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Welcome to a New Era of International Practice!

Alex Alonso
Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

Mo Wang
University of Florida

Imagine a young I-O psychologist taking on a new assignment working for a South American airline in early 2003. This young professional goes to Santiago, Chile, in early September with the aim of learning as much as possible from his Chilean peers. On Day 1, he spends over 4 hours meeting with peers to review workplace flexibility strategies for LanChile’s Cargo Division headquartered in Miami. During his peer discussions, he proposes a variety of strategies for increasing the workplace flexibility of sales staff. His strategies include alternative work locations, flexible work schedules, and virtual work options. Much to his chagrin, his peers react to his proposals with a completely mystified look. One peer explained that workplace flexibility does not refer to alternative work locations or working from home arrangements; these options were not part of the Chilean definition of workplace flexibility at that time. To his colleagues, workplace flexibility referred to flexible work stations and alternate work sites within the organization’s infrastructure. The young I-O’s ideas were novel to the audience but did not meet cultural expectations of the Chilean airline or their world of work. One thing was abundantly clear, though: The two sets of workforce professionals had much to learn from one another.

Fast forward 6 years to 2009 and that same I-O psychologist is serving as the first ever SIOP International Affairs Committee chairperson. Now, his principal charge from the Executive Board is to support SIOP leaders in building ties with the international community. Having retained that lesson from his early days, the I-O professional pulls together a practitioner–academic balanced committee with the aim of building international networks and ensuring information exchange in research and practice. From its inception, the committee looked for ways to develop international forums for networking and provoking thought leadership. By now, you have probably guessed that the first author, Alex Alonso, was that young I-O professional.
Enter our esteemed colleague, Donald Truxillo, who along with luminaries like Talya Bauer and Julie McCarthy, has built a model for academic and practitioner networking at each major I-O conference across the globe. They gave us the research incubator on applicant reactions (or ARCOS) which was used to construct a network of more than 50 researchers and practitioners exploring every critical area of applicant reactions. This model was followed by Mo Wang and others who built a research incubator on retirement topics at ICAP and EAWOP. Today, the research incubators are alive and well, rotating from SIOP to ICAP to EAWOP almost religiously (we will see you in San Diego).
But we (Alex and Mo, partners in crime) believe that research incubators are only one step in building forums for knowledge sharing. As a global I-O community, our professional field needs to focus on practitioners and ways for them to share lessons learned across a variety of topics. Based upon our prior experiences and an ever-growing globalization movement, it is time for an international practice forum. “Why an international practice forum?” you ask. The practice of I-O psychology is central to our field. More important still are variations in practice to determine best practices in our field. For years, SIOP has been the leader in supporting the practice of I-O psychology, especially as it pertains to practice in the United States. SIOP has provided numerous venues for sharing best practices domestically. During this time, organizations have become more global and I-O practitioners no longer seek best practices limited to the U.S. market. As a result, globalization has led to a need for practice forums to examine practices across multiple nations. This is largely because the content and emphasis of I-O psychology practice may differ across nations in the international community. Furthermore, terms used in practice may vary significantly from country to country. These differences may be due to different government regulations and cultural values. They may also be due to different societal and organizational needs related to I-O psychology. Therefore, it is important to have I-O psychologists in the international community share how they practice I-O psychology in their own countries.
This new TIP column will host an international practice forum on key workforce topics. This International Practice Forum will help lower the barriers for communication and knowledge sharing among I-O practitioners in the international community. It will also provide a more comprehensive perspective for I-O practitioners and facilitate international collaborations. We believe this will become a true resource for fostering best practices among I-O psychologists in the spirit of the Alliance for Organizational Psychology. We hope this column will generate years of global I-O information sharing. This is the first iteration of this column.
How It Works
A forum article will appear in each issue of TIP. The forum editors will identify the specific I-O practice (e.g., work stress audit) and solicit two or three I-O practitioners (i.e., contributors) from the international community. These practitioners will share how they carry out this practice in their respective countries and communities, discuss the unique advantages/challenges for them to carry out the practice and describe things they do in their practice that address government regulations, cultural values, and unique societal and organizational concerns. In addition to the solicited contributors, we will also have an open call to the global I-O practitioner community to provide insights about the topic and their practices. This will provide an interactive element to the column, as well as ensure that a repository of practitioner forums is established. Our first set of topics will include the following:
  • Workplace flexibility
  • Work stress auditing
  • Employee engagement strategies
  • Identifying and remediating workplace bullying or mobbing
Despite this list of topics, we welcome and are OPENLY SOLICITING suggestions and contributions from all members of the global I-O community.
