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The Importance of Punctuation and HWP

Little things make a lot of difference.  You probably expect that a posting with a title related to punctuation will pontificate on the problem of the Oxford/serial comma, the absence of which recently decided a case with relevance to work psychology (  And yet, that’s not what this posting is about, nor is it about any of the fascinating (for some of us, okay?) punctuation-related facts described in Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves (yes, the title there also plays with the Oxford comma, so I suppose that’s double misdirection).


Instead, it’s about a dash.


I had an interesting email exchange with former GOHWP Board member Ishbel McWha-Hermann after the recent SIOP conference, in which she mentioned that one of the conversations the Board used to have was about H-WP vs. HW-P.


The astute reader will have already noticed that there is no punctuation in GOHWP’s name, nor is there any in HWP as it’s generally abbreviated.  The distinction, however, is an interesting one, and points out two perspectives from which people can approach HWP.  As Carr, De Guzman, Eltyeb, Furnham, MacLachlan, Marai, and McAuliffe put it in their 2012 chapter, “Humanitarian work psychology incorporates both the application of industrial and organizational psychology to humanitarian issues, and more broadly the development of a psychology that promotes humanitarian work” (p. 4).


But do we all think of it from both perspectives simultaneously, and if not, what does the placement of that dash tell each of us about how we view the field?


Parsing “HW” from “P” reflects the study of the psychology of humanitarian work.  A lot of the work of groups like SIOP’s UN team, the Project GLOW initiative, and Project FAIR (look for more on this in upcoming blogs!) falls into this category.  Indeed, in looking at the focus of GOHWP as an organization, this has been what we tend to emphasize.  In our Twitter feed, this is largely the kind of work we post about, and the kinds of initiatives we follow.  There is a ton (or, I suppose, a tonne) of important work to be done in this domain, particularly as it relates to supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  That, in a nutshell, is HW-P.  The psychology of humanitarian work.


H-WP slices things differently, putting work psychology into the service of various humanitarian topics and organizations.  This is where things like corporate social responsibility and prosocial I-O tend to fall.  A job analysis of volunteers at a soup kitchen, or developing a job skills training program for refugees, would be examples of H-WP.  One of my favorite sessions from SIOP 2017 involved a panel talking about doing prosocial I-O, working with various non-profits, religious organizations, and so forth to improve their functioning.


Before I had the distinction put to me in fundamental punctuation terms, I’ll admit that it’s something I’d struggled with.  It seemed – well, seems – to me that HWP can and should do both things, and that’s what the Carr et al. (2012) definition would suggest.  We should be studying humanitarian work, so we can support that sector of the global organizational community, but we should also be taking the skills we develop through our education, training, and work experience to improve all kinds of organizations that contribute to the greater good.


HWP, to me, is all about making the world a better place.  Wherever you place that dash, you’re trying to achieve the same goal:  Help people.  Offer our knowledge and skills (ah, heck – and our abilities, to finish the trifecta!) to improve work and thereby make people’s lives better.


So next time you think about HWP (and I hope you think about it often!), ask yourself:  Where do I put the dash?




Carr, S.C., De Guzman, J.M., Eltyeb, S.M., Furnham, A., MacLachlan, M., Marai, L., & McAuliffe, E. (2012). An introduction to humanitarian work psychology.  In S.C. Carr, M. MachLachlan, & A. Furnham (eds.), Humanitarian Work Psychology (pp. 3-33). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Truss, L. (2006). Eats, shoots and leaves: The zero tolerance approach to punctuation.  New York, NY: Avery.

Insight | Work psychology – putting the human in humanitarianism

Article reposted with permission. Find the original article here

By Ishbel McWha-Hermann

The United Nations (UN) recently unveiled its new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A replacement for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), these 17 new objectives outline important aspirations for the global community in addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges.

From ending poverty, promoting well-being and sustainable industrialisation, to ensuring equal access to justice – all by 2030 – the aims are as ambitious as they are admirable.

Challenging as they may be, the good news is – like the majority of the MDGs before them – they are achievable. But only if we support the humans behind the humanitarian effort and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) we rely upon to deliver them.

During the past few years, I’ve joined a growing movement of academics and leading practitioners to apply established work psychology theories and tools to areas of pressing humanitarian and international development need. As well as how to deliver the International Labour Organization’s vision of decent work, for all workers in all contexts.

As part of this ongoing research, I recently co-edited a new book which is the first of its kind to show this new field of humanitarian work psychology (HWP) in action implementing MDG projects.

Examining projects from Nigeria, India and Ghana, to Hong Kong and Sierra Leone, we found five key areas where work psychology can be applied to deliver humanitarian benefits.

