ABO psychologists AMD TÜV

If the boss is the problem – and how I/O psychologists may help

Poor management, a lack of conflict, error and criticism culture can cost a company dearly. Due to the shortage of skilled workers, demographic developments and digitalization, the demand for services related to mental health at the workplace are increasing more and more. I/O psychologists (Industrial and Organizational Psychology), for example, are valuable support for organizations. But exactly this is their job and what are their strengths?

For a long time, the mental health of employees has received little attention. With the increasing density of work, ever higher demands and increasing burdens due to digital availability, mental health has also been the focus of attention for a few years now. By 2018, German health insurers had reported an ever-increasing number of cases of mental illness. They are now the most common cause of early retirement and occupational disability in Germany and, with 15.2 percent, are still the third most common cause of absenteeism. Poor leadership, a lack of conflict, error and criticism culture are sooner or later a business-critical issue that can endanger the continued existence of the organization. Above all, people can be overloaded to the point of burnout if they are only supposed to function on the factual level during change processes and are not heard. Fears, emotions and internal and external conflicts are still far too rarely discussed.

Looking behind the façade and promoting healthy cooperation

Unlike psychotherapists, I/O psychologists are not clinicians but analyze an organization and its actors at all hierarchical levels from a socio-psychological perspective. They look behind the façade of a company and analyze social relationships and interactions. How do individual people feel when, for example, they constantly experience themselves in change situations as a result of digitalization? To what extent do the demands and reality of a company’s social dealings soften and how does this affect the perception and behavior of employees? How does a manager lead and communicate? Are emotional needs addressed in communication in addition to factual issues, especially in change situations? And how does a company deal with conflicts, mistakes, and fears? Does a manager then also address the relationship levels between conflict parties and works up disturbed relationships in such a way that it can then continue on a healthy working level? I/O psychologists need a pronounced communicative and social competence. They must ask the right questions and above all be able to listen. They must moderate conversations and be emphatic and sympathetic to people of all hierarchies. Above all, they must impart knowledge and methods on how healthy cooperation in companies, departments or teams should and can be successful.

High qualification requirements for I/O psychologists

Ambitious providers recruit only graduates of a diploma or master’s degree course in psychology. In Germany, the subject has a numerus clause of 1.0. Other courses of study in psychology often do not fulfill the specialist and methodological knowledge that is ideally available. One recognizes quality providers by the fact that they submit enterprises no run-of-the-mill-offers, instead these can clarify beforehand, where the pain points are, what the enterprise needs and expects as purposeful solutions. Even though there are only a few legal requirements for I/O psychologists, large providers also attach great importance to the qualification of their colleagues along with the methodological and technical developments in corporate psychology research and practice.

Interdisciplinary cooperation

In 2013, the German legislator also recognized that mental health is a high value in a modern, synchronized and digitalized working world with increasingly older employees. It, therefore, included a guideline in the Occupational Health and Safