“What Is Someone’s Occupation? – The Answers Might Be Surprising”

Talk to 20 people or so standing in line to get coffee, order lunch, or board their flight. Ask them what their occupation is, and we would expect to get the typical responses – the shortened, familiar ones rather than the formal titles that might be on their business card or next to their door or cubicle. 

People would tell us that they are a teacher, lawyer (or attorney), firefighter, paramedic, nurse, salesman (or salesperson), sales manager, stockbroker, journalist, reporter, letter carrier, parcel delivery, truck driver, shipping clerk, carpenter, plumber, and the list goes on.

That’s true, to a point. However, we have multiple occupations – some paid and some volunteer.

During this month of April – National Occupational Therapy Month – we reflect on the role of the OTs and just what an occupation actually is. Nowhere does it say that an occupation is what we are paid to do or that it only counts as an occupation if we receive money for doing it.

OTs evaluate how well someone can perform the activities of daily living – basic life skills – and function independently in their home or living space. They are concerned about someone being able to be effective in pursuing their particular occupation or occupations whether at home or in the workplace.

Let’s take a closer look at occupations. A pre-schooler has an occupation – playing. To the extent they are able to engage in that set of activities completely and participate in their physical, sensory, and mental growth, they are being functional.

Take someone mentioned at the outset that responded to what we would expect to hear in response to a question about their occupation – because people equate or associate the word occupation with the concept of work or a job – that’s likely only part of the total picture. Very often, someone is a son, daughter, father, mother, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or some other relationship in the family structure, and those come with a list of implied or assumed “job” responsibilities also.

Also, someone – in addition to their normal paid job responsibilities, and in the case of someone unemployed or retired – may be a volunteer at a hospital, church, library, soup kitchen, school, or some other non-profit program. They may be a youth soccer, baseball, hockey, martial arts, BMX, or another type of coach. Perhaps they are a scoutmaster, Sunday School teacher, mentor, or other types of volunteers. These are all occupations – typically unpaid – that co-exist with being a professional, family member or roommate, or friend.

People may have hobbies – also occupations – such as sewing, woodworking, sculpting, drawing, painting, photography, astronomy, gardening, cooking, baking, wine or beer making, cycling, jogging, rollerblading, collecting, and so many other pursuits done inside the home (including the garage or basement), in the yard, and nearby in the neighborhood.

Think that OTs only work with people to get them back into the workplace after an accidental or medical setback? It’s much broader than that. This is where establishing universal design and visitability components in each dwelling facilitate aging in place regardless of what someone’s occupation may be or how many they might have.

As non-healthcare (OTs, PTs, or others) aging in place professionals, particularly when we are working with people without urgent medical needs, our clients may have so many other non-apparent issues that need to be considered and addressed that affect how they use their living space and how it can be accommodated to serve them better.

They are going to have multiple occupations (paid and unpaid, formal and informal), whether they have begun their working careers or already completed them – across the age spectrum. This highlights the importance of working with OTs because we need their input and expertise as we begin evaluating how to serve our clients and the many needs they may have – beyond what may seem obvious or apparent to us.

Share with your friend and colleagues!