Jo-Ida Hansen applies vocational psychology to our free time
JO-IDA HANSEN HAS spent her career connecting people to the right job. Now she’s doing the fun part: matching them with leisure activity.
Hansen is opening a new area of research at an opportune time as more than 75 million baby boomers approach retirement. “We know that vocational interests drive much of what people do in their work lives," says Hansen. “That stimulated my interest in trying to understand if leisure interests did the same thing."
Hansen is well positioned for this task. She is best known for her work in vocational interest assessment — including research that shows how interests remain stable over time and predict an individual’s career path. She also directs the department’s Ph.D. program in counseling psychology and co-directs the Vocational Assessment Clinic, an in-house laboratory. She currently is serving a three-year stint as associate dean for graduate programs in the College of Liberal Arts.
Hansen’s influence has extended far beyond the University. She developed the third and forth editions of the Strong Interest Inventory. She has won the E. K. Strong, Jr., Gold Medal and the Leona Tyler Award, the highest honor in counseling psychology, which recognized her “eminent scholarship and her untiring commitment to the discipline and its scientific base." She served as president of the Association for Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, as president of the Society for Counseling Psychology, and as editor of the Journal of Counseling Psychology.
Given this long list of professional responsibilities, leisure might not be the first word that people associate with Hansen. Even so, her recent research takes a basic notion of vocational psychology — the match between individual and environment — and applies it to life outside work.
“When they think about retirement, historically most companies and most people worry about things like benefits, their pension or IRA," says Hansen. “They’re less concerned about how people make the transition from work to retirement, have life satisfaction, and integrate that with the consequences of aging: bad health, lack of physical ability, and the dissolution of relationships."
Many retirees, says Hansen, become unmoored when they stop working. “A lot of people, particularly in the corporate world, come to retirement and feel they’re no longer engaged in useful activities," she says. “Suddenly they have way too much time on their hands."
That’s where her new work begins. Over the last 10 years, Hansen has developed a 325-item questionnaire on leisure interests that runs the gamut from adventure sports to travel to volunteering. This tool will help people find activities that suit their tastes, improve their quality of life, and reduce stress. This vein of research already has yielded interesting revelations. One study examined patterns of leisure interests between generations. For thirtysomethings, social contacts tended to be integrated with other pursuits like sports, perhaps because they focus on family activities with their children. “For college students, social activities still have a primary role," says Hansen. “Retirees look quite similar to the young adults in that the social factor of leisure interests reappears."
In another study, Hansen and her colleagues surveyed a group of University alumni at their 50th reunion along with faculty and staff who had reached retirement. They found that people with higher energy levels were content with a wider range of community activities; those with lower energy levels were pickier, and finding a match with the right activity became more important.
Millions of Americans will make the transition to retirement in the years ahead. As baby boomers leave the workforce, Hansen’s research will help them find the gold in their golden years.