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Workplace Topic Trends 2008–2018


by Evan Sinar, PhD

A Visual Analysis of SIOP Conferences Shows Key Workplace Trends and Futures

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) conference is the most prolific annual forum for research and data-driven practical recommendations emerging from the scientific study of work. Each year, presenters collectively share between 800 and 1,000 sessions, comprising panel discussions, posters, symposia, debates, and alternative formats such as lightning-paced Ignite-style presentations. Industrial-organizational psychology is one of the economy's fastest-growing professions, and the conference itself has grown rapidly to over 5,500 attendees for the 2018 event.

The longevity and consistent topic framework for the SIOP conference lends itself extremely well to a structured view of how workplace science has changed over time, and projections for how it's likely to change further into the future. As a session is submitted to be reviewed for each year's program, the submitter classifies it into one of 34 topic areas. In this article, I use these topics to present a series of visualizations on important trends from 2008 through 2018: 11 full years of conferences. For each set of topics categorized by their shared pattern (for example, fastest increasing, top ranked, newcomer topics), I include a data visualization (see the note at the bottom of the article for more information about the dataviz approach used) and briefly review the topic trend displayed. I welcome all comments and ideas to further analyze, interpret, and extrapolate future-of-work implications building on the data shown here!

All Workplace Topics

The first visualization shows all 34 workplace topics ranked by their proportion within each year's sessions. Although certainly colorful as a summary view, this graph makes it very difficult to discern how topics cluster together in their year-to-year patterns. To better do so, I selectively highlight topic sets in the sections below. Moving on!

Fastest-Increasing Workplace Topics

The three topics highlighted in blue—inclusion/diversity, OHP (occupational health psychology)/stress/aging, and research methods—increased most over the 11-year period. (Rate of change is calculated based on the strongest positive year-proportion correlations across the time span.) These increases are driven by surging and broadening interest in all forms of diversity at work, among them racial, gender, age, and sexual orientation; a deeper awareness of safety and stress factors impacting worker productivity paired with an aging workforce; and a massively accelerated emphasis on the analytics and data science techniques (in recent years including artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing) captured within the research methods topic category. As evidence for the business advantages of diversity accumulate, as the role of safety orientation is seen as both the profitable AND right way to act, and as artificial intelligence in all its forms continues to draw investment and scrutiny across the enterprise, these topics show clear signs of continued increases into future years.

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Evan Sinar, a data visualization thought leader, is also SIOP’s Financial Officer and Secretary. The chief scientist and vice president at DDI regularly applies his data analysis skills to SIOP organizational topics.  See his representations of SIOP membership information in the July 2017 SIOP Newsbriefs.