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Jenny Baker
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I-O Psychology and the Response to COVID-19: A Call to Action

Jason G. Randall, University at Albany, & Emily Solberg, SHL

 

 

In a matter of months, the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the health and safety of the global community while also drastically altering the world of work. Mandatory quarantining and other safety precautions such as social distancing to protect individuals from the virus’s spread have moved a significant portion of the workforce to a new location: home. This public health crisis has also triggered an economic crisis, with millions laid off of work while others, such as first responders and frontline workers, face increased work demands and risks despite limited resources.

What service can I-O psychology provide in a time such as this? Although in most cases we may not classify as “frontline workers,” I-O psychologists have an important role to play in helping individuals and organizations respond to the global challenges of COVID-19. As part of a special track at the SIOP 2020 Virtual Conference, we asked experts across a broad array of domains how the insights and tools that I-O psychologists possess might prove useful in these unprecedented times. Drawing on theory and data, these scientist–practitioners provide specific calls to action for I-O psychologists and others to rise up to the challenge of emergency response.

Below, we summarize these calls to action from our 15 speakers and present them for the benefit of our fellow I-O psychologists to consider what you can do to help the individuals and organizations you work with in their response to COVID-19 changes. However, these calls move beyond I-O psychologists to individuals anywhere who may be struggling with increased work and/or home demands, the loss of work, or the innumerable social, psychological, and physical challenges this pandemic has produced. Whether you are a healthcare professional, a grocery clerk, a struggling business owner, or a parent suddenly wearing the hat of teleworker and tele-educator, we hope that you can see that I-O psychology has solutions for you.

Table 1 introduces the experts, representing a broad field of expertise from both academic and practitioner perspectives, who provided the calls to action representing 14 different topic areas. Following Table 1, we summarize the specific calls to action from each of the contributors. Direct links to view each talk are provided if you would like to learn more on a specific topic.

Speakers 

Topic area 

Talk title and link

Lance Andrews, Principal
Solutions Architect 

Renee Barr, Director, Talent
Solutions, SHL 

Assessment and Selection 

Selection in a COVID-19 World 

https://vimeo.com/428620904/f19bb9b502

Maya Garza, Leadership and
Talent Management Expert, BetterUp 

Coaching 

Coaching in Times of Uncertainty and Chaos 

https://vimeo.com/428630229/ef5edc3b8f

Enrica Ruggs, Assistant Professor, Department of Management,
Director of the Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion, 

University of Memphis 

Diversity and Inclusion 

Workplace Diversity and Inclusion in the
Midst of COVID-19 

https://vimeo.com/428620035/afa9d55f8c

Kurt Kraiger, Professor and Chair, Department of

Management, 

University of Memphis 

E-Learning/Training 

E-Learning/Training and the Response to the COVID-19 Crisis: A Call to Action 

https://vimeo.com/428630506/67fc8e966a

Liu-Qin Yang, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology,

Portland State University 

Emotion and Motivation 

Social Connections at Work, Emotion, and
Motivation 

https://vimeo.com/428620552/e691a87fb0

Stuart Carr, Professor, School of Psychology, Massey University 

Humanitarian I-O
Psychology 

I-O Words for COVID 

https://vimeo.com/428617675/0276333b9b

Ryne Sherman, Chief Science

Officer, Hogan Assessments 

Leadership 

Leading Through Organizational Crisis

https://vimeo.com/428626014/71679d9be4 

Kate Bischoff 

 tHRive Law & Consulting 

Legal Issues 

Hiring in a Time of COVID

https://vimeo.com/428621222/1af4a179f3

Tammy Allen, Distinguished

University Professor,

Department of Psychology,

 University of South Florida 

Occupational Health

Psychology 

I-O Psychology and the Response to the
COVID-19 Crisis: A Call to Action 

https://vimeo.com/428617306/2862888acd

Elaine Pulakos, President 

PDRI 

Organizational Agility 

The Surprising Factors That Create Agility 

https://vimeo.com/428625711/640861199f

Steven Huang, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, CultureAmp 

Organizational Culture 

Emergency Response—Organizational Culture 

https://vimeo.com/428624596/07fcd18ce2

Kristin Allen, Managing

 Research Scientist, SHL 

Remote Work 

Virtual Work Competencies 

https://vimeo.com/428626416/c887720ed5

Wayne Camara, Horace Mann Research Chair, ACT 

Testing and Assessment 

I-O Psychology and the Response to the

COVID-19 Crisis: A Call to Action:
Testing and Assessment 

https://vimeo.com/428623879/68302dcb70

Bradford S. Bell, Professor of HR Studies, Director of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, Cornell University 

Virtual Teams 

Leading Virtual Teams

https://vimeo.com/428624217/4cfe383b62 

 

