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Tech Talk: 2022 SIOP Annual Conference Takeaways From I-O Professionals in Tech

Tunji Oki, Stephanie Murphy, Catie Jacobson, Jimmy Mundell, Hannah Markell-Goldstein, Laura Joiner, and Sharon Li

SIOP returned to an in-person annual conference in Seattle but maintained a virtual option as well, with over 4000 registrants. It held double meaning as academics, practitioners, and students held virtual and in-person sessions, workshops, and networking events to better answer the question “How can we do work better?”, especially in this new age of work. As organizations and companies like SIOP have moved to remote or hybrid work, there’s been an increased dependency on technology to keep people connected and productive using clouds and servers, personal devices (e.g., laptops and cell phones), and social media platforms and tools. The information technology (IT) industry is not only growing exponentially, but it’s leading the way in understanding and creating the future of work. Industrial-organizational psychologists (I-Os) are playing a substantial role in these companies to lead the charge to support aggressive hiring targets; establish, maintain, and measure company culture and employee engagement; use people analytics to solve and understand key problems and drive strategy; and bring in theory and research to help create inclusive and thriving workforces.

I-Os in the IT industry are at the forefront of innovating the new way of work, which heightens the need to bridge the gap between academia and practice more critical now than ever. This is evident by the increase of IT presence in the I-O community and in the attendance at this year’s SIOP annual conference. We asked several IT professionals that attended the conference to highlight what key topics stood out to them this year and what they are looking forward to in the future. These professionals work across the IT industry in a variety of different I-O-related occupations at Dell, Google, Amazon, Meta, and Twitter. In no particular order, here are the top three most impactful trends and insights for these IT professionals from the 2022 SIOP Annual Conference. (The opinions of the discussants are solely their own and do not represent the position of their company.)

Meaningful Work and Well-Being

Across multiple sessions, we saw that the benefits of purposeful work are numerous: higher engagement, satisfaction, intent to stay, employee health, and resilience. One panelist even mentioned creating meaningful work lessened the impact of the “Great Resignation” on their company. However, there can be a “dark side” of meaningful work where highly purposeful workers may be vulnerable to burnout and can experience unsustainable careers by relying on purpose as a sole motivator.

Relying heavily on purpose can also lead to blind loyalty to companies. In one session, they discussed that blind loyalty can have both positive and negative outcomes. Positive attributes of these workers include the need for a personal bond both with an organization and a leader whose values they believe in to imbue their work life with meaning and purpose. Negative attributes assigned to blind loyalty include lack of boundaries between work life and personal life, discomfort, fear, inability to question authority, personal insecurity, and need for a powerful role model. It can be a hindrance for innovation.

Although meaningful work is important, balance, boundaries, and well-being are key to mitigating the negative impacts purpose can have on work. Many sessions focused on well-being, stress, and burnout. One key call from a session was the caution to not overemphasize one of these topics over others. For instance, companies are spending a lot of time focusing on engagement and burnout, but oftentimes engagement can be high but so can stress. Highly engaged employees may still be dealing with high levels of negative emotions.

Creating Impact While Relying on the Tried and True

Although many things have changed, I-O best practices have stayed relatively stable. The tools we have used and tested over time are still essential in this evolving way of working. Research, however, is suggesting adjustments and different use cases to drive greater impact. Surveys and assessments need to become more integrated into the natural flow of work and to feel like an experience in order to align with the push toward a more humanistic approach to work. Also, with technology and market interest in surveys and assessments increasing rapidly, we as I-Os need to ensure we build trust with our stakeholders to help educate them on ethical issues related to employee data collection, ensure we are measuring the right outcomes, and help with change and data management.

Feedback should also be embedded into everyday life at work so when it “formally” happens, it’s not as “scary.” Light 360-degree feedback can be collected on an ongoing basis to get real-time behavioral insights and drive timely performance improvement. Also, regular feedback in remote or hybrid work environments is especially important. When interacting face to face, feedback is everywhere. Workplace standards are more apparent, and employees can pick up on cues to figure out how to be successful. With remote work, cues and insights from the environment are not as frequent and may not be that obvious. Ongoing feedback can provide vital signals to remote employees regarding expectations and how they may be performing against those expectations.

