Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Psychology in the Asian Workplace

Sometime back i wrote about the fantastic journey that started at the mega-corporate. That journey continues to bring excitement. As i look back over the past 9 months, and shuffle through the numbness of how work sometimes stifles creativity, I ponder about the many reasons why its becomes so darn difficult to write a decent blog while working.

During lunch last week (and numerous other times) i was asked if i “can read minds”. I had an ah haa moment at that point, that showed me that people no matter how “modern” they claim to be, have no freaking clue who a psychologist is. At least not in Malaysia. This my friends is REALITY.
I am in a position to educate people about this special kind of mind readers. Morons, psychologists don’t read minds. Yes, they do become very sensitive to inferring subtle behaviors that might otherwise be missed out.

As a student of psychology, i would like to dedicate today’s post to explain how I/O psychologists evolved, what they currently do, how they can add value to a organization, and what the future is for I/O psychology in Malaysia.

I/O Psychologists are people are interested to study the interaction (Thoughts, feelings, and Behaviors) between humans (who sometimes act like animals) and the workplace. Why? Because more and more organizations realize that human capital development directly influences the bottom line. The humble I/O psychologist belongs to this ambitions group.

Industry perception of the I/O Psychologist has been not been positive, specially in growing markets such as Asia, where industries are motivated by cheep labor and a general inadequacy of legislation relating to employee health and wellbeing. Psychologists are thus, perceived as people with lot of “fluff” (mumbo jumbo at best) with no real operational experience.

The purpose of this article is to provide psychology students like my self some realistic background on what we can offer an organization and how best can I/O psychologists add to the organizations value proposition.

The Development of I/O Psychology:

The history of I/O psychology can be traced back to a time frame during the industrial revolution. It was at this time, when the research question relating to how an organization is able to effectively manage many thousand employees arose. Though the setting of this early history was derived from systematically observing manual labor, around the factory setting, and then redesigning the workflow, the basic premises of this theoretic model became the building blocks of modern I/O Psychology.

During World War 1, the focus of I/O Psychologists made a major shit in focus and dealt with the question of which people should be hired to perform all the new jobs created. Of course, by this time, the industrial revolution and the society that supported it, was changing radically. Un-validated tests measuring cognitive ability, psychomotor, and personality was developed. These tests would later lay the foundations to I/O psychology. The modern form of hiring experts are born.

As i write this blog, WWIII has come and gone. Society has changed. “work” has been redefined over and over in complex ways. The need for professionals understanding human performance in the workplace and determining how to best hire and promote employees became most important.

So how do these special breed of Psychologists add value to an organization? I have listed below areas in which an I/O Psychologist is able to add value.

The organization understands that strategic development and management of a business does need the help of a scientist. Case studies of compliance issues in the area of racial discrimination, social justice etc, are areas that Psychologists spend years training. Psychologists are also better able to communicate and change existing cultures. Being architects of human behavior adds value to the globalization of work. Psychologists everywhere are increasing the dialogue between very senior management and junior employees by representing the complexities of each side to the other in a manner that is understandable.

So, if you are pondering, “How can a I/O Psychologist really add value in the HR function”, below is a list that can help you bring some understanding. I will not go indepth into each area as they deserve write ups by them selves.

The grand list, and by no means exhaustive, is:

-Recruiting and Staffing
-Leadership Development
-Training and Development
-Performance Management
-Organizational Development
-Survey Work
-Change Management
-Workplace Violence
-Employee Wellness
-Statistical Analysis and Methodologies

So, is there a future if you become a I/O Psychologist in Asia?

In Asia, probably not. Not for the next 10-15 years. Global organizations choose regions such as Asia for the simple reason of it being cheaper than else where. Hence, it is highly unlikely that organizations would be too keen on hiring expensive specialists in this region.

But, that’s no reason why you should not become an I/O psychologist. Entrepreneurs are now turning to Psychologists for ideas to solve the work problem of a modern Asia.

In addition, there is a boom in mid size organizations taking on the services of the I/O psychologist to boom. Mid size HR research organizations, Organizational change management companies, etc all look for the specific talents that these students of psychology carry with them.
The perception of the Psychologist will soon change in Malaysia as key regional players such as Singapore, Japan, and AnZ push forward with advanced forms of human capital management.

If you feel differnt about the development of I/O psychology in Asia, then pls share your thoughts.


sunnysardine said...

Good evening fake psychologist,
You said that there is NO future for I/O psychologist in Asia, didn't you? How you came to this conclusion.

However, thanks for your dedicated posting, awakened those psychology students who ONLY think of charging those BIG BOSS expensive pay for offering "professional" services.

I/O psychologist is not a TOOL for capitalist to gain prosperity only! Your mission is to get everyone happy with their working life! The BIG BOSS pays you, you serve him/her and his/her WORKERS as well. Full stop.

One more question, is joining the HR forces the only option for I/O psychologist to start his/her solo?

Dr. Deb said...

Popping in to say hi. I am so glad that you are back blogging!

Twisted said...

Hi astrorat….

Unfortunately it’s quite a sad truth that many organisations in S.E.A. see I/O or HR practitioners as a cost which they want to reduce the number of such practitioners. In some cases where organisations have offices in various states but only have such practitioners centralised in the HQ. The managers would be responsible for execution of administration in relating to the employees’ performance and the practitioners are to provide support aligned with the organisation strategy and objectives.

However, in addition to the overview that you have provided of how the practitioners can value, in my opinion, having the practitioners in organisations could save cost. Main purpose of having corporate organisations is to make profit. To have I/O psychologist or the like as a part of the organisation strategic practice, the practitioners’ role would be to be able to save or avoid unnecessary cost – put it in different way is the benefits of organisation having the practitioners instead of ‘how much organisation have to spend.’ This is the type of mentality needed in S.E.A. organisations.

When I mentioned "save or avoid the cost," it does not mean literally cutting the cost. As I/O practitioners use scientific methods to make decisions proposed to the organisations, it is believed to be able to make more accurate decisions. Having scientific methods shall yield more accurate decisions and hence, better methodology and results. For instance, if recruitment and selection decisions that were based on non-systematic approach would cause high employees turnover rate (which cost from recruitment to development, low productivity due to vacancy and to retrenchment). It is possible that this could cost up to 1 year salary for rehiring each position.

Well, the key to have I/O practitioners to be widely accepted as part of the organisation is to redirect the focus from the existing misperception of ‘psychologist,’ to what are the benefits of having the practitioners in place (bare in mind that I’m not referring solely to monetary aspect). Also, to remember that I/O practitioners are to support the organisation’s strategy and objectives no matter if they are in-house or external consultants.

The plus of having the I/O practitioners is that procedures are formalised and scientific to provide evidence for decisions which are not due to ‘gut feelings’ or intuitions.

Anonymous said...

There is hope now in the HR aspect. Keen to chat. write to pattsyong@gmail.com