A good textbook is like a good party host: it should introduce you to the crowd, be sensitive to who you are, think of who you would most like to meet, and give you some background on them. At the end, you will know a little about many of the guests and have talked to some of them at length.
Are these two books good hosts for the British party-goer? Both cover very similar material from a strongly North American perspective, what in the United States is called industrial/organisational psychology. Topics include personnel, organisational and human factors psychology, plus some historical and methodological information. Similar areas define what in Britain is called occupational psychology.
Lilly Berry's book takes an accessible functional approach. It reads somewhat like a practitioner's handbook. Robert Smither's book takes a more structural view, which is a little cumbersome, and some of the chapters appear oddly placed.
In content, both books give most space to areas such as job recruitment, performance appraisal, training, job satisfaction, job stress and leadership, and a moderate amount on organisational structure and development, and groups at work. Human factors are the poor relation, with human performance and error, accidents, and work and equipment design getting relatively little attention.
In essence, both books describe "what's out there" in a readable style aimed at North American introductory undergraduate courses. In Britain, occupational psychology is taught mainly at postgraduate level. Undergraduate courses tend to be at second or third-year level and rarely cover the whole field. These books are too comprehensive and descriptive for most British undergraduate courses, and they lack enough evaluation of material, discussion of different theoretical perspectives or coverage of human factors to meet MSc-level professional course requirements.
Nonetheless, students in the UK would get a reasonable introduction to psychology in the workplace, would meet many familiar faces, and may well be tempted to make further acquaintance or explore UK texts. So not a bad party to join.
Nik Chmiel is director, MSc in occupational psychology, University of Sheffield.
Psychology at Work
Author - Lilly M. Berry
ISBN - 0 07 115963 0
Publisher - McGraw-Hill
Price - £24.99
Pages - 578