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 (//www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/oxford-comma-court-case-ruling-overtime_us_58cad41ae4b0ec9d29d9dd28). 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.