ll fear not improving. Good! These will be the moments to test your passion. If you keep wanting to learn despite the mistakes, it means you’re genuinely passionate. If instead, you give up, it means you don’t have enough desire to face difficulties to overcome them.

Is work in sports feasible for young with intellectual disabilities?

Employment is a vital component of community life for most working-age adults. In addition to being a social expectation in most cultures, paid work provides the financial means to support basic elements of citizenship, such as self-sufficiency in maintaining oneself, choice in participating in activities, and maintaining health and safety.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms “the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection from unemployment” for all human beings, emphasizing work as a basic need and a human right. In addition, employment provides an important channel for meaningful social participation, serving as a means to connect socially and professionally with others, to contribute to the immediate or wider community, and to develop one’s skills and knowledge.

For people with disabilities, the role of employment as a means of gaining access to valued social roles may be even more crucial. The lack of finances and connections outside the home creates a cycle of social isolation for many, and makes participation in social activities difficult. While social programs in most developed countries help ameliorate the lack of earned income, most do little to bring people with disabilities up to acceptable standards of living, and do not address the social isolation and low status associated with continued unemployment.

In Italy

In the world of work, inclusion is almost nonexistent. Only 31.4 percent of people with Down syndrome over 24 have jobs. Most of the employed (more than 60 percent), however, are not on standard employment contracts.

In most cases they work in social cooperatives, often without a proper contract. In addition, 70 percent of the cases receive no or minimal compensation, which is in any case less than the normal salary. Even more serious is the situation for people with autism: only 10% of those over 20 work.

“Over time,” according to Censis, “the sense of abandonment of families increases and the share of those who complain of not being able to count on anyone’s help in thinking about the future life prospects of their children with disabilities grows.

While among parents of children/adolescents with Down syndrome up to 15 years of age the share of parents thinking about an ‘after us’ in which their child will have an independent or semi-autonomous life varies between 30 percent and 40 percent, among parents of adults the share decreases to 12 percent. The share of parents of children/adolescents with autism who envision a future situation of even partial autonomy for their children (23%) decreases even more dramatically (5%) among families who have a child with autism aged 21 and older.”


Are you passionate?

We often use words without stopping to understand their value. This is the case when we talk about passion. What do we mean when we say that we are passionate about something, that amateurs (nowadays more frequently called masters), for example, are passionate about swimming, running or cycling. That is, that I do the work I’ve always wanted to do.

Passion consists of a particularly strong motivation towards a well-defined activity, it is very useful to understand what drives to training, study or work. A survey conducted in 2019 had highlighted that 55% of Italians are satisfied with their work. satisfaction is at a lower level than passion although positive and determined by experiences evaluated as rewarding.

Passion emerges in those jobs that involve a certain degree of creativity and are perceived by those who perform them as more exciting, since they require autonomy, decision-making skills and divergent reasoning. Those who consider it necessary to introduce innovative factors into their professional experiences, as opposed to those who make more conservative choices, are certainly among those who perform work with passion. Athletes who have succeeded in turning their passion for their sport into a job fall into this category. Outside the work context, those who are engaged in activities driven by the pleasure they provide, from which they derive no gain or material recognition, are individuals turned to cultivating a passion.

Like any psychological dimension, passion can be interpreted in a constructive and pleasant way and in another more negative way, in this case we can talk about:

Harmonious passion, it is based on autonomous motives. pleasure and the feeling of mastery.
Obsessive passion, consists in feeling obliged or compensate for other aspects of the personality. Reduces concentration. Obstructs self-regulation.

How computer job increases the sedentariness

Shirin Panahi and Angelo Tremblay, 2018, Sedentariness and Health: Is Sedentary Behavior More Than Just Physical Inactivity? Front. Public Health, 10 September 2018     

The World Health Organization recommends that adults aged 18 or older participate in at least 150 min of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week or the equivalent of 30 min of daily activity . Currently, just over 15% of Canadian adults are meeting these guidelines.

The problems of sedentariness may not only be attributed to a lack of movement, but also to the stimulation provided by replacing activities.

In addition to the changes in human activity, globalization and technological changes have favored a progressive switch from physically demanding tasks to knowledge-based work or mental activity soliciting an enhanced cognitive demand. Screen-based leisure activities (e.g., television watching, video games, and internet use) and screen-based work activities (e.g., computer use for work purposes) have often been considered together while they may not trigger the same stress response and/or use of substrate. Furthermore, from a physiological perspective, the biological requirements and effects of physical and cognitive work are not the same. Mental work, for instance, may significantly increase glycemic instability (i.e., wide fluctuations in blood glucose concentrations) leading to an increase in the desire to eat and thus, higher energy intakes.

Thus, the problems of sedentariness may not only be attributed to a lack of movement, but also to the stimulation provided by replacing activities. In a context where there is exposure to cognitive work, novel strategies to increase physical activity and improve energy balance regulation are needed.


As has been previously suggested, from a physiological perspective, the biological requirements of physical and mental work are different because knowledge-based work is a type of activity that relies on the brain which utilizes glucose for the metabolism of energy compared to physical activity which uses skeletal muscle and relies mostly on fat metabolism, depending on the type of physical activity.

However potential solutions that consider approaches to counteracting the negative impact of mental work may be possible with the readjustment of daily physical activity schedules.

In the context of a school or work environment, recent data has suggested that combining mental and physical work (e.g., active pauses/meetings), may be one strategy to reduce sedentary time in a context where potential neurogenic stress may be high.

An acute bout of interval exercise after mental work was shown to decrease food consumption compared with a non-exercise condition suggesting that it may be used as an approach to offset positive energy balance induced by mental tasks.

In the workplace, sit-stand desks were found to be effective in decreasing workplace sedentary behavior in office workers with abdominal obesity, with no change in sedentary behavior or physical activity outside of work hours; however, these changes did not alter markers of cardiometabolic risk in these individuals. Furthermore, the use of sit-stand desks in sedentary office workers was also associated an overall sense of well-being and energy, decreased fatigue, and reduction in appetite, food intake and lower self-perceived levels of hunger.

The job of sport psychologist

Speaking to young sport psychologists often I say that beyond the content they want to develop, the objective of the consultant process in sports is that our business must be perceived by coaches and athletes as useful. Years ago Autogenic Training was very popular and was often taught to athletes, who learned to relax but often not perceived usefulness in relation to their performances. Sometimes athletes who met told me: “A colleague learned me to relax, but then I stopped because I did not understand what it needed.”
Athletes are people oriented to practice, evaluating the effectiveness of training depending on the results that can be achieved. The psychologists are too often geared to demonstrate their competences and sometimes they are rigid in the application of the techniques. So, for example,it  is expected to reduce the competitive stress through relaxation  or to improve the concentration only through mental rehearsal.
They should instead develop a program of mental training based on the needs of the athlete and in relation to sport practiced. In addition, the athletes are pragmatic people, who appreciate those who provide them tasks to practice, being able to test their utility during training. Task of the psychologists must be to propose activities that they consider to be perceived as useful, for the reason they are intended to improve at least one aspect of the sport performances. Anything that does not produce this effect will be stored by the athlete as an interesting experience but useless. Then:
  • Listen to the athlete and / or coach
  • Understand their needs
  • Understanding these requirements to which behaviors are
  • Assume in what way and with what techniques these behaviors can be learned / improved
  • Determine which are the parameters for which you can say that this has been achieved
  • Share this journey with the athlete training
  • Put in place and whether and how to correct
  • Evaluate their own work (during and after)

Thoughts on our young talents

Roland Garros opened a period of great emotions for our sport and showed how good the young Italian tennis players are, guys to be proud of. It is not over with tennis because there will still be many prestigious tournaments in which to show their value.

Now the European Championships are starting and after years we have a united and enthusiastic team, led by a true leader, Roberto Mancini. His main merit is to have transmitted a sense of responsibility and belonging to the players who, not surprisingly, have responded to this approach with the quality of their play and an impressive streak of successes. Cohesion is usually at the basis of victories and also in this case, as with young tennis players, a lot of interest and optimism has been created.

The third big event of the summer is the Tokyo Olympics. There are more than 300 athletes who make up our Olympic team. They are the best we have and represent the tip of the iceberg of the sports movement. Many are at their first experience like those in free climbing, for the first time at the Games.

