What is occupation?

occupation meaning
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Occupational therapy was defined as science of healing by occupation (1910). Occupational Therapist is an expert in the use of occupation as a health giving art.

Now the question arises what is occupation meaning

In everyday life Reading the book, bathing, going to market, eating something all are occupations. People do without ever knowing about them as being occupation. To know what occupation is, it is necessary to examine what humans do in their time, how such activities are organized? What purposes they serve? and what they mean for individual and society?

Occupation is a group of activities and task of everyday life which can be named, organized and given value and meaning by individuals and a society. (Canadian Association of Occupation Therapist, 1998)

The activities that comprise are life experiences and can be named in the culture is referred to as occupation. (Larson Wood and Clark, 2003)

According to Willard and Spackman’s 6th edition, Occupation is defined as the dominant activity of human being that includes serious, productive pursuits and playful, creative and festive behavior. It is the result of evolutionary process culminating in biological, psychological and social needs for ludic and productive activity.

To know occupation meaning in Hindi click here.

It is unlikely that any single definition of occupation will ever capture its total essence. As knowledge grows, the definition should expand and become more comprehensive and integrated.

In layman language, Occupation is understood as job or profession, the way in which people spend their time.

But occupational therapists recognizes occupation in a broader sense. Occupations include the day to day activities that enable people to sustain themselves to contribute to the life of their family and to participate in the broader society (Crepeau et al).

Occupations are multifaceted phenomena going beyond everyday work. Occupations are elementary to human health and wellbeing. Because they provide meaning identity and structure to people lives and reflects society, value and culture. Because humans are occupational being, occupations have therapeutic potential.

Occupation as major activity of human being

Occupation refers to the human activity in which they are involved throughout their life. Human beings engage in survival, spiritual, sexual and social activities, other than those activities that are specifically occupational in nature.

Survival activities are those that preserve of the basic integrity of an individual. For example, eating and avoiding pain and danger. Sexual activities ensure the Perpetuation of species. This survival and sexual activities are meant for biological requirement of individual and the species.

A social activity refers to interaction and relation between individual and group. Language is the most probable dimension of social activity as it provides a medium for interaction and communication.

Spiritual activities are also an important part of human activities. Every group of individual has some belief in an ultimate power. Religions are one of the forms of spiritual activity.

However, one cannot clearly categorise human activities. One or more than one kind of activities overlaps throughout the life of an individual. Occupation can be seen to fulfill the basic need of human being, individually and collectively to explore and master their world.

In everyday life, occupation is often interrelated with sexual, survival, social and spiritual activities. On the other hand, many work, play and self-care activities while they indirectly serve survival or other needs are primary occupation in nature. Further, there are some activities that individual do for their own sake and server basic urge for exploration and mastery. Thus one can say that, there are two categories of occupation one activities that have occupational dimension and other activities that are primarily occupational in Nature.

The statement that occupation is major activity of human being is not meant to suggest that it is more important than other areas of human behavior, but rather to denote that, it consists of majority of human time.

Forms of occupation

Occupational therapist categorized occupations as, ADL (activities of daily living) worker/ productivity and leisure/play.

forms of occupation in occupational therapyActivities of daily living include self-care, functional mobility, communication, home management, personal hygiene and community activity such as shopping. Work or productivity includes paid and unpaid work. Play or leisure activities include socializing, outdoor activities, games and sports.

Daily living tasks

Daily living task includes self-care, daily routine work, maintenance of one’s living spaces and those behaviors required for access to resource like travelling, shopping etc.

Daily living activities rarely form a major part of an inndividual identity. Daily living tasks do not directly contribute to service or commodities of social group and they are not valued like work. But when a person is unable to do his or her own daily living task then work or productivity of another social member like family or caregiver are required.

Thus daily living task are indirectly productive to the social groups.


Productive activities are those that provide a service or commodity need by another or that add new abilities, ideas, knowledge, aesthetic objects or performance to the cultural, tradition.

Activities engaged in to fulfill one’s duties as a student, housewife, volunteer, serious hobbyist and that are part of one’s identity can be considered as work.


The whole ranges of unidirectional enjoyable behaviour from childhood to old age constitute play.

In youth play predominant occupation behaviour and involves exploratory, creative and game like behaviour. In adolescence and adulthood it transform into hobbies, social recreation, sports, cultural celebration and rituals. In old age play once again becomes a predominant occupational behaviour, generally referred to as leisure.

Occupation for therapy

Basically, there are two implications of occupation as follows:

  1. Since occupation is the central to human adaptation, Its absence or disruption respective of any other medical or social problem, is a threat to health and
  2. When illness, drama or social conditions have affected the biological or psychological health of an individual occupation is an effective means for reorganising behaviour.

Occupation therapist plan and implement and intervention program by replacing the lost occupation with carefully guided and organised activity. These occupational activities, which are used in intervention, influence both the occupational dysfunction and any other extent medical problem.

I hope after reading this article, you’ll have a good idea of what is occupation?

  1. Willard and Spackman’s Occupational therapy 6th edition
  2. Willard and Spackman’s Occupational Therapy, 11th Edition by Elizabeth Blesedell Crepeau, Ellen S. Cohn, Barbara A. Boyt Schell
  3. Model of human occupation by Kielhofner, G. and Borke J., 1980
  4. Canadian Association of Occupation therapists, CAOT

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