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How Do Our Conference
Sessions Track With
SIOP’s Top Workplace Trends?

 FEATURE STORY

 SCi Task Force and Authors: 
Jessica Thornton
Tiffany Poeppelman
Evan Sinar
Michael Armstrong
Nikki Blacksmith

 

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Over the past few years, SIOP has researched and published a list of the top 10 workplace trends. For those who may not have participated in the surveys previously, this list is developed by interviewing and then surveying SIOP members to see what trends may be ahead based on research and what I-O psychologists see changing in their organizations. Members are asked what “the next big thing" is that organizations will research or implement in the upcoming year and what trends members anticipate. The list is established by feedback from hundreds of I-O professionals. The top 10 workplace trends of 2016 can be found on SIOP’s website.

For the Top 10 Workplace Trends for 2017, click HERE

Around the time of the release of SIOP’s Top Ten Trends for 2016, the SIOP Content Initiative (SCi) Task Force was created to amplify the distribution and visibility of content presented at the annual conference. From its beginning, our task force analyzed data from SIOP’s annual conferences in order to investigate acceptances by topic, which then raised several questions about how the top trends compared to the research presented by I-O professionals. Our thinking was that if these trends are at the forefront of organizational science, then the current research should reflect those trends. Since it is often difficult to evaluate research-practice gaps with journal articles due to lengthy publication processes, conference presentations can give a more realistic view of the cutting-edge topics in the research field. In short, if the same populations were identifying trends and submitting conferences sessions, we would expect to see overlap between these at SIOP’s annual conference.

To explore the question further, two members of the SCi Taskforce coded accepted 2016 Annual Conference sessions according to their title and abstract, and matched these to the top ten trends from 2016. The primary coder assigned matches to each of the sessions, and the secondary coder reviewed the work, accepting or changing the coding scheme.

The analysis that follows provides various avenues for research, based on the gaps between what our members say are priorities for organizations, and the sessions that are presented at our annual conference. For those trends that were present in the sessions, the order was not similar. For example, diversity, most popular topic in conference sessions, showed up as #9 on the trend list. Big data, which was at the top of the trend list, ranked at #6 in conference sessions, and the majority of sessions could not be coded to fit into the published trends. However, full correspondence between emerging trends and SIOP-presented content, if were to ever be achieved, would itself be problematic; our field’s work is an intentional blend of shoring up the foundations of existing topics, and exploratory investigations of new ones.

The reality is that although the top 10trends survey asks SIOP members what the pressing topics will be for organizations, the origin of I-O research is typically far broader and includes topics that are core to organizations even if technology or trends have not changed vastly in those domains. To put it in perspective, in 2016 we had 687 accepted sessions, and those spanned over 34 content areas. It could be the case that one should not expect these two groups to match. Also, SIOP-presented research often serves as a lag indicator of a well-crystallized topic rather than a lead indicator of an emerging and understudied topic area. In other cases, particularly for research-oriented sessions, work emerges at SIOP while progressing through and being refined for the journal-publication process. Regardless, we feel that a closer examination of trend–session links at our annual conference, by sheer numbers the largest source of I-O-generated thought leadership each year, can illustrate the opportunity for cyclical reinforcement between trends and knowledge sharing.

Overall, we found:

  • The majority of the sessions did not fit any of the top ten trends. Only about 35% of the 687 sessions were identified as relating to one the top 10trends.
  • Looking across the top 10trends mapped to the sessions, diversity was the topic most frequently represented in SIOP 2016 sessions, followed by work–life balance (WLB), technology, engagement, and performance management.
  • The trends themselves varied in breadth, some were more focused, such as the intersection between WLB and generations, and others were broader, such as engagement.

Below you will see, in order of the SIOP 2016 trend prediction, the top 10trends that were identified by SIOP members, a brief description of each trend as per SIOP’s website, and how they were represented (or not) at the SIOP 2016 conference. Additionally, we’ve included our observations of the sessions matching the topic, as well as interpretations for researchers or practitioners in each of the domains.