What Can You Expect to Get From This Column?
This forum will offer practitioners and researchers a unique perspective on a number of workplace topics worth investigating. With this column, you will learn about a core practice topic as it is identified here in the U.S. and learn about international perspectives on the same topic. To that end, you will get contributions from international practitioners steeped in the central topic and a best practice summary cheat sheet highlighting the key distinctions as take-home practices across nations. This column will have a very specific focus on single I-O topics that have great value across cultures and countries. But, most importantly, this column will continue the tradition of the Global Spotlight on I-O and provide an interactive element by seeking input on a given topic from practitioners worldwide. This means the column will fit within the field’s goal to promote scientist–practitioner synergy by providing a best practice resource for practitioners and I-O practice information for academicians.
So Here Goes Nothing…
Without further ado, we present to you the first ever international contribution to the TIP International Practice Forum. In keeping with the introductory anecdote, we have asked Lynda Zugec, CEO of Canada’s The Workforce Consultants, Inc., to explore the very topic of workplace flexibility as it is put into practice by our neighbors to the north.
In 2007, Lynda founded a human resources consulting firm named The Workforce Consultants. Following extensive experience in HR positions throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle East, Lynda recognized a need to combine the teaching and research expertise of highly qualified academics with the management teams responsible for HR policy and practice throughout the business community. This inspired the organizational strategy of The Workforce Consultants. Prior to creating her own company, Lynda was a Human Capital Advisory Services consultant with Mercer Human Resources Consulting Ltd., one of the world’s premier HR consulting firms. Lynda holds an honors degree in Psychology and Applied Studies with a specialization in Human Resources Management from the University of Waterloo and a master’s degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the University of Guelph.
For the purposes of this column, we have asked Lynda to focus (but not limit) her lessons learned around four major questions:
  • What are the specific elements of workplace flexibility that are needed by domestic employees?
  • What factors affect workplace flexibility strategies in your nation?
  • What are some best practices in place for ensuring workplace flexibility in your nation?
  • What advice would you offer I-O psychologists working with domestic employees to enhance workplace flexibility?
What are the specific elements of workplace flexibility that are needed by domestic employees?
As Alex and Mo describe, workplace flexibility is an elusive term in many countries. Canada is no exception. As practitioners, we are often left to our own devices in defining what a flexible workplace is, mainly driven by employee requests and business requirements. According to a 2011 global research report by Regus entitled “Flexible Working Goes Global,” 88% of Canadian companies now offer their staff some form of flexible working. This rise in flexibility on behalf of organizations has led to a number of changes.
Increasingly, Canadians have been redefining their traditional notions of work and would like to be assessed on what they produce more than on time spent on the job. According to a Dell and Intel 2011 survey report of Canadian workers entitled “Report #2: The Workforce Perspective,” 64% of workers want to be judged on output rather than hours in the office, and this already appears to be the case for 75% of the workers surveyed. This means a substantive shift in the way tasks are assigned and performance is assessed. Businesses are increasingly required to develop innovative solutions to accurately reflect this new conceptualization of work.
Technology is, unsurprisingly, intimately tied to workplace flexibility needs and productivity in Canada. 75% of the Canadians surveyed in the Dell and Intel report feel that they are able to make bigger contributions to their organizations because of the Internet and technological advances. Although 41% of Canadian workers highlight IT problems as a frustration in their daily working life, 74% believe their employer provides them with good hardware and software.
What factors affect workplace flexibility strategies in your nation?
Shifts in technology are the primary factors influencing workplace flexibility nationally. This holds true across all types of workers and sectors, including public and private organizations, as well as small, medium, and large enterprises. The Dell and Intel report, noted above, indicates that 84% of Canadian workers agree that the Internet and technology are creating opportunities for organizations to conduct business differently.
