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Psychology in the Workplace: Three Ways Organisational Psychology Helps HR Teams Succeed

For businesses, having a better understanding of how their employees are thinking, behaving and feeling - and why - is a key component of effective people management, necessary for improving processes and results across the entire organisation.

Human Resources are the engine at the heart of people management. With core responsibilities including recruitment, performance management, employee engagement, development and wellbeing, having a knowledge of organisational psychology, or business psychology, can help those working in HR to improve their organisation's performance, as well as their own.

Below we explore the ways in which a deeper understanding of organisational psychology can benefit HR, and how teams can leverage psychological tools and insight to improve the employee lifecycle and drive business success. 


1) How organisational psychology can lead to more effective recruitment and talent management 

The management of recruitment and talent is a big part of HR. And psychology can not only help teams understand more about who prospective candidates are and what they can bring, but also what kind of candidate their organisation needs.

One of the ways in which psychology is employed during the recruitment stage is through psychological assessments. Since the 1880s, psychometric tests have been used with the goal of achieving objectivity during the hiring process. Employing such a scientific method to measure candidates’ mental ability and behavioural patterns allows hiring teams to be confident that they are selecting people with the right knowledge and abilities. However, even before the interview process starts, HR professionals can use these tests to set a benchmark of their core and desired values for the role. Psychology help determine what the position involves, as well as what it needs, helping to create a more effective job specification.

Psychology is also being used to drive an increase in organisational diversity across businesses, with psychological research informing the creation of more inclusive hiring methods. For example, The British Psychological Society (BPS) has campaigned for HR teams to consider the needs of neurodiverse people; such as those with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or autism during their practices. As well as this, the CIPD recommended in its Neurodiversity at Work report that HR managers be more mindful of unconventional body language during interviews or eschew the interview stage entirely in favour of gamified approaches, to be inclusive of autistic people.

Thanks to psychological research, HR teams are using hiring processes that are more precise, more effective and more inclusive. 


2) How organisational psychology can help drive employee engagement

The CIPD, the largest UK professional body for HR professionals, considers managing employee engagement to be a fundamental responsibility of the profession. Yet, low employee engagement and motivation is a key issue for many businesses and a defining challenge for HR teams everywhere. The Harvard Business Review reports that only 24% of senior executives surveyed felt their employees are highly engaged. 

The BPS identifies three essential components to employee engagement

  • Vigour: high levels of energy and mental resilience while working 

  • Dedication: being strongly involved in one’s work and experiencing a sense of significance, enthusiasm and challenge 

  • Absorption: being fully concentrated and happily engrossed in one’s work 

To drive improvements in these areas, HR professionals can convert psychological theory and research into tangible workplace practices. Occupational and organisational psychology is being employed by more organisations and government bodies now than ever, with HR teams that adopt its methods often seeing boosts in engagement and performance.   

One way this is done is through recognition programmes. The act of recognising staff, whether in the form of a public commendation or private praise from a senior member of staff, is a proven driver of employee engagement; organisations that operate a recognition rich culture see an 29% increase in profit and 72% lower employee attrition

Solving poor employee engagement can allow a business to stand out from competitors. Studies show that companies that score higher for employee engagement have stronger growth than businesses that rank lower. Higher engagement is also linked to better morale, increased employee productivity and lower staff turnover.


3) How organisational psychology can be used to improve employee wellbeing

Today more than ever before, employee wellbeing is a top priority for organisations. The CIPD states that employers have a fundamental duty of care for the physical and mental health of their workers and, as research shows, the biggest risks to employee health today are mainly psychological.   

Workplace psychological research and practice continue to inform how HR professionals can address challenges in this area. Since the mid-90s, the understanding of the detrimental effect of work-related stress on employee health and happiness has greatly increased. Workplace stress is strongly connected to higher rates of sick leave, GP visits, accidents at work, as the loss of 12.8 million working days in 2019 due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety illustrates. This presents a threat to workplace morale as well as a threat to efficiency and productivity.  

Yet HR directors and managers can employ several psychological methods to foster a positive workplace environment that prioritises mental health. This includes creating an atmosphere that reduces the stigma around mental health, meaning people feel more comfortable talking about the challenges they are facing. The stigma around mental health is high; 40% of Scottish workers asked believed that talking about a mental health problem could jeopardise their career. 

Some of the methods used by businesses to help combat this could include:

  • Using positive or neutral language around mental health
  • Creating safe spaces for employees to talk about their mental health challenges
  • Training senior management to recognise signs that their staff are struggling
  • Managing workloads in a way that is less likely to overbear the employee

Other methods used to promote wellbeing include introducing initiatives to ensure workers leave the office at lunchtime, hosting mindfulness sessions and introducing flexible working to promote a stronger work-life balance.

Research has shown that happier workers are more productive in their jobs; for any HR team committed to driving organisational productivity understanding and improving employee wellbeing ought to be at the heart of their strategy.


Human Resources working together with organisational psychology

According to the BPS, psychology has much to offer in terms of principles that can make work rewarding, meaningful and prevent psychological harm. As a result, the best HR leaders should dedicate themselves to ensuring that the workplace is an operationally effective and healthy environment If you're a HR professional looking to progress your career or increase your organisation's success, gaining a better understanding of the human mind and how it impacts and is impacted by the working environment might just be the right move to make.


Join Our Occupational and Organisational Psychology Masters

If you're interested in learning more about organisational psychology, our BPS accredited distance learning Occupational and Organisational Psychology MSc could be the perfect next step. Open to graduates with a 2:2 in any subject, it explores employee wellbeing, learning and development, employee selection, organisational change and more, in order to help you gain the skills needed to transform your organisation, and your career prospects.
Plus, you will have the freedom to study part time, whenever and wherever you want; no career break needed.
Discover more about the course here. Or, if you're interested in Psychology more generally, our Psychology MSc conversion course could be for you.

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