#1. Leveraging and Maximizing Big Data and Applying the Correct Analytics to Make Better Business Decisions

Description: I-O psychologists will help organizations understand what secrets can be unlocked from big data sets, what questions to ask, what hypotheses to test, while applying proper analysis and providing interpretations to drive business decisions.

Observations: Using big data to make better organizational decisions is trending in many areas, and SIOP’s entire Leading Edge Consortium in 2016 also targeted this area of making sense of big data for the purpose of analytics-guided decisions about talent. Although many SIOP 2016 sessions addressed data and analysis, far fewer—only 11 out of 687—dealt with truly big data (e.g., datasets too large to store and process with a personal computer) and its role in better business decisions. Although posters dominated accepted sessions at the annual conference, many more presentations on big data were master sessions, panels, and symposia. These presented case studies, debated identified versus anonymous use of survey data, and provided tutorials on using R for big data. As for topic areas identified by the presenter, these sessions ranged across a wide breadth of topics, from legal issues, to leadership, performance, and technology, and as expected, measurement and methods.

Interpretations: Big data has gained prominence in many fields looking to make better business decisions, and the gap between our number one identified trend and conference sessions reflects room for improvement. This gap could also reflect a distinction between the aspirational goal of working with massive-scale employee datasets to keep pace with other organizational functions, and the reality for many researchers is that data that don’t meet the scope and scale criteria to be considered “big data.” Yet, many core principles of solid research design, careful choice of analytical methods, and awareness of legal and ethical concerns relating to use of people data need to be in place regardless of the size of the dataset; we can make strong contributions to the big data dialogue by not only continuing to advance and improve our methods for analyzing data but also by providing frameworks and guideposts for our field and others to help increase the odds that big data-driven decisions will be fair, ethical, and robust, not just predictive.

#2. Trends in Technology Are Changing the Way Work Is Done

Description: We are becoming increasingly reliant on technology and automation that will change jobs. I-O psychologists will work with organizations to envision the impact that technology and automation will have on future business and help identify the skills the workforce will need for success.

Observations: SIOP’s published trends predicted that, “I-O psychologists can work with organizations to envision the impact that technology and automation will have on business in the future and help identify the skills your workforce will need to be successful in that world.” At SIOP 2016, 25 out of 687 sessions evaluated how technology is changing the way work is being conducted in organizations, and the topic category of “Technology” was itself added starting with SIOP 2015. Many presented sessions evaluated how training is changing due to new technologies and uses of technologies such as virtual reality methods, MOOCs, and video games. Other presentations focused on how mobile devices change the boundaries of work and can influence work–life balance.

Interpretations: Although these sessions are advancing our understanding of how technology affects work or the new methods (research, selection) being introduced, most did not cover the core premise of the trend that could highlight what new jobs are present or what kind of skills will be needed for the future. Of primary interest to members―but few SIOP 2016 presentations―is how technology will automate jobs and change the types of skills individuals need in the workplace.

#3. Managing Virtual Teams

Description: Increasingly, work is becoming more about what you do rather than where you do it, as more people are working remotely. I-O psychologists are working to help ensure virtual teams collaborate effectively and remain productive despite working in different locations. 

Observations: Recognizing that work is becoming more and more virtual, the third predicted trend was managing virtual teams. However, only 7 out of 687 SIOP 2016 sessions covered virtual terms. Those that did focused on how to lead and manage virtual teams and explored trust issues. All the same, SIOP 2015 had two sessions on virtual teams, whereas SIOP 2016 saw a total of six, representing a notable increase in virtual teams research.

Interpretations: Much like big data, there is a gap between emerging trends in organizations and research presented at our annual conference. In this case, the small number of sessions may be due to the challenging nature of team-based research, paired with an even stricter sample criteria of these teams needing to be virtual in nature. As organizations trend toward more virtual or remote work, it may increase the opportunity to conduct research here. 

#4. Changing Nature of Performance Management and Development

Description: More and more organizations are changing the way they approach performance management, moving from forced distributions and ranking systems to ongoing conversations between manager and employee that encourages performance development.