Another major factor affecting workplace flexibility strategies on a national scale is legislation and policy, which sometimes follow and sometimes pave the way. For example, an inquiry for data to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) regarding workplace flexibility returns various Canadian informational sources relating to hours of work, work arrangements, and work–life balance that, by today’s business standards, are somewhat antiquated and lacking. Once data is compiled and disseminated, the workplace has oftentimes changed substantially, providing employers and practitioners with little real-time support.
At the same time, and perhaps as a proactive solution to previous reactionary methods, some government funded programs are at the forefront of workplace flexibility. One such example, WORKshift, is an initiative by the economic development department to “promote, educate, and accelerate the adoption of telecommuting in the business community.” WORKshift offers businesses tools and resources to assess and effectively implement telework programs for their employees. They suggest that businesses will see tangible benefits right away and will set an example for companies across Canada that are looking to initiate impactful and modern telework programs.
What are some best practices in place for ensuring workplace flexibility in your nation?
One way in which Canadians are ensuring workplace flexibility is by voicing and demonstrating support of such initiatives. Workopolis, the major online recruiter, spurred a movement toward an unofficial “National Work From Home Day” that takes place on June 1st. More than 75,000 Canadians have “liked” this idea on Facebook. In addition, an Omnibus study shows that 80% of Quebec workers, 79% of those in Atlantic Canada, 66% in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and 65% in Alberta are in favor of an official government-sanctioned “National Work From Home Day.”
Canadian employees have also embraced the expansion of parental and maternity leave benefits. Currently, paid maternity leave is at 55% up to a maximum per week for 50 weeks. In addition, 35 weeks of leave can be shared with the father. Such a benefit is perceived as encouraging by women wanting to pursue both a career and family. The increase in leave absences have created new flexible job opportunities that typically last a year, which equates to the duration of the benefit period.
What advice would you offer I-O psychologists working with domestic employees to enhance workplace flexibility?
I offer three pieces of advice:
  • Take a pulse on the new conceptualization of work that employees are adopting to better understand needs and allocate resources effectively, with thought toward what the future will entail.
  • Research and utilize the management tools, technologies, and programs that are available and right for your particular organization to effectively minimize time requirements and gain new insights with respect to workplace flexibility.
  • Determine how to best identify and select the right employees for workplace flexibility initiatives.
Table 1 provides a summary of best practices highlighted by Lynda. Please use this as a cheat sheet for your own work.
Table 1
Workplace Flexibility Best Practices From a Canadian Perspective
  1. Assess the need for workplace flexibility options and make sure your
    employee base defines what it means by workplace flexibility.
  2. Explore all possible options for workplace flexibility. This includes providing technology solutions and finding ways to make work from home a viable option. Other common options are taking on a model where workplace locations are not fixed and library-style office booking systems come into play.
  3. Nothing beats working from home as long as you can demonstrate productivity.
  4. Shift your rewards, performance appraisal, and other HR systems to fit the workplace flexibility strategy you choose.
  5. Make sure that your workplace strategy is aligned with cultural and governmental norms recognized by the workforce.
So What Now?
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Lynda for her contribution and look forward to learning more as she takes on new and interesting challenges. We would also like to thank a few editorial contributors to this column. Thank you, Donald Truxillo, Lori Foster Thompson, and Lisa Steelman! Your help has been extremely critical to making this international practice forum a future success.
WE NEED YOU AND YOUR INPUT! We are calling upon you, the global I-O community, to reach out and give us your thoughts on the topic list. Give us your insights from lessons learned in your practice. We are always looking from contributors, and we will be on the lookout. To provide any feedback or insights, please reach us by e-mail at the following addresses:
We leave you with this parting thought: “Globalization has changed us into a company that searches the world, not just to sell or to source, but to find intellectual capital—the world’s best talents and greatest ideas.” These words from Jack Welch drive home the message. It is our hope that this forum serves as the I-O equivalent of a quarterly sharing of the world’s best talents and greatest ideas. Until next time, au revoir, zaijian, and adios!
Dell. (2011). The evolving workforce: Report #2. Retrieved from http://i.dell.com/sites/
Regus. (2011). Flexible working goes global. Retrieved from http://www.regus.
Jack Welch. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jackwelch163678.html