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Practice Network:  From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of TripoliIs There A Role for I-O Psychology in the War Against Terrorism?

Michael M. Harris
University of MissouriSt. Louis

Just out of curiosity, are you familiar with the phrase in the beginning of the song From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli? Do you know where it comes from? It is from the U.S. Marines hymn (go to this Web site if you want more information and the complete set of verses: www.marineband.usmc.mil/aud_hymn_more.html). Did you guess correctly?

As I write this column, it has been close to 4 months ago that the September 11th tragedy occurred. Of course, the events of that day will continue to affect us one way or another for years to come. Just the other day, in fact, the U.S. public was warned to be on the lookout for the possibility of even more deadly attacks. To me, this sounds like we are in a war, whether or not we like it. At the same time, I sense that aside from those individuals directly affected, for many people, other than some inconvenience at the airport and the lethargic economy, life is returning to normal.

When I was a child, I recall my father talking about John F. Kennedys assassination and how he would never forget where he was when he heard the news. I expect that in many ways, the September 11th tragedy is similar. Im sure I will never forget where I was when I first heard, which was sitting in front of the computer at home, when my stepson called from overseas. My wife repeated his words as she talked on the phone: Did we hear anything about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center? We assumed (or, hoped) that he was joking (he has been known to have an unusual sense of humor at times) because we couldnt believe such a thing would happen. Where were you when you first heard about this event? Do you think you will ever forget? Please let me know by e-mail (mharris@umsl.edu).

One personal reaction I had recently was in preparation for a course that I teach on global management issues. In preparing my PowerPoint slides for class, I wondered whether I needed to revise my notes pertaining to safety when traveling in other countries (yes, professors do revise their notes from time to time). After all, I wondered, is it really safer here in the U.S.? After some thought, I plan to provide quite similar information about safety issues in international travel and living. Given such incidents as the recent kidnapping of an American reporter, I would maintain that international travel is still potentially more dangerous than traveling in the U.S. But I am anxious to hear my students thoughts in light of September 11.

This column, of course, is about the role of I-O psychology in the aftermath of September 11, and particularly, in regard to its role in combating terrorism. My initial thoughts were focused more on how I-O psychologists might help in response to the events that occurred that day, but as I continued to work on this column and respond to ongoing issues, I am even more interested in how I-O psychologists may be of help in the future as the war on terrorism continues. Some thoughts regarding the more proactive approach are offered towards the end of this column. Readers interested in more writing on this topic should also examine the previous issue of TIP (January, 2002), where at least two of the columns contained pertinent information.

With this background in mind, here are the questions I queried my respondents about:

1. How have you been involved as an I-O psychologist in addressing employee fears, concerns, problems, and so forth in light of the September terrorist attacks (e.g., training programs, hotline calls, etc.)?

2. What theories/practices could I-O psychologists use in this regard? In other words, how could we contribute here? Could I-O psychologists be providing greater expertise in this area than we are currently doing due to lack of training or experience?

How Have You Been Involved as an I-O Psychologist?

Of my three respondents, each reported a very different experience. One had no involvement at all in addressing issues related to September 11. A second respondent was involved in his capacity as a manager, rather than as an I-O psychologist. A third respondent served as an I-O psychologist in some capacity.

In terms of the first individual, he noted that his company had employees who were directly affected by the events of 9/11. His company had undertaken a variety of programs and initiatives on their behalf but that he had no involvement in those activities. The second respondent had the responsibilities that would fall on a line manager. These included such activities as implementing corporate work schedule policies and handling various emergency issues. He also had the authority to grant time off if an employee in his unit requested it.

My third respondent pointed to his involvement in several current and ongoing activities related to the events of 9/11. One activity is the procurement of green cards and H1B visas for noncitizen employees. Have you ever been involved in this kind of activity? Ill bet that not many I-O psychologists have had direct involvement in this activity! He told me that was one topic he knew practically nothing about until 9/11, when INS (in case you didnt know, INS stands for Immigration and Naturalization Service; this is their Web site: www.ins.gov/graphics/index.htm) started to crack down on visas. Now he has become far more knowledgeable about the laws regarding these documents, as well as the costs involved and the time it takes to receive them. And there are some interesting aspects to them, as I recently learned in a follow-up conversation on behalf of a friend of mine (non-
I-O psychologist) who is hoping to work in the United States.