Observations: Performance management has been evolving from a focus on ratings to a more holistic strategy to improve performance and develop employees. At SIOP 2016, 24 of 687 total sessions reflected this trend. These sessions were the closest match to predicted trends in the SIOP article. Multiple sessions stressed the evolving nature of performance, and moving from forced distribution to continuous improvement.

Interpretations: The SIOP community still recognizes the importance of improving the measurement of performance. However, members are also advancing our understanding of how to make the broader and more holistic performance management process more effective and are generating this information at a time when it can be both practical and valuable for organizations making the transition away from a ratings-based, episodic performance management process. 

#5. Employee Engagement

Description: Engaged employees are more likely to go above and beyond their job duties, roles, and responsibilities while driving innovations and improvements. I-O psychologists will help assess engagement within organizations and identify opportunities to increase it.

Observations: The 2016 trend predictions proposed that although employee engagement peaked a few years ago, it still remains an important topic to organizations, leading to renewed interest. Of the sessions that covered engagement, the topical areas identified by the submitters spanned measurement, teaching, work and family, and job attitudes. A small group of sessions focused specifically on how integrating "fun" could lead to higher engagement. Sessions also researched the role of managers on engagement and included telecommuting and work–life balance as unexpected influencers.

Interpretations: Although the SIOP 2016 trends indicated that employee engagement is having a comeback, only 24 out of 687 SIOP 2016 sessions mentioned engagement. There did not seem to be a central theme regarding employee engagement. Notably, the topic category job attitudes/engagement showed a steady decrease between SIOPs 2012 and 2016 (see tiny.cc/SIOPprogram); this may show that I-O research is unlikely to ebb and flow with organizational interest and that engagement is perceived by many I-O psychologists as an outdated topic, despite the surge in workplace interest.

#6. Increasing Focus on Health and Wellness in the Workplace

Description: Happy, healthy employees are more productive than those who are not. They take fewer sick days and are generally more engaged in their work. I-O psychologists can help provide the right perks and incentives to drive health-conscious behaviors and improved mental and physical well-being to increase organizational effectiveness.

Observations: Although health and wellness is a very broad topic, the SIOP workplace trends hypothesized that I-O psychologists could help organizations to find the "right" incentives for a healthier workforce. Only 11 out of 687 SIOP 2016 sessions aligned closely to this category of Increasing Focus on Health and Wellness in the Workplace, and eight of those were posters. Many of these focused on the role of mindfulness in improving employee experiences. A lesser amount examined the impacts of workplace stressors and individual differences on organizational outcomes.

Interpretations: The identified trend for health and wellness included a focus on incentives to keep employees healthy, and therefore more productive and perhaps more engaged. Although the upward trend in mindfulness in the workplace may improve employee health, it doesn’t quite address if organizational support for healthy endeavors leads to larger organizational outcomes; this remains a largely unaddressed research topic.  

#7. Increased Focus on Business Agility and Flexibility in Work and Business Processes

Description: Agile and flexible organizations are willing to take risks, learn from mistakes, and respond quickly so that innovations become a natural part of organizations’ ecosystems. I-O psychologists help organizations streamline processes and remove roadblocks to productivity that allow employees to focus on developing innovative solutions.

Observations: Recognizing that organizations and processes must be agile to succeed was the seventh top trend for 2016. At SIOP 2016, 4 out of 687 sessions focused on increasing the innovation of employees or the agility and flexibility in work and business processes. These sessions that were accepted included training for novel content, like innovation, identifying individual differences in agility, comparing new work models for the 21st century, and learning strategies to speed up leadership development for the purpose of creating more agile organizations.

Interpretations: Most work on agility is focusing on the individual and not on the organization. Perhaps there will be growth in the area, but there is not yet the leap to thinking about business processes and of agility as an organizational characteristic, not only an individual difference.

#8. Work–Life Balance Across Generations

Description: Because of increased reliance on social media, smartphones, and virtual work, the lines between personal and professional lives will continue to blur. Each generation within the workforce manages this overlap differently. I-O psychologists can help employees maximize performance and thrive in a world with fewer boundaries between work and life while managing the different needs across generations.