The I-O statistical skill set in general may also need some adjustments. People analytics has become the source of many company decisions, and I-O has traditionally focused statistically on training on point-and-click (not to mention expensive) tools such as IBM SPSS or MPlus. However, in most of our IT companies, other software like R are used and are more effective in large organizations to analyze and visualize data. In several sessions, there was a call to teach I-O graduate students how to use open source code software (Python, R, SQL) to analyze data. This is a much more realistic way to apply their content expertise in the workplace. Unfortunately, I-O psychology seems to be ceding ground to other disciplines in people/workforce analytics, despite our content expertise. The consensus seems to be that this is the result of a lack of scalable data analysis techniques.

Virtual and Hybrid Work Is Here, and We’re Still Learning

It’s clear that the nature of work has likely changed more in the past couple years than in any other modern time period, as seen by the multitude of sessions at this year’s conference on remote/virtual work and its impact. Because of the velocity of these changes, research is still catching up, and that is ok. It seems more important than ever to confirm what we may have assumed to be true in the past, either by reevaluating seminal works in the field or redoing internal studies within organizations.

There were a lot of interesting sessions about the impact of meetings. We know Zoom fatigue is real, but it is a completely separate construct from traditional fatigue and burnout that needs deeper investigation. Research is showing the notion many companies have that culture is “not shining through” virtually may not be true. Initial findings show that there may be a heavier dependence on the leader and immediate teams to enable the culture. Emphasizing what aspects of the culture you want leaders to bring through may be key. We also saw some initial findings about creativity being stronger in an office but decision making actually being more effective virtually.

We’re seeing great initial findings as we learn from this uncharted territory. For practitioners, there were several interesting sessions about practicing I-Os needing to take time in nontraditional roles: Roles in the business, finance, different HR functions, expatriate roles, and so forth will enable us to learn more about what are key problems being faced in varying industries, countries, and fields, and how we can use our unique skills to contribute to the solutions.

Suggestions for Future Research

As a close, and an ode to the research curiosity that many I-Os share, we asked our discussants to share future research ideas sparked by their learnings at this year’s annual conference. The hope is that these ideas can yield a sizable impact on the collective knowledge of our field.

Algorithm and NLP Aversion or Acceptance

Many sessions focused on using machine learning and algorithms to increase the impact of people-related decisions, while simultaneously their use has been given more negative attention in mainstream news with potential upcoming legislation. The use of these methods for various people-related purposes may be focused on in the coming years (performance evaluations, promotions, etc.); as such, future research will need to focus on how these techniques will be viewed (both positively and critically) and what types of findings (validation evidence, research on bias, etc.) may be most useful to respond to the likely attention it will receive.

During one of the sessions’ Q&A, there were questions regarding the validity of natural language processing (NLP). In practice, analyzing qualitative data can be extremely time consuming, and NLP provides an opportunity to assess large amounts of qualitative data quickly and systematically. Further investigating the extent to which NLP tools correctly identify relevant themes (including performance trends and potential biases) in open-ended feedback would be beneficial to practitioners. Researchers should also investigate the use of NLP at the point of submission (e.g., prior to submitting feedback) as a way to ensure feedback is constructive, unbiased, and consistent with quantitative measures of performance.

Active and Passive Data Collection

Data collection is a consistently key topic area within the I-O community. This year’s sessions focused a lot on passive data collected real time through productivity systems (e.g., Microsoft Suite, Slack, Zoom). There is mixed research on the benefits of passive data, with some sessions focusing on how it can be too much information and does not often lead to action. Others mentioned how it can sometimes conflict with active data received directly from workers. Further research is needed to understand the long-term effects and benefits of relying on this type of information to drive decisions.

For active data, sessions focused on how to concretely define holistic outcomes like employee potential, well-being, and belonging. But more research is needed to understand how to measure these concepts, such as when and how to measure them. For example, what are the most efficient methods for collecting data from workers in shorter bursts while maintaining scientific rigor? What types of technology can help create more experiential and realistic assessments that employees can go through as we collect data from them?

