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Jenny Baker
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The Bridge: Surviving and Thriving in Uncertain Times: Transforming to Meet Future Needs

Kimberly Adams, HumRRO, Tara Myers, American Nurses Credentialing Center; & Stephanie Zajac, UT MD Anderson Cancer Center

“The Bridge: Connecting Science and Practice” is a TIP column that seeks to help facilitate additional learning and knowledge transfer to encourage sound, evidence-based practice. It can provide academics with an opportunity to discuss the potential and/or realized practical implications of their research as well as learn about cutting-edge practice issues or questions that could inform new research programs or studies. For practitioners, it provides opportunities to learn about the latest research findings that could prompt new techniques, solutions, or services that would benefit the external client community. It also provides practitioners with an opportunity to highlight key practice issues, challenges, trends, and so forth that may benefit from additional research. In this issue, the co-editors come together to discuss the many challenges faced in the past year and how I-O psychologists can help the workforce thrive amidst these changes.

 

Without a doubt, 2020 was a year like no other. The year started off with fear and isolation resulting from the novel coronavirus that significantly affected the lives of people across the world. Health and financial insecurity, sustained work–life integration, devastating weather events, and other personal challenges were a constant throughout the year, leading to a host of stress-induced outcomes for many people. Uncertainty and tension resulting from an uprising in social justice movements and civil unrest within a highly charged political environment created additional fears and stress, which have been amplified by the unfathomable riot on the U.S. Capitol at the start of 2021. Together, these events have significantly impacted our lives and shaken us to the core. However, people are finding internal strength and perseverance to not only survive but thrive. There have been many positive consequences—silver linings—resulting from recent adversities, ranging from heroics of frontline workers; a long overdue spotlight on diversity, equity, and inclusion; communities banding together to support less fortunate members; parents seizing the opportunity to spend more time with their children; and companies quickly acting to offer solutions to the unique challenges this past year. One of those silver linings is how the I-O community has also come together to leverage our research to offer resources for successfully navigating these difficulties.

Leveraging Current Resources

Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology has long been building a body of research and evidence-based practices on topics relevant to the recent challenges. For example, uncertainty has been a part of the I-O psychology landscape for over 3 decades through research on strategic leadership within volative, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environments. Likewise, research in positive psychology, empathy, inclusion, shared decision making, and burnout offer valuable insights. Early in this crisis period, SIOP’s Learning Resources for Practitioners (LRP) Committee recognized an opportunity for our profession’s work to support others during these unprecedented times. We began curating the Working Through COVID-19 Resource Center, an open-access library of articles highlighting research and practices relevant to the challenges being faced by employees, leaders, and organizations. Evidence-based guidance written for the business community is provided and ranges from topics on remote work transitions, work–life integration, employee health and wellness, virtual leadership, virtual training and development, crisis-management, agility, and motivation sustainment. The LRP Committee is still adding articles to the resource center—expanding knowledge and guidance based on findings from pandemic-specific research and emerging topics (e.g., performance management, safety climate, workplace incivility).

Another positive consequence to be acknowledged by our field is the increased calls for diversity, equity, and inclusion across all contexts. The unquestionable reality of unforgivable injustices that culminated in the Black Lives Matter movement with peaceful protests across the nation is driving the increase in awareness and call for change. Although much work still lies ahead, our profession has been committed to understanding and combating implicit biases, discrimination, and social injustices in the workplace. The LRP Committee recently launched the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Resource Center as a means of sharing I-O research and evidence-based practices for creating a culture that values diversity, fair and equitable employment practices, and inclusivity. We are also recently committed to updating SIOP’s Occupational Testing web page, beginning with practical guidelines for the critical step of conducting bias and sensitivity reviews into the item development process.

With vaccinations underway and a new federal administration in place, people are looking toward the future and wondering what it will look like. Exploring the future of work has been a focus of SIOP for several years now—aiming to understand and inform on topics related to advanced technologies and artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and organizational culture and talent acquisition changes driven by a competitive landscape. The LRP Committee recently initiated the curation of resources and tools (i.e., a toolkit) related to predictive analytics that I-O practitioners could leverage in their work.

Responding to Challenges

Across our profession, there are countless examples of I-O scientists and practitioners working together to solve new challenges faced by employees, leaders, and organizations alike. Two examples that currently resonate with us include the transition to online learning and development and the importance of emphasizing and supporting employee well-being as a leader.

Online Learning and Development

In a survey of experts in the field, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that due to greater acceptance of remote work models and the need to reskill, a rise in online learning is predicted into 2021 and beyond (Gurchiek, 2021). Professionals in training and development have had to quickly pivot to the use of online software and platforms for synchronous and asynchronous learning. Beyond the challenge of finding and learning the right tools, practitioners have also faced the need to adapt the way training is delivered (e.g., interactive activities, meaningful peer-to-peer learning through discussion) to maintain the levels of engagement seen with in-person training. Despite these initial challenges, the convenience, flexibility, and potential increase for access in the expansion of online learning presents great opportunities for the learner, as well as opportunities to develop a better understanding of best practices in this arena.