Assessment and Selection—Lance Andrews & Renee Barr, SHL

  • Shift from recruitment to selection mindset: Previously were in a mindset of attraction (not enough applicants for openings). Applicants per job opening are skyrocketing, so need to shift mindset to selecting from a large volume of applicants.
  • Remote work and remote/virtual hiring tools are essential: May need to reconsider what characteristics we are hiring for with shift to more remote employees. May also need to shift hiring practices to be more remote—need to pivot quickly to remote candidate engagement, realistic job previews, interviews, and unproctored remote assessments.
  • Consider what influences candidate reactions in times of high unemployment:
    • Communication—clear info about process and what people can expect.
    • Accessibility—mobile friendly is critical during COVID.
    • Trust—sense of agency and control, two-way communication, and ethical and fair processes.

 

Coaching—Maya Garza, BetterUp

  • Now, more than ever, people need a personalized approach to drive their well-being and performance.
  • Well-being dipped during peak COVID periods, with significant disruption to productivity and engagement at work.
  • Engagement and the overall employee experience improved for employees who were engaged in coaching, and it dropped for those who were not.
  • During COVID, resilience skills can improve up to 125% with coaching.
  • Coaching also helps build “brain memory” for critical thought processes and mechanisms that boost authenticity, optimism, and hope—all drivers of employee thriving during chaos and uncertainty.

 

Diversity and Inclusion—Enrica Ruggs, University of Memphis

  • Prioritize diversity and inclusion. (Don’t cut D&I programs and resources.)
  • Commit or re-affirm commitment to building an inclusive environment. (Build virtual inclusion; challenge bias; halt harassment and discrimination.)
  • Openly communicate.
  • Be flexible and empathetic.
  • Be aware of blind spots. (Assess the full scope of the situation and decisions.)
  • Build safety (psychological safety and safe “spaces” for grief and individual situations).

 

E-Learning and Training—Kurt Kraiger, University of Memphis

  • Separate myth from science—and maybe experience.
  • Offer clear guidance on “best practices”—or at least minimally viable products.
  • Challenge organizations to make rational decisions on what needs to be taught and how—AKA do a needs assessment.
  • Write practical papers.
  • Provide guidance for L&D design.
  • Encourage better decision making in organizations.

 

Emotion and Motivation—Liu-Qin Yang, Portland State University

  • More research is needed on social isolation and relationship management at work, especially among workers who do more remote work relative to before COVID.
  • More work is needed to study vulnerable populations, especially contingent workers and those with disabilities.
  • More scientific advocacy is needed to inform organizational management about how to best manage isolation and worker relationships.
  • Theory advancement: To adapt and extend existing theory while studying workplace isolation and relationships in the post-COVID work settings.
  • Methodological advancement:
    • Methods to best engage more dispersed workers post COVID.
    • Methods to collect and analyze relationship data using technologies (e.g., recording of team meetings in zoom).

 

Humanitarian I-O Psychology—Stuart Carr, Massey University

  • COVID-19 has made the unthinkable thinkable, such as applauding frontline workers in the street.
  • COVID-19 is a disruptor, with the potential to damage but also to build back better, in the world of work.
  • The world of work we had in 2019 was unsustainable, with rampant precariousness and wage inequality.
  • humanitarian crisis, with record levels of employment but also working poverty and informality.
  • We need a renewed focus on social protection—putting people before (precarious, unsustainable) jobs.
  • Let us refocus on sustainable livelihoods, with living wages, interconnectedness, and prospects for future generations.
  • Revamp job specification; for example, can it be done at a distance, is it frontline, safe and if not, can it be sustainably automated?
  • Reinvent job evaluation by breaking away from labor-market sinkholes as the benchmark and choosing instead value to society and sustainability.
  • Invert the ethos of selection from weeding out to including in, for example selecting more entrepreneurs for start-up support.
  • Put people’s well-being front and center, at tertiary (self-care), secondary (helping organizations that serve us all), and primary (at government levels, such as advising on Universal Basic Income for sustaining livelihoods in the post-COVID world of work) levels. 

 

Leadership—Ryne Sherman, Hogan Assessments

  • Help organizations select leaders who have the qualities to effectively lead through (inevitable) crises.
  • Help organizations develop leaders who lack certain qualities for effectively leading through crises.
  • Help organizations create crisis teams to round out potential leader flaws in crisis management.

 

Legal IssuesKate Bischoff, tHRive Law & Consulting

  • COVID-19 bends the law.
  • Taking advantage of the bend could cause problems.
  • Be careful NOT to make employment decisions based upon disabilities, pregnancy, and age—laws will return.