Another way in which he has been involved and will continue to be involved is in regard to the effect on employee morale. (Im not sure when I last used the term moraledo you use that term in your professional capacity? Why dont we tend to use that term anymore?) Specifically, he was going to be conducting an employee survey and realized that events of that day were probably going to influence survey results. His understanding of 9/11 might therefore affect how those results will be interpreted. Second, he noted that as the company moves back to various sites after temporary relocations, his help may be needed to address different reactions from employees. It was somewhat unclear, however, just what involvement I-O psychologists might have in dealing with these issues, but it seems likely to me that events of 9/11 might affect organizational commitment, satisfaction, and possibly even turnover decisions. (It would also seem that there may be some interesting research to do here as well.)

This respondent also noted that the events of 9/11 frequently came up when he was collecting critical incidents for a recent competency modeling project. He expressed surprise at how many participants offered incidents pertaining to 9/11 as examples of either good or poor leadership. At least in terms of work, then, 9/11 appears to have had some effect.

 Could I-O Psychologists Be Contributing More in the Aftermath of 9/11?

I received a fairly strong response to this inquiry from two of my respondents. One respondent noted that we get quite concerned when non-I-O psychologists work in areas that we as I-O psychologists feel represent our fields of expertise. But he felt we have gone beyond our expertise in some areas (perhaps executive coaching), and he felt that there are at least some aspects of the 9/11 aftermath that we should avoid involvement in as I-O psychologists (e.g., in employee counseling) because we are not sufficiently trained.

A second respondent echoed similar thoughts and advised I-O psychologists to stay clear of an employee counseling role. In light of the comments above, and given Bill Maceys column in the previous issue of TIP, there appear to be plenty of areas in which we can contribute as I-O psychologists without straying too far from our field of expertise.

So, how can I-O psychologists contribute here? Because of my original focus for this column, I think I received relatively few suggestions. One respondent raised an interesting possible contribution that concerns the effect of 9/11 on communication tactics. As is widely known, the airline industry has suffered greatly since 9/11, as people have reduced the number of flights taken. This appears to be particularly true at the international level. This respondent noted that with traveling reduced, and the fact that companies are decreasing the number of expatriate employees, face-to-face communication between employees will be far less frequent and commonly replaced by e-mail, teleconferencing, and perhaps other forms. How that affects relationships, motivation, and performance, he noted, has yet to be understood, but I-O psychologists may be able to play an important role here.

Completely independently of my inquiries, and in tandem with a more proactive approach, I received an e-mail, as did a number of other I-O psychologists, regarding a request from APA to help a government agency regarding psychological assessments. After some exchanges with Kurt Salzinger, who is the APA contact, it appeared that what was being requested was expert advice, in connection with 9/11, on how to detect whether someone is telling the truth or lying in a nonemployment context. Although there is a relatively large literature on faking in personality tests, there is almost no literature on the role of faking in the employment interview, despite the degree to which practitioners are concerned about deception in job candidates. However, from earlier literature reviews I have done, I recalled that there is some research in social psychology on this topic. An updated search revealed that there actually is a relatively large number of studies of quite recent vintage that examine how well observers can detect deception in a variety of contexts, which I have passed along to the appropriate parties. In addition to offering the literature on detection of deception, it would seem to me that I-O psychologists can contribute their expertise in designing training programs to help detect deception. In short, this is just one, rather unusual, way in which we may be able to help. I believe that we have a potential to make a number of unique contributions in the war against terrorism.

To summarize, I believe that the answer to the question posed in the title of this column is a clear yes. What do you, my esteemed reader, think? Please feel free to disagree! I am particularly interested in hearing from
I-O psychologists (and future I-O psychologists as well) who are from other parts of the world. How do you think you might contribute to your countrys efforts to combat terrorism? Can I-O psychology be of value where you live? Please let me know what you think. You may e-mail me at mharris@umsl.edu, call (314-516-6280), fax (314-516-6420), or snail-mail me, Michael Harris, College of Business Administration, University of MissouriSt. Louis, St. Louis, MO 63121.

I would like to thank the following individuals for their help in preparing this column: Carl Greenberg, AON; Michael Trusty, Bank of America; and Seth Zimmer, BellSouth.

 

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