1. Addressing workplace well-being

Like all organisations, people are core to the success of humanitarian agencies. Without committed, engaged employees and volunteers they simply cannot deliver positive development outcomes.

So it’s essential NGOs have effective governance and leadership to ensure their workforce is equitably treated and rewarded.

Applying work psychology to the humanitarian process can address a range of issues, from recruitment and selection, managing relationships between multi-cultural and diverse workforces, to pay and benefits. In such a charged environment, for example, work psychology can provide insights on how to mitigate the impact of emotional exhaustion on workers’ health and wellbeing.

2. Establishing partnerships to increase scale and impact

One way to improve workplace well-being and performance, in general, can come from forging multi-stakeholder partnerships to share knowledge, resources and best practices – particularly when these ties cross borders between developed and developing nations.

Collaborations between Higher Education institutions in Europe and North America with those in Africa have expanded skills in student recruitment and supervision to help improve post-graduate opportunities in global health across the continent.

3. Improving inclusiveness and extending participation in training

Expanding the reach of skills training to the lowest realistic levels can deliver vast improvements, not only in workplace participation but also in service delivery.

By identifying suitable candidates and tailoring training to local cultural and situational factors, NGOs in Sierra Leone have successfully managed to address significant shortages of healthcare professionals by training and retaining a vast team of Community Health Workers.

4. Embedding the value of communications and messaging

Applying work psychology’s focus on the value of communication to compel people to action has marked effects on the outcomes of projects. But it can also deliver real benefits to development processes – enabling them to be replicated in other settings or at different scales.

One notable project took this approach to improving goal-setting for frontline healthcare workers in Bihar, India. Using a team-based goals and incentives programme the motivation and performance of frontline workers was significantly improved, resulting in reduced child mortality rates and improved maternal health.

5. Encouraging local participation with projects

Change can be threatening for any community. But enacting it with local conditions and cultures in mind will improve the chance of a project’s success by ensuring it is rolled-out with a community, rather than to it.

In Uttar Pradesh, India, researchers were able to identify how to reduce the spread of communicable diseases by gaining an understanding of how daily behaviours – influenced by poverty and poor work environments – play a role in how they’re spread.

The new Sustainable Development Goals have challenged the international community to do more. Achieving these goals will not be easy, but I believe humanitarian work psychology will play a key role in turning the mission into reality.



Dr Ishbel McWha-Hermann is Early Career Fellow in International Human Resource Management, a founding member of the Global Task Force for Humanitarian Work Psychology, and past Chair of the Global Organisation for Humanitarian Work Psychology(GOHWP).


Recap of SIOP 2015 in Philadelphia

Were you unable to attend SIOP 2015? Check out this recap of some of the HWP-focused sessions this year in Philadelphia!

UN Initiatives for Women: How Can I-O Help?

In early 2015, the United Nations is launching important initiatives related to women globally, including women and work. These initiatives are a revitalization of initiatives started at the defining World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. The field of industrial/organizational psychology has, for decades, been at the forefront of research and evidence-based practice on understanding and addressing issues related to women and work. This session provided information on these re-vitalized UN initiatives and engage an expert I/O psychology panel and the audience on how the profession of I/O psychology can help. One way is for researchers to include the gender wage gap in their research regarding a living wage. Another is keeping in mind that while many problems are global, solutions are local. Finally, panelists stressed the importance of partnering with economists in this work.

I-O for the Greater Good: Prosocial Applications of Our Expertise
This community of interest was a discussion forum for potential applications of our expertise in prosocial arenas as well as a debate about IO Psychology’s responsibility in this area. One major point of discussion was whether, as a field, we should separate prosocial applications as a sub-area of IOP or incorporate it as a basis for all that we do. While some argued that it should be developed as a specialty area for IOPs. Others believed it should be foundational to all research and practice. Another interesting point of discussion pertained to how to measure business performance in non-profits and other organizations which do not use ROI as a metric. This is a major gap in our current understanding of operational effectiveness in non for profit organizations.

Industrial Organizational Psychology and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), launched in 2015, set global priorities for everything from improving working conditions and enhancing gender equality to reducing poverty. Human work-related behavior is central to meeting all of the SDGs, therefore I-O psychologists have much to contribute to these goals. As a non-governmental organization with official consultative status to the UN, SIOP prepared a list of I-O psychology topics that pertain to each goal. Attendees broke into groups to discuss specifically how their skills could contribute to the SDGs. As an IOP, you are encouraged to visit to contribute your thoughts and use this tool to contribute what you know about IOP as it pertains to the SDGs. Check out this video for more information:

Decent Work, Sustainable Development Goals, and Humanitarian Work Psychology
Promotion of locally sustainable decent work in inclusive business economies has been the focus of recent efforts by the United Nations and ILO. This symposium explored the role of I/O and HWP in promoting decent work and influencing positive psychological outcomes for the global working poor, including an examination of missing competencies for the business of inclusion, the UN Global Compact’s Local Networks Initiatives for sustainable organizational practices, a report on the recent advocacy efforts by the psychology coalition for UN for the upcoming sustainable development goals, and two South-Asian case-studies on fair-trade by humanitarian work psychologists.

