Patricia’s SIOP Conference Learnings

tricia shares her insights from the 3-day Society of Industrial/Organizational Psychology conference about the direction of the field.

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Last week, Katina shared her insights from the Society of Industrial/Organizational Psychology Annual Conference. This week, I want to share mine. Every year we attend this 3-day conference and always walk away with some interesting learnings about the direction of the field. Here are the top 3 things I walked away with.

Mental Health Problems in the Workplace

Mental health at work is a topic I find interesting and definitely want to write more about in the future. I went to a great session with a number of papers I’m excited to hopefully see published soon on this topic.

One presenter discussed disclosure of mental illnesses at work. Often, employees choose to or need to disclose their mental health problems at work. They might be looking for support or need to discuss accommodations. Regardless of the reason, talking about mental health often comes with stigma, making the conversation harder. Interestingly, employees with mental illnesses tend to see the reactions to disclosure differently than those without mental illness. Specifically, employees with mental health concerns see negative behaviors as more negative than others.

Let’s take an example. An employee may decide to tell her manager about her anxiety disorder. Her manager says “Don’t worry! You will get through this!” and changes the subject. That response is not very helpful or supportive. Most people can see that her manager could handle the conversation better. However, someone with a mental illness will think that response is much worse than someone who does not have an illness.

If someone discloses a mental health concern to you, take some time to think about your response and be supportive!

This area needs more research but there’s definitely a lot of interesting work coming out about mental health at work. I can’t wait to share more on this topic as I dig in deeper.

Aging at Work

Another interesting session I attended was about aging at work.
I found this topic really relevant to the workforce today because of how many aging Baby Boomers we have still working. There are so many negative and unnecessary stereotypes about older adults in the workplace that can be incredibly harmful to the work environment. Interestingly, age is not as related to performance as the stereotypes would have you think. One study found that a person’s perceptions of their own ability to keep working is related to their performance on the job. Older employees that don’t let those stereotypes keep them down will keep performing well!

Another study discussed in this session was about subjective age. Subjective age is basically how old someone feels. To measure subjective age, most researchers ask if the person feels older, younger, or the same than their actual age. One researcher shared a new study that showed subjective age is related to successful aging at work. In other words, people that feel younger than their age are happier, healthier, and more likely to be able to meet their word demands. This was a small study but it’s an interesting idea that feeling younger actually improves your well-being at work.

It was actually hard to find images of older people working. What does that tell you about our stereotypes?

The World of AI

Sessions about artificial intelligence (AI) were EVERYWHERE at SIOP this year. Artificial intelligence is probably a term you hear all the time. Your Amazon Echo or your Google Home use artificial intelligence to help answer your questions. It’s basically a term referring to machines (like computers) that can take in information and react to it in some way. There are a lot of differing definitions so check out this article if you want more discussion on what it is.

In terms of work, there’s a lot of interesting issues and concerns that arise from the growth of AI. People are worried about their jobs being taken away or changed drastically. There’s concerns about privacy. Researchers are also worried about AI creating bias like it did at Amazon. However, one major topic that I think was missing this year was around employee well-being and AI. All of these concerns can have a major impact on employees and how they feel. How is the growth of this technology impacting employees? On the flip side, how can AI be used to help employee wellness? I think there’s a lot of interesting work that is being done in this space but I’d like to see more related to our favorite topic, employee wellness.

Overall, the conference was a tremendous success and I feel very grateful that I was able to attend again. I cannot wait to dig into some of these topics in more depth and share what I learn about the research. We’d also love to hear from you. Any of these topics sound particularly interesting to you? What would you like to learn more about?

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