Work in the real world

Ian Bushnell, Programme Chair for the European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology Congress which is set to take place in Glasgow in January, introduces a set of conversations with the keynotes…

The European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology, or EAWOP, emerged from the European Congress of Work and Organizational Psychology in 1983 at Nijmegen. The congress was a great success and further congresses were organised around Europe every two years. EAWOP was formally established at the congress in Rouen in 1991. A 1989 event in Cambridge was the last time the congress was held in the UK, so the British Psychological Society hosted event at the SEC in Glasgow on 11-14 January 2022 will be a big deal – not least as it’s likely to be the first significant face-to-face academic conference to be held within Europe for quite some time. The appetite to return to ‘real’ conference-going is enormous, despite all the inherent challenges.

Since those early days with several hundred members, EAWOP has grown substantially, with nearly 2000 delegates at the last congress in Turin. Over the years EAWOP has expanded its activities and its membership, particularly developing activities to support countries emerging from behind the Iron Curtain, and engaging with both practitioners and academics.

EAWOP has developed positive relations with Work and Organisational Psychologists from around the world through the alliance with the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and the International Association of Applied Psychology Division 1 – but it primarily provides an outlet for European areas of interest, independent of the dominant American journals and themes. Ideas such as job crafting, and the importance of longitudinal research, have emerged from the European community. A third of all submissions to the current congress are related to well-being; a similar congress in the USA would arguably focus more on enhancing performance at work.  

EAWOP may be unique in terms of the activity and engagement level of its members, with around 80 per cent contributing at some level, in particular presenting at congress. Many members of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology (DOP) are also EAWOP members, with the DOP leading the BPS bid to host it within the UK and DOP members forming the organising committee.

The crossover is synergistic. What we share is a strong desire to network and to learn from each other through dynamic, warm and friendly conferences that cut across boundaries, be those topic-related or cultural.  The congress theme is ‘Interventions at Work – Integrating Science and Practice’, which we chose as it indicates the importance of viewing science and practice as a confluence rather than as two entities where one provides the material for the other and one is fundamentally more ‘important’. The event will bring together scientists and practitioners to collaborate for the future of our profession, and to increase our influence on policy and practice. There have been many times when scientists and practitioners have not effectively shared evidence and ideas, and this has hindered progress. With the development of the Open Science model and a heightened awareness of evidence-based practice, EAWOP 2022 will provide so many opportunities to share, disseminate, discuss and challenge ourselves and others.

We have received 1600 submissions and there’s a varied workshop programme. There is a special welcome for students and postdocs, with a support programme in place for those who are new to the conference experience. A strong invited programme will cover topical and perhaps controversial content, with speakers who can change the way that we think about ourselves, our research, and our practice. We reached out to many of these keynotes to ask about their topic, the Congress theme, and how they feel about a return to conferences in the physical world…

Our interviewer…
Ingrid Covington (CPsychol) is Co-Founder of the Centre for Psychology at Work (www.centpsychwork.com) and winner of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology Practitioner of the Year. She has over two decades of experience building teams and advising leaders and organisations on leadership and culture, wellbeing, gender equality and future of work.

‘Unfreezing moments are here… we have to be ready to work together’
Stuart Carr is Professor of Psychology at Massey University in New Zealand/Aotearoa. He will be delivering the opening keynote at EAWOP.

‘How can we ensure people have a career that shapes them in a positive way?’
Ans DeVos is Professor of Antwerp Management School at the University of Antwerp. 

‘Open your eyes to collective dimensions’
Alex Haslam is Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology and Australian Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland. He studies group and identity processes in organisations, societies and the clinical context.

‘How individuals impact the place – not just how the place impacts the individuals’
Dr Gilad Chen is the Robert H. Smith Chair in Organizational Behavior at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

We also bring you some brief summaries from other keynotes, and online extras…

Leadership and employee well-being
Professor Deanne N. Den Hartog heads the Leadership and Management Section and is Director of the Research Institute of the Amsterdam Business School. Her keynote will consider leadership and employee health and well-being.

‘Our meta-analysis and a field study show that both the beneficial and harmful effects of leadership are stronger for vulnerable and more precarious workers. Leaders also strongly affect employee psychological health during crises. In research during the Covid-19 pandemic we found that common responses of leaders to the crisis were showing consideration for employees or pressure for performance and a focus on the bottom-line. The former enhances a sense of control and protects employee psychological well-being and the latter harms it, and the role of leaders was again more pronounced for vulnerable workers who experience higher personal and national economic threat.’Business.

Evolution of emotions and empathy
Dutch/American biologist and primatologist Frans B.M. de Waal is C.H. Candler Professor Emeritus at Emory University and Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Utrecht University. He will address the congress on the evolution of emotions and empathy in the primates.

‘Emotions suffuse much of the language employed by students of animal behaviour – from “social bonding” to “alarm calls” – yet are still regularly avoided as explicit topic in scientific discourse. Given the increasing interest of human psychology in the emotions, and the neuroscience on animal emotions such as fear and attachment, the taboo that has hampered animal research in this area is outdated. It is crucial to separate emotions from feelings, which are subjective experiences that accompany the emotions. Whereas science has no access to animal feelings, animal emotions are as observable and measurable (face, voice, physiology, neural activity) as human emotions. They are mental and bodily states that potentiate behaviour appropriate to mostly social situations. I will discuss early ideas about animal emotions and draw upon research on empathy and the perception of emotions in primates to make the point that the study of animal emotions is a necessary complement to the study of behaviour. Emotions are best viewed as the organisers of adaptive responses to environmental stimuli.’