The role of features meant to capture and keep a learner’s engagement (e.g., fun, gamification, peer-based discussions; Tews & Noe, 2019) are now more practically important than ever but are relatively less understood and lack a strong theoretical basis compared to the rest of the training literature. The role of engagement in online learning and the effectiveness of different training features meant to promote it are areas of much needed future research. In addition, the use of coaching as a tool for learning and development has outpaced the research on coaching best practices and the mechanisms behind coaching that lead to learning. Although there is some evidence for the effectiveness of coaching (Theeboom et al., 2014), this is an intervention that is ripe for the rigor that I-O psychology can bring to the field.

Employee Well-Being

Working from home and dealing with the pandemic and civil unrest has increased stress among workers, bringing stressors such as issues with technology, micromanaging, decreased or increased workloads, job insecurity, difficulty communicating, and competing home and work demands (Knight et al., 2020). I-O psychology has been addressing some of these issues for years and has identified many management best-practices to combat stress, burnout, disengagement, and poor performance (set clear expectations, train, encourage, empower, provide feedback, treat people fairly). Of course, these management techniques continue to be essential. The current situation, though, has also required additional support and vulnerability from managers (e.g., Allen & Poteet, 2020; Doyle, 2020; Keller et al., 2020; Knight et al., 2020; Mattingly, 2020). For example, it has been more important to

  • Openly discuss challenges with work, working remotely, mental health, burnout, and self-care, including the manager’s struggles and strategies.
  • Create a space for peers to talk, network, and engage.
  • Model self-care and encourage others to practice self-care (e.g., set boundaries, take breaks from work, ask for help, spend time with family, exercise, meditate).
  • Demonstrate flexibility about when people work (e.g., allow employees to alter their work schedule to accommodate additional nonwork responsibilities).
  • Schedule time to talk with employees about nonwork topics.
  • Ask people what they need to make their work and life easier.

Ultimately, the events over the past year have highlighted the need to see each other as human beings and lead with compassion. It would be interesting to have I-O psychologists focus research on the impact of implementing these strategies during 2020 and then the impact of these strategies in less uncertain times. For example, our field should look at determining the extent to which these strategies continue to be used and useful after the pandemic.

Summary

Existing research in the field of I-O psychology has proven invaluable to providing evidence-based guidance to organizational leaders, managers, and workers navigating the complexities of the pandemic over the past year. Many practitioners were busy transitioning their services and programs in learning and development, assessments, and human resources management to an online environment. Scientists have shifted the focus of their research to address the pressing needs of these uncertain and complex times. The strategies implemented and embraced over the past year offer future opportunities for I-O practitioners and scientists to come together to explore, investigate, and evaluate the impact of these changes, inform the future of work, and build resiliency for responding to and thriving in future times of uncertainty and complexity.

References

Allen, T. D., & Poteet, M. (2020). Caught in the middle: 10 tips for managers leading from home. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. https://www.siop.org/Research-Publications/Items-of-Interest/ArtMID/19366/ArticleID/4503/Caught-in-the-Middle-10-Tips-for-Managers-Leading-From-Home

Doyle, N. (2020). Remote working, disability support, and anxiety–Six tips to managing staff in the COVID Crisis. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/drnancydoyle/2020/03/13/remote-working-disability-support-and-anxiety--six-tips-to-managing-staff-in-the-covid-crisis/?sh=610003fe4033

Gurchiek, K. (2021). Crystal ball gazing: Experts offer training predictions for 2021. Society for Human Resource Management. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employee-development/pages/crystal-ball-gazing-experts-offer-training-predictions-for-2021.aspx

Keller, A. C., Knight, C., & Parker, S. K., (2020). Boosting job performance when working from home: Four key strategies. Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology. https://www.siop.org/Research-Publications/Items-of-Interest/ArtMID/19366/ArticleID/4600/Boosting-Job-Performance-When-Working-from-Home-Four-Key-Strategies

Knight, C., Parker, S. K., & Keller, A. C. (2020). Tripled levels of poor mental health: But there is plenty managers can do. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. https://www.siop.org/Research-Publications/Items-of-Interest/ArtMID/19366/ArticleID/4555/Tripled-Levels-of-Poor-Mental-Health-But-There-Is-Plenty-Managers-Can-Do

Mattingly, V. (2020). Using emotional intelligence to take care of yourself and others in a virtual world. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. https://www.siop.org/Research-Publications/Items-of-Interest/ArtMID/19366/ArticleID/4530/Using-emotional-intelligence-to-take-care-of-yourself-and-others-in-a-virtual-world

Tews, M. J., & Noe, R. A. (2019). Does training have to be fun? A review and conceptual model of the role of fun in workplace training. Human Resource Management Review, 29(2), 226–238.

Theeboom, T., Beersma, B., & van Vianen, A. E. (2014). Does coaching work? A meta-analysis on the effects of coaching on individual level outcomes in an organizational context. Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(1), 1–18.

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