Working for the greater good

14 June 2019

To stay relevant in an ever-changing world, work and organisational psychology has to change. As Professor Frederik Anseel (President of the European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology) recently pointed out, both push and pull forces are at work. Digitilisation and data abundance offer us unparalleled new research and dissemination opportunities, but we are hampered by alarming levels of mental illness among academics, problems with low reproducibility rates of psychological findings, and criticisms about the usefulness of our research. 

As a discipline we do not aspire simply to survive the changing times, but to engage in positively shaping them, as shown by the theme chosen for this European Association of Work and Organisational Psychology (EAWOP) conference in Turin: 'working for the greater good, inspiring people, designing jobs, and leading organisations for a more inclusive society'. In view of those lofty goals, the central question is not if we change, but how: how should our discipline look, and how we can we make that vision a reality?

While many who work in this field are asking these questions, some are trying to 'be the change we want to see'. The Future of Work and Organizational Psychology (FOWOP) movement is a grassroots network of people who are creating vision for this field and working together to realise it. Their recent Manifesto for the Future of Work and Organizational Psychology describes ten priorities and how they might work out in practice (Bal et al., 2019). Do read it, and sign if you agree.

At the recent EAWOP conference, the FOWOP group ran a pre-conference day that allowed around 60 participants to wrestle with change-making in our field. Creativity is essential to this process. At the start, we were invited to imagine a university from scratch or, more precisely, to re-imagine one. The University of Harderwijk operated from 1648-1811 in The Netherlands, gaining a reputation as a ‘university of the poor’ with questionable academic standards, but nevertheless managed to count Carl Linnaeus among its graduates.  Equipped only with a picture of a physical campus to tether the imagination, we were asked to envisage the curriculum, structures, pedagogy, and culture of a new University of Harderwijk. We played with ideas of researching without formal academic disciplines, collaborating across the academic/non-academic divide in outcome-focused teams, and co-creating curricula with students. To bookend the day, Dr Edina Dóci (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) delivered what was probably the first ever (and possibly only) stand-up comedy routine on work and organisational psychology.

The central part of the day was structured into four sessions covering mental health in academia, critical perspectives in our field, gender and race equality in academia, and substantive-methodological synergies in research. These four topics had been identified as the top-priority areas for discipline-wide change in previous FOWOP events, so the focus this time was on understanding the issues in greater depth and working out what we can do about them, given real-world constraints. Suggested actions ranged rom collaboration in developing more critical research, to the collation of psychologically-informed learning materials on equality and inclusion. 

In 2021, the British Psychological Society will host the EAWOP conference in Glasgow. Around 2000 work and organisational psychology practitioners and researchers will arrive on our doorstep, co-creating the future of the discipline. This is a perfect opportunity for positive change, and the FOWOP network provides a way of creating that together. As Anseel concludes: 'When a group of our colleagues is so convinced and passionate about improving the way we work, we owe it to them to attentively listen and reflect on what they have to say'. And, I would add, to support their efforts where possible.

- Zoe Sanderson is at the University of Bristol and is one of our current 'Voices In Psychology'. 

Further reading

Anseel, F. (2019). Reinventing ourselves. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 28, 287–288.

Bal, P. M., Dóci, E., Lub, X., Rossenberg, Y. G. T. V., Nijs, S., Achnak, S., et al. (2019). Manifesto for the future of work and organizational psychology. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 28, 289–299.