Deeper Unpacking of the “O” Side of I-O

With the onset of the pandemic, we know there has been a heavier emphasis on more soft concepts and skills. Several sessions focused on hybrid work, but diving deeper into the impact remote work has on topics such as DEI and meaningful work will be key. One of the biggest unanswered questions is at the intersection of remote work and DEI (specifically inclusion). A few sessions touched upon the increased inclusion scores of minority workers in a remote environment, but it would be helpful to understand more about why that is and what are the associated drivers of inclusion for different groups in remote environments.

We know that meaningful work is key, but how can organizations leverage and develop meaning and purpose in work for their workers? Can there be a standardized set of practices for helping workers develop and find their purpose at work? As organizations move toward practices that seek to treat employees as holistic people (e.g., with families, personal interests), research should be done to see if developing personalized ideas of meaningfulness and purpose can become a central component of promoting work commitment and sustainable careers.


Discussant Bios

Caitie Jacobson is a senior People Insights & Assessments advisor at Dell Technologies, where she focuses primarily on selection and assessments. Prior to joining Dell Technologies, Caitie was an external consultant who specialized in conducting job analyses, creating hiring tools, and examining the psychometric properties of developed assessments.

Dr. Laura Joiner is a program manager at Twitter where she designs talent management programs to drive employee performance and development. Prior to Twitter, she worked as a talent management consultant for Publix Super Markets, creating hiring, promotion, and performance management programs. While completing her doctorate at the University of Houston, she consulted with organizations in the public and private sectors, including the Hobby School of Public Affairs, the City of Houston, and FMI Consulting. In her free time, Laura enjoys spending time with her husband, 3-year-old son, and Tampa friends. She is also a tropical plant and mid-century design enthusiast.

Sharon Li is a PhD candidate in industrial-organizational psychology at Purdue University and a current intern on the People Analytics team at Google. She received her BS degree from the University of Toronto in 2018 for psychology and employment relations. Her research interests are primarily in diversity and inclusion, with a focus on immigrant worker well-being and Asian American stereotypes at work.

Dr. Hannah Markell-Goldstein earned her PhD in industrial-organizational psychology at George Mason University, where she focused on advanced methodological techniques and diversity/discrimination among women and people of color in the workplace. She worked as a business manager on the People Strategy & Analytics team at Capital One, where she focused on enterprise diversity, inclusion, and belonging analytics. Some of her projects included understanding new-hire inclusion over time, developing additional measures of inclusion indicators, such as belonging, and presenting representation data to inform executive-level goals for representation. She is now an analytics business partner in Diversity Recruiting at Meta.

Dr. Jimmy Mundell is a research scientist at Amazon working on their People Experience and Technology (PXT) Central Science team, focusing on research relating to employee experience and recruitment/selection. He has experience working with public and private companies across a variety of industries with an emphasis on hiring, assessment, job analysis, and performance evaluation. Before joining Amazon, Jimmy was an assessment specialist at The D. E. Shaw Group and a people analyst at Google, where he designed hiring assessments focusing on validity, equity, and fairness.

Dr. Stephanie Murphy is currently head of People Insights & Assessments at Dell Technologies where she leads global projects reaching over 140,000 team members. This includes leading Dell’s employee engagement survey, conducting research and designing listening tools to inform Dell’s talent decisions, and developing and implementing assessments to enable Dell’s leaders and team members to do their best work. Stephanie aided in the culture integration efforts as Dell Technologies made history with one of the largest acquisitions in the tech industry. She also teaches management courses to graduate students at McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. Stephanie holds a BS in psychology from the University of New Orleans and a PhD and MA in industrial-organizational psychology from Louisiana Tech University.

Dr. Tunji Oki works at Google as a People Analytics manager and holds a PhD in industrial-organizational psychology from the University of Houston. He is currently responsible for managing a team that conducts research to drive analytical efforts to increase the equity of Google’s people processes. Prior to Google, Dr. Oki worked as a consultant for Applied Psychological Techniques, where he consulted with Fortune 100 companies in the areas of job analysis, employee selection, test development, test validation, and legal issues. He has a plethora of experience serving as an external consultant for areas such as 360 feedback, test development/validation, and job analysis.

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