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Research Taking New Route


by Abby Welsh, for SIOP

New Organizational Frontiers Book Discusses Ways I-O Research Can Benefit Communities

Societal issues today are complex. Understanding how I-O psychologists can use their research to address societal issues can only mean better consequences for the greater good.

In the most recent volume of SIOP’s Organizational Frontiers Series, Using Industrial-Organizational Psychology for the Greater Good, editors and SIOP fellows Julie Olson-Buchanan, Laura Koppes Bryan, and Lori Foster Thompson explain how the science of I-O psychology can serve the greater good and the importance of these issues.

The book, which includes contributions from 46 authors, provides information about theories, principles, guidelines, research and approaches for the relevance and use of I-O psychology for the greater good in 3 contexts: a) in the corporate domain, b) in nonprofit organizations, and c) outside of traditional organizational settings. Its goal is to help those who help others.

A SIOP panel discussion gave the editors the idea for the book, which had I-O psychologists share their experiences dealing with these types of issues, said Olson-Buchanan, fellow and department chair of management at California State University.

“It really struck a chord when we realized that a lot of I-O psychologists were conducting research in this area, so we decided to take this on as a project,” she added.

Co-editor Koppes Bryan, dean of Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences at the at the University of Baltimore, said the three leveraged their own experiences dealing with prosocial issues to help show how I-O psychology is integrated with these efforts.
“This book shows I-O psychology research taking a different direction than the traditional route,” she said.

The scholarly chapters the editors compiled demonstrate how organizations take part in prosocial causes, Koppes Bryan added.

“Using I-O psychology for prosocial purposes is not a new concept. It’s been going on for ages,” said co-editor Foster Thompson, professor of I-O psychology at North Carolina State University. “I think the difference is that these efforts are now becoming more organized, strategic, and focused. A prominent example of this is the emergence of the sub-discipline of humanitarian work psychology (HWP) which endeavors to stimulate engagement with deliberate and organized efforts to enhance human welfare. This includes everything from humanitarian disaster-relief to designing programs to empower women at work.”

The book discusses how prosocial efforts can actively improve the greater good of society via three main domains: the corporate domain, the nonprofit domain, and looking beyond the traditional organization and into the broader community.

“I-O psychologists can add to the greater good by using their tools and applying them appropriately to these types of situations,” Foster Thompson said. “In the book we look at adjustments we need to make in our science and consider where more research is necessary to use I-O psychology to address big, global problems and concerns.”

The editors said prosocial efforts involve activity that deliberately tries to advance the greater good that has been there all along, but people weren’t talking about them.

Foster Thompson said these prosocial efforts, where additional I-O research is needed include poverty alleviation, access to education, decent working conditions, and access to food.

“These certainly are not the only factors, but they definitely are key ones,” she added.

Olson-Buchanan stressed that these prosocial research efforts are extremely critical to I-O psychology and the broader community. Foster Thompson added that these efforts would impact the future by addressing some of the world’s major challenges.

The book discusses some of these issues and how they are impacted through volunteerism by organizations as well as corporate projects, Foster Thompson added.

For example, Foster Thompson explained how one chapter discusses projects involving aiding international development and unfair pay, which impacts local and global citizens.

She added how this example raises questions and research awareness of what is actually going on in the world in terms of fairness and justice.

Olson-Buchanan, Koppes Bryan, and Foster Thompson all hope that prosocial research will be further explored to improve the greater good because there will always be these kinds of societal issues in the world.

“It gives a broader perspective of what societal issues really stand out there today and how our research can help it for now and for future researchers,” Olson-Buchanan said. “We have a lot of enthusiasm because it’s the right thing to do.”