Observations: Addressing work–life balance (WLB), and the differences for what that means for different generations was the 8th top trend. This trend addressed the blurred line between professional and personal, and how I-O psychologists can help navigate that line across generations. At SIOP 2016, 42 out of 687 total sessions addressed worklife balance examined commuting, teleworking, and family support from organizations. These sessions focused both on the individual differences of employees and the structures provided by organizations to support WLB.

Interpretations: Although many sessions at SIOP 2016 addressed WLB, and the intersection of technology in assisting to make WLB better, these sessions lacked a strong intersection with generational differences. This can also be an area where researchers can challenge the stereotypes of assumptions about “generational differences”, putting generational-based influences on WLB in context with other key factors such as career phase, culture, and environment.

#9. Building Healthy, Diverse Workforces.

Description: I-O psychologists can help implement strategies resulting in a healthy, diverse workforce that is able to tap into the collective power of everyone within an organization. This may include implementing hiring practices that assess diverse characteristics, rewarding those who collaborate within diverse teams, or unconscious bias training.

Observations: It was proposed that I-O psychologists could assist diverse organizations across all workforce functions. If we were to rerank the top 10 workforce trends based on their representation at SIOP 2016, Diversity would be ranked number one. This topic was represented by 120 or about 20% of the 687 total sessions in Anaheim, California. Topics ran across all diversity factors and included how to recruit and retain a diverse workforce, addressing discrimination, and managing diversity.

Interpretations: Clearly as the US population becomes more diverse, workplaces become more diverse. The importance of creating inclusive environment should take precedence.  Many organizations are taking steps to improve inclusion and diversity practices and the research represents that, an encouraging sign for the relevance of our work to this as one of the most challenging issues facing many organizations and society in general. 

#10. Using Social Media to Make Employment-Related Decisions

Description: The legal ramifications and concerns for using social networking sites when making employment-related decisions are being raised by legal professionals and I-O psychologists. I-O psychologists can help organizations balance the risks while maximizing the benefits associated with using social media in employment practices.

Observations: The final trend addressed in 2016 was the use of social media in organizational decision making. There were very few sessions at the annual conference that addressed the use of social media: 2 out of 687 total SIOP 2016 sessions, and the majority addressed social media in the hiring process, not in other employment practices. Topics addressed mostly staffing and technology and were evenly split between poster and panels.

Interpretations: Again, this area remains an opportunity in growth and breadth for I-O research. Although social media is currently being researched for its role in selection processes, there is an opportunity to talk about its role in engagement, in sharing cumulative work-related knowledge, in building culture, and possibly blending it with research on virtual teams.

Conclusion 

Although the analysis and synthesis above are largely for individual researchers and practitioners, we do have a few final considerations for SIOP as well. Given the current timing of the top trend list release (late January) and the SIOP submission cycle (late September), we as members will continuously be at odds to refocus research and submit in advance to ensure conference content is being covered. One consideration would be for us to consider releasing the trends on a timing that allows SIOP members to better calibrate their upcoming research and presentations against these workplace trends. Even 9 months is unlikely to allow sufficient time to fully launch and execute a research program. Also, certain SIOP formats—such as roundtables, panel discussions, communities of interest, and alternative session types—may be well-suited to trend discussions that don’t rely on completed research due to the longer cycle for the latter.

One final recommendation is that we continue to track and publicize key trends impacting the workplace, based on the views of I-O psychologists and of business leaders. A focus exclusively on trends as fellow I-O psychologists see them would be too myopic. As we compile and update trend lists, these can also be useful as a structure for aggregating information generated by our conferences to help us track progress against these themes with high relevance to the workplace. We can also do more to publicize our work on these trends outside of the SIOP community, prioritizing these themes in our outreach and dissemination efforts.  

Interested in exploring the SIOP conference data on your own? Check out our dashboard at tiny.cc/SIOPprogram. This tool, the SIOP Program Explorer, was created by the SCi Task Force to show SIOP conference content across years in an interactive view. The original article for the release of the dashboard can be found at: http://www.siop.org/article_view.aspx?article=1562

Questions or comments about the findings or analysis, please email Jessica Thornton (jess.thornton@gmail.com).