 

Occupational Health Psychology—Tammy Allen, University of South Florida

  • COVID-19 has been a major stressor in the life of most Americans.
  • We need a worker-centric approach to examining the impact of COVID-19. Two major categories associated with COVID are frontline/essential workers and stay-at-home (remote) workers.
  • We need to recognize the threats that exist to these workers. Threats to these two types of workers vary along three dimensions: virus exposure, change of location, and social isolation. Frontline workers have greater virus exposure than do remote workers. Remote workers have changed their location of work, which requires adjustment while frontline workers remain connected to their same work location. Social isolation is a greater threat for remote workers than for frontline/essential workers.
  • We need to place more attention on vulnerable, marginalized employees such as those in the gig economy and those in the meatpacking industry. These types of workers are rarely included in our research and practice.
  • There is much to be learned from the experiences of workers. Ideally, we can take the lessons learned from the pandemic to promote worker health, contribute to sustainable work, and enable equality and equity for all. Employee productivity and well-being go hand in hand. It’s time to put the health, well-being, and safety of workers at the center of our mission and values as I-O psychologists.  

 

Organizational Agility—Elaine Pulakos, PDRI

  • Agile organizations are resilient and can bounce back from unexpected change such as that introduced by COVID-19.
  • Create an agile organization by
    • Building stability: Stability provides a solid base to enable agility by calming people and keeping them focused on performance and change.
    • Rightsizing teamwork: Teamwork has benefits, but can lead to complexity.
    • Engaging in relentless course corrections: Get individuals comfortable raising and solving problems together and not relying on leaders to take the lead.

 

Organizational Culture—Steven Huang, CultureAMP

  • Ask your workforce whether they agree with these three statements:
    • I know what I need to do to keep safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
    • I feel safe carrying out my role during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • I am being treated fairly by my colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Aim for 90% or higher for a smooth and safe return to work. Make sure to slice your data by location, team, gender, and race to identify any hotspots.

 

Remote Work—Kristin Allen, SHL

  • This is a new kind of remote work—we can’t assume that previous research applies.
    • Although remote work has been studied in recent years, working remotely during COVID-19 involves juggling family responsibilities, more frequent interruptions, and more stress than typical remote working, putting workers at risk for meeting performance expectations and burnout.
    • We as I-O psychologists need to learn as much as we can about the demands and skills required to be successful in the COVID-19 remote work environment as quickly as possible.
  • Apply our science to publish insights that will help the global workforce adapt and maintain high performance in a remote environment while supporting managers with tips for sustaining a remote workforce.
    • This is an unprecedented situation, and organizations are in a position of both risk and opportunity.
    • Different employees work differently and need different kinds of support.
    • Insights to help managers lead effectively and provide individualized support to their employees will be important. In addition to driving high performance, this approach will support the overall well-being of the global workforce.

 

Testing and Assessment—Wayne Camara, ACT

Recommendations for large-scale testing programs:

  • Alternative testing models may impact score equivalence.
  • Flag scores and provide guidance on how to interpret scores in light of regular administrations.
  • Don’t oversell results—identify claims you can support about score exchangeability.
  • Changes in construct, content, response process, timing, device can all cause construct-irrelevant variance.
  • Market research—consultation with test users to ensure they will accept scores and understand how they will treat scores.
  • Another model for high-stakes testing is verification testing—accept score on an altered test and confirm theta with adaptive or shorter verification setting—ideal for cut scores.

 

Virtual Teams—Bradford S. Bell, Cornell University

  • Over the past few decades, the adoption of virtual teams within organizations has steadily progressed, as have advancements in virtual-team research.  As a result, we have learned a great deal about virtual teams and the factors that influence their effectiveness, which can assist organizations and leaders as they navigate the COVID crisis.
  • Virtual teams can achieve levels of effectiveness and member satisfaction comparable to more traditional, colocated teams, but only if critical teamwork conditions are established.  A key role of virtual-team leaders, therefore, is to help develop and maintain these conditions, but this can be more challenging when members are dispersed.
  • Given the difficulties associated with executing many team performance management and development functions in virtual contexts, hierarchical leadership needs to be replaced with a greater emphasis on structural supports (e.g., reward systems) and shared leadership.
  • Virtual-team leaders need to be more deliberate early in the team’s lifecycle in formalizing work processes and strategies, but over time should shift from being directive to supportive so as to empower the team and allow it to self-manage.
  • Virtual-team leaders also need to be more deliberate in orchestrating opportunities for social exchange so as to build relationships among team members that are important for trust, cohesion, and other essential elements of teamwork.       

 

Conclusion

Although COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work, I-O psychologists have knowledge and tools that can be of use in this fight. It is our hope that business leaders, scientists, practitioners, students, and others will find something of value in the recommendations provided here by leaders in our field to answer these calls to action with a bold and forward-thinking response.

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