It may not be a country for young people but there are many who are good and competent. The athletes who participate in these sporting events are the best known but alongside them there are many others who are working hard to achieve the same results for years to come. I think it is very important that this is known, it is not rhetorical to remember it and it concerns young people who come from the most disparate social conditions. They are not even the only ones, certainly they are the most popular, but next to them there are many others who are competent in other professional fields and who have satisfactory jobs. It is equally well known that there are for other young people considerable difficulties in employment and often the jobs they find are poorly paid. Psychology has shown that knowing the experiences of peers who have achieved positive results thanks to their commitment and not because they are children of and have studied in public schools is a strong motivational incentive to become aware that these goals are achievable. On the contrary, if the media and many labor organizations will continue to talk exclusively about the laziness of young people who do not want to make sacrifices and the problems caused by the use of smartphones, it seems to me quite obvious that no future law or material incentive will be able to change this type of culture, based on the concept well expressed in the words of Alberto Sordi: “It ‘s better that you get used to injustice as a child, because when you grow up you do not get used to it anymore!”

The junior sport psychologist job in Italy

To find a job you just have to rely on your own strength, unless you belong to that group that you settle through friends of friends. I have never belonged to this type of group and, therefore, I take the opportunity of giving some suggestions to the young psychologists who write to me and who want to do it with their own strength. Here they are, they are simple, perhaps they may seem trivial but they are actions available to everyone:

  1. know English: very well
  2. want to specialize and, above all, to do so (there are better masters in Europe than there are currently in Italy)
  3. be part of an international social network of young professionals who exchange ideas and opportunities for work and internship: www.enyssp.com
  4. map the people known, predicting how each of them could be useful to increase opportunities and knowledge in sport
  5. do internships abroad (summer or not)
  6. ask to the university professors (or others) to get to know youth experts who have managed to achieve what they wanted and talk to them for information.
  7. read the most updated manual of sport psychology and then for the articles, find the authors’ email on the internet and write to them, they will send them to you
  8. don’t listen to those who say there’s nothing to do, work hard to find your way
  9. establish a fixed time to find work in your city, then you will have to search in a wider geographical area
  10. In Italy at the moment the opportunities for collaboration in sport, for young graduates, are mainly with football schools, they need the psychologist to be classified at the highest level by FIGC (it may be useful to contact the psychologist of your Region in the youth and school section of the FIGC) and in tennis that provides the role of mental trainer to work in the clubs (information on the website of the Italian Tennis Federation)

Use your social and cognitive skills to find a job

Jobs with a high demand for cognitive and human skills, and therefore cities with a high concentration of such occupations, are generally less sensitive to recessions, according to a study by Carlianne Patrick and Amanda Weinstein. Their research is the first to show that the recovery of metropolitan areas from economic recessions depends more on the composition of skills – cognitive, social or motor skills – than on the level of education, which is more difficult to measure.

“Existing studies show that recessions reinforce trends already in place, so we looked at the data in light of multiple recessions, especially the Great Recession. With each recession, it seemed to take the economy longer to recover, and we wanted to understand that particular trend,” said Patrick. “In the Great Recession, for example, more than 8.6 million people across the country lost their jobs, but not always in proportionate amounts to their community populations.”

Researchers examined metropolitan areas with high levels of cognitive and social skills, and others with a high concentration of motor skills. They found that workers with high cognitive and/or social skills had less unemployment, especially during recessions, than those with high motor skills.

In addition, metropolitan areas, even small ones, which were fortunate to have a high concentration of workers with cognitive and social skills, were not only less likely to feel the effects of a recession, but were more likely to recover quickly from a recession.

“Occupational data shows that people with cognitive skills also tend to have people skills, and it’s the ability to relate to people that is most important in reducing the length of time it takes a city to return to pre-recession levels … Education is important but it’s not enough. It’s critical to cultivate people skills in workers with motor skills, to help them weather changing economic conditions,” Patrick said.

Because workers need high levels of cognitive and social skills to increase their chances of employment during a recession, researchers suggest that governments, particularly in cities and regions that have historically relied on motor skills, should consider training workers to build their cognitive and social skills and people to foster more resilient and recession-proof economies.