'Crises can really speed up the rates of change'

Mark van Vugt is Professor of Psychology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (currently Deutsche Primatenzentrum, Georg-August University), Amsterdam Leadership Lab

How did you become interested in the topic you are presenting on?

I have always been interested in how societies and organizations respond to major disruptions like wars, economic recessions, and ecological crises. As an evolutionary psychologist I know that such crises can really speed up the rates of change both genetic and cultural change. Leaders in both the workplace and in politics have an obvious role to play in mitigating the risks associated with these disruptive events. 

I am interested in how different kinds of disruptions shape people’s cognitive representations of what they regard as ideal leaders. And thereby I hypothesise that the preference for a strong, dominant leader is limited to situations in which there is an immediate physical danger. But there are many disruptions that are quite different in nature, for example, a health crisis such as a pandemic or a technological innovation requires quite a different response, and there we see that people prefer a different kind of leader and manager than the dominant, authoritarian type. So it is important for both theory and practice to consider what types of leaders emerge in different kinds of contexts and to get away from the myth that all people want is a strong leader in a crisis.

Why is it timely now?

The global pandemic has obviously made us rethink the kinds of leadership that we want to have in our governments and in our workplaces. Leaders and managers who failed to appreciate the health risks associated with the Covid-19 pandemic have lost a lot of prestige and support and in some cases have not been re-elected for office, think of Donald Trump. Also, our relationship with work has changed as a result of the pandemic, mainly due to the mandatory working-from-home policies. The transition towards a hybrid workplace, as many analysts predict, will also carry implications for the kinds of managers that are able to lead us through this transition.

The Congress theme is Interventions at Work – Integrating Science and Practice. Can you give an example of how your own work does that?

My research has clear implications for leadership development programs as it suggests that we must appreciate that there are different kinds of disruptions in the workplace, from infectious diseases to gender quota policies to the reliance of AI-technology in performance review systems, that each have different implications for the way we select and train the future generation of managers. So we need a more diverse profile of managers and their competencies.

Do you have any unusual evidence-based advice for people applying your work to their personal and / or professional lives?

1. The impact of disruptive events on people´s working lives is huge, but it is not always visible immediately where we are heading. Don’t rush into creating all kinds of new structures and policies but it is better to experiment with new practices and see what works best for you, your team and your organization.

2. Think about those categories of employees that are vulnerable – for example because of an underlying illness – and appreciate  as employers that they might be fearful when returning to the office after the pandemic. 

What would you like to see from other psychologists in terms of changing research and / or practice, either in your area or more broadly?

Crisis leadership is a really understudied area but it is so important. Psychologists need to come up with good models and theories of how different kinds of crises affect our wellbeing as citizens and workers.

How do you feel about attending / presenting at conferences in the ‘new normal’? Has anything changed for you in that regard?

I have experienced some great alternative online conference models that worked really well – where there were meetings rooms and all the presentations available online long after the conference – and some others that failed miserably. Let’s continue experimenting and see through a Darwinian process what best practices emerge, while paying attention to needs of the planet and importantly those of younger generations of researchers that still need to develop their professional networks. 

Effective management teams: Why do we need them, what are their characteristics, and how can we develop them?
Associate professor Henning Bang, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Norway 

How did you become interested in the topic you are presenting on?

I have worked as an organisational psychologist since 1986, with a passion for helping teams and particularly management teams to become more effective. The methods we used in the 80s and 90s were hardly evidence based, with use of more or less relevant exercises (e.g. building Lego towers or spaghetti-bridges, and sharing our life stories). I became increasingly disturbed by a feeling of ‘selling affect instead of effect’ to my teams, and got interested in finding more evidence based methods and interventions for team development. That was particularly important when I worked with management teams with leaders who were deeply skeptical of consultants with a repertoire of mumbo jumbo exercises far from their real challenges as managers. Around year 2000 I decided to start as a part time researcher in the Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, to study what characterises effective management teams, and spend the rest of my time helping management teams to develop.

Why is it timely now?

The topic of how to develop effective management teams is increasingly important, since the work in most companies has become rather complex and specialised, and the need for coordination of managers from different parts of the organisation is vital for the success of the company.

The Congress theme is Interventions at Work – Integrating Science and Practice. Can you give an example of how your own work does that?

I try to integrate science and practice by building my practical development work on findings from team research – both other’s and my own – which gives me a much more secure base for selecting topics to focus on and methods to use when doing practical team development work. An example is to build on Harvard-professor Amy Edmondson’s research on team psychological safety, to increase the quality of the discussions and interactions in the management teams.

What would you like to see from other psychologists in terms of changing research and / or practice, either in your area or more broadly?

Generally, I think most organisational psychologist spend too little time reading research on team effectiveness and team development. Although Norwegian licensed psychologists are required to use ‘evidence based practice’, we all too often continue using the same methods that we learned years ago, even though they are outdated, or that other and more effective ways of developing teams are available.

How do you feel about attending / presenting at conferences in the ‘new normal’? Has anything changed for you in that regard?

To be honest, I thought it would be much harder and boring to give lectures and presentations virtually, than what I experienced after the first clumsy attempts. All of my teaching at the university and most lectures for companies the since March 2020 have been given on virtual platforms, and somehow I have gotten used to it, and even like it! Especially when every person in the audience have their camera on so I can see everybody, and even their names. However, the more practical side of team development has suffered during the pandemic. I love to be able to interact “live” with my management teams, which has been possible the last couple of months.

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