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How Can I-O Psychology Help Society?

1/29/2014-

by Stephany Below, SIOP Communications Manager

SIOP Launches Website to Highlight Prosocial I-O Psychology

A group of professionals is currently working with veterans and employers to help the veterans gain employment when they leave the military. They interview the returning soldiers about their work history, provide resumé assistance, and help them translate their military experience into skills for the civilian workforce while they also meet with employers to help them understand the benefits of hiring these veterans.

This type of work certainly benefits the soldiers and society as a whole, but did you know that it’s also an important application of industrial and organizational psychology?

SIOP Past President Doug Reynolds is seeking to highlight this project and others like it on a recently unveiled Prosocial website. The new site aims to facilitate the advancement of the burgeoning practice and research of prosocial I-O psychology, the application of I-O psychology for the purpose of improving societal well-being.

So far, the Veteran Transition Project is getting very positive reviews, Reynolds explained.

Kristin Saboe, who works in I-O psychology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and helped organize the Veteran Transition Project with Nathan Ainspan and partnering organizations Wounded Warrior Mentoring Program (WWMP) and the Warrior Transition Brigade at Walter Reed, said the project has set up several resumé coaching pairs, and the contacts at Walter Reed have asked that SIOP expand the program to Ft. Belvoir, given the current progress.

“Our volunteers have received glowing praise from the powers that be at Walter Reed working with Wounded Warriors,” Saboe said. “Specifically, they have appreciated our proactivity, professionalism, competence, and speedy response time to their requests.”

This project and four others are currently highlighted on the prosocial page:

Anyone involved in a prosocial application of I-O psychology who would like to publicize their program on this site can download a simple application form, complete the requested information, and return the completed form to the SIOP Administrative Office. Accepted prosocial projects will then be displayed on their own page within the site.

Reynolds explained that highlighting this type of work—a part of the field that is of growing interest to SIOP members—was one of his goals during his presidency, so he is excited to have a page designed to showcase it.

“Signs of this emerging area are increasingly prevalent in our books, conference sessions, and newsletter. Prosocial science and practice is already part of our field,” he explained. “The challenge is how to best nurture and grow this aspect of our work so that it is a regular part of what it means to be an I-O psychologist. This is already happening, so let’s recognize it and help it grow.”

In the most recent member survey, Reynolds explained, SIOP asked respondents if, in the past 2 years, they have participated in pro bono projects for charitable, humanitarian, or public interest causes.

“We found that 25% of us are actively engaged in projects where we are applying I-O psychology to charitable causes,” he said. “This is higher than I had guessed, but note that we lag behind other professions. The Bar Association has some goals around this for their members. They want 75% or 80% of their members to be doing some sort of pro-bono work, and they are meeting that goal. Other professions, doctors for example, also make it part of what they do as professionals.  So what’s the vehicle for I-O psychologists to get involved with this type of work?”

Reynolds said he thinks a lot of people are interested in applying their skills this way, but they just don’t know how to get started.

“The opportunity here is not just to support existing prosocial programs but also to nurture and support others like them,” Reynolds explained. “By extending our influence in this area, we will stretch our skills in new ways as well as create opportunities to raise the visibility of the field. By publicizing those programs that are already established, I think it will encourage people to start new ones and think about how they can apply their skills in this arena.”

As noted in a recent SIOP Organizational Frontiers volume, Using Industrial-Organizational Psychology for the Greater Good: Helping Those Who Help Others( Julie Olson-Buchanan, Laura Koppes Bryan, and Lori Foster-Thompson, 2013), there are a great number of paths by which I-O psychology can improve societal well-being.

Prosocial I-O psychology projects may involve both research and practical application and operate on a wide range of problems in a broad diversity of settings, as explained on the Prosocial I-O Psychology page. For example, some prosocial projects focus on applying I-O psychology to such issues as poverty reduction and the recruitment and selection of volunteers to aid in natural disasters. Other projects focus on applying I-O psychology in the nonprofit context to enhance the effectiveness of organizations that are focused on improving societal well-being. I-O psychology may also be applied in the for-profit context to facilitate societal well-being through corporate social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and corporate volunteerism.

"It is exciting to see how much the interest in prosocial I-O psychology has grown over the past few years,” Olson-Buchanan explained. “However, there hasn't been a way to share this valuable information and make connections with other I-O psychologists who are interested in this burgeoning field. The prosocial website provides a very valuable meeting point for those who are already engaged in applying I-O psychology to the greater good and those who are interested in becoming a part of it."

Reynolds said he hopes the website will help publicize not only these worthwhile projects but also I-O psychology as a whole.

“This provides an effective vehicle for publicizing the breadth of I-O psychology,” he explained. “You can give examples of I-O psychology work going on at Fortune 500 companies, but a lot of professions and companies are trying to get the same kind of press, so it is really difficult to try to penetrate the business press with typical I-O psychology projects.  When you can promote the field with examples from the prosocial arena, you get a much more welcoming response.  Our experience with the veterans project shows that people love to write about what we are doing with vets and are interested in ways to help the unemployed. It helps people see I-O psychology in a different light. It helps create a well-rounded image of what our field actually encompasses.”

Reynolds said he hopes highlighting our prosocial work will also help dispel common misconceptions about I-O psychology.

Watch the prosocial site for new upcoming projects!