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Spotlight on Global I-O

Lori Foster Thompson1
North Carolina State University

1  As always, your comments and suggestions regarding this column are most welcome. Please feel free to e-mail me: lfthompson@ncsu.edu.

Greetings, TIP readers, and welcome to the July edition of the Spotlight column! As you may already know, July has been officially dubbed “Anti-Boredom Month” by the World Almanac and Book of Facts (McCaslin, 2002). Are you looking for just the right reading material to spice up your summer day? If so, this column is for you! This issue of TIP’s Spotlight on Global I-O offers a fascinating glimpse of what our profession looks like in an area of the world where 4 million people reside in a space that is smaller than Connecticut and job openings are filled in part on the basis of religious affiliation. Read on for details.

The Next (Middle Eastern) Frontier?  Establishing I-O Psychology in Lebanon

Haitham Khoury
Olayan School of Business, American University of Beirut

Overview of Lebanon
Lebanon is a small country on the eastern Mediterranean with aspirations much larger than its 10,400 sq. km size would have you believe. Lacking the abundant natural resources of its wealthier neighbors in the Middle East, Lebanon’s greatest resource is its educated population—it is often quoted that your average Lebanese can hold a conversation in 3 languages (Arabic, French, and English). Lebanon also enjoys a diversity of religions that, in the best of times, coexist and work together toward building a prosperous country and, in the worst of times, work towards tearing it all down.

Educated, multilingual people are also Lebanon’s main export; in recent years Lebanon has experienced a “brain drain” where its young professionals have sought job opportunities in various countries in the Gulf, Europe, Western Africa, Australia, and North America. It’s a consequence of having nearly 4 million people living in an area that is 7/10ths the size of Connecticut. This reality has had both negative and positive impacts on I-O psychology in Lebanon that will be discussed later.

Psychology Education in Lebanon
Several quality educational centers exist in Lebanon that teach psychology at the undergraduate and graduate levels, although the focus is primarily on clinical and educational psychology. The practice of psychology in general is still in its infancy, and I-O psychology is even more nascent. Several private universities offer bachelor degrees in psychology, including the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University, and Balamand University (the language of instruction at these institutions is English). The public Lebanese University teaches psychology in either Arabic or French, and St. Joseph University offers bachelor and master’s degrees in organizational psychology in French. Students interested in pursuing an advanced degree in I-O psychology typically apply to programs in the UK, France, Canada, and the U.S.

A typical undergraduate degree in psychology requires 3–4 years, and most students go on to graduate careers abroad. This is almost mandatory in psychology because the undergraduate studies do not provide any kind of specialization. Upon returning to Lebanon, I-O psychologists have taken faculty positions in schools of business where they teach courses on organizational behavior, research methods, HRM, and special topics seminars related to the HR area (selection, assessment, etc.). They also consult for public and private sectors on the side.

I-O Psychology in Lebanon

Networking: Finding each other.
There aren’t any professional associations specifically for I-O psychologists in Lebanon, mostly because there are but a handful of I-O psychologists in Lebanon, although the future looks bright as more Lebanese undergraduate students express interest in and pursue advanced degrees in I-O. Being such a small community, it is imperative to maintain contact with other practitioners through both conference travel and cross-cultural collaborations. The few of us who are here regularly attend and participate at the SIOP conference and the Academy of Management conference and compliment these with various regional conferences in Europe. Meeting other practitioners provides greater opportunities for establishing cross-cultural research—and consulting-based relationships, projects, and publications that contribute to the continued development of I-O psychology in Lebanon.

Practice of I-O (and the challenges that come with it).
The practice of I-O psychology in Lebanon is very much in its early stages. Private- and public-sector organizations are just starting to learn of the value added by our profession and its impact on overall organizational performance. The main challenge for I-O psychologists in Lebanon is gaining exposure and communicating what we do and can offer to organizations. It begins with decoupling the concept of “psychologist” from “mental disorders” and “therapy in the workplace.” Only then can we begin a conversation about what we actually do and how it adds value to an organization’s performance. It’s a very crucial first step because we are, to use a U.S.-centric term, coming out of left field with something very new to what is typically done in a company. How can you begin discussing selection and training (among other things) when an organization barely has job descriptions?

The economic growth that Lebanon has witnessed since 2006 has brought to the forefront the need for and importance of scientific-based procedures for recruitment, selection, training, and appraisals. Unfortunately, the lack of structure and organization also creates problems regarding sensitive issues, especially in recruitment, selection, and feedback. For example, government positions (parliament, ministers, municipality, army, etc.) are filled based on religious affiliation as well as potential, in order to maintain fairness and equal representation of the various religious communities in the country; “equal opportunity” and “diversity” take on a different meaning here than they do in the U.S. It is crucial to pay attention to the client–consultant interactions when building relationships. Client relationships require substantially more effort here than in the U.S. It’s truly a challenge and source of frustration, but at the same time, it’s not every day that you find yourself establishing and growing your field from the ground up!

Overall, the field of I-O psychology in Lebanon, in terms of research and application, is in the early stage of development, and the main focus is to promote and enhance our field in the private and public sector to turn it into a key factor that influences business processes and better decisions in organizations.

Concluding Editorial

So there you have it—an informative synopsis of Lebanese I-O, which is sometimes difficult, often rewarding, and anything but boring. Working in an area of the world where our field is in its infancy and only three SIOP members reside presents unique challenges and opportunities, no doubt. Clearly, networking within and beyond national borders will remain critical as the science and practice of I-O psychology continue to develop in Lebanon.

     McCaslin, J. (2002, December 2). Inside the beltway. The Washington Times, p. A06.