Prosocial IOP and HWP Posters

There were a number for great posters this year! Lots of great research about burnout, distributive justice, and commitment. There was also some interesting work regarding employee reactions to organizational sponsored volunteer programs. Check out the full list below!

Testing the Relationship between Volunteerism and Commitment Using Organizational Surveys
Shawn Del Duco
Camille Estime
This paper explored the relationship between volunteerism and organizational commitment. We also tested the effect of survey instrument type on organizational commitment. Results from our field study indicate that volunteerism is strongly related to organizational commitment, but survey instrument type did not impact organizational commitment after controlling for employee characteristics.

Employee Reactions to a Volunteering Program: Mediated and Moderated Effects
David Jones
Hypotheses were tested to explain changes in employees’ beliefs about their company’s identity after introducing a volunteering program. Beliefs about the company’s identity were linked to feeling proud about its community involvement. Employee pride predicted their organizational identification, moderated by prosocial identity, in turn predicting several job attitudes and behaviors.

Bad Luck Reduces Perceived Psychological Distance and Increases Prosocial Behavior
Sreedhari Desai
Jonathan Keeney
Four studies explored the relationship between luck and prosocial behavior. Using archival, laboratory, and field data, we found that individuals who recall or experience bad luck are more likely to behave prosocially. This effect is mediated by reduced psychological distance. Good luck, however, did not consistently predict prosocial behavior.

Distributive Justice for Volunteers: Extrinsic Outcomes Matter
Christine Quick
Lisa Scherer
Joseph Allen
Drawing on the employee justice literature, the role of distributive justice on volunteer intention to quit was examined. The indirect relationship between distributive justice and intention to quit through satisfaction was stronger for volunteers who placed lower rather than higher importance on extrinsic outcomes.

Moderating Effects of Volunteers’ Motives on Satisfaction and Burnout
Kailey Perez
Kimberly Schneider
Kamila Gabka Ashley McCarthy
Kelsey Stephens
Aaron Whitely
F. Andrew Eichler
Volunteers may not have the same motives as paid employees for working and remaining in an organization. This paper examined volunteer motives as moderators of the relationship between organizational constraints and work satisfaction, work engagement, and burnout. Results suggest motives moderate these relationships, particularly helping motives.

Influence of Individual Differences on Sustainable Behavior Commitment and Engagement
Shelby Anderson
Carol Shoptaugh
Michelle Visio
Robert Jones
Climate change knowledge, belief in science, green-self-efficacy, commitment to environmental sustainability and self-reported sustainable behaviors were examined. Green-self-efficacy scale was developed to assess individual beliefs. A hierarchical regression indicated green self-efficacy and commitment to environmental sustainability mediate the relationship between climate change knowledge and sustainable behavior relationship.

Stepping Up or Stepping By: Bystander Intervention in Sexual Assault
Amanda Palmer
L. Witt
Daniel McDonald
This paper tested a psychological process in which command intolerance of sexual harassment/assault has direct and indirect effects on bystander intervention. Results revealed that low-conscientiousness personnel paid attention to proximal cues (i.e., their coworkers) rather than distal cues (i.e., their leaders) in determining to what extent to intervene.
Climate for Environmental Management and Environmental Management Effectiveness
David Zoogah
Integrating organizational climate and environmental management theories, we examine climate for environmental management (CEM) and its relation to corporate environmental management effectiveness. Results suggest that CEM relates positively to environmental management effectiveness through ecological behavior at the individual level. We discuss implications and limitations.

Ecological Transcendence and Ecological Behavior
David Zoogah
Based on 176 responses of employees from 46 organizations we find that ecological transcendence has a sigmoidal relationship with ecological behavior suggesting deficiency, goading, and lulling effects. We discuss implications for theory and practice

Volunteer Program Assessment: Lessons Learned and Opportunities from I-O Outreach
Joseph Allen
Tammy Allen
Mark Poteet Lisa Finkelstein
Emily Medvin
Jessie Olien Lisa Scherer
Kimberly Schneider
This session provides information about the Volunteer Program Assessment (VPA), an innovative initiative that expands I-O to nontraditional audiences. Using student consultants, the VPA provides nonprofits with information about the perceptions and concerns of its volunteer workforce. Topics will include strategic start-up issues, lessons-learned, operational concerns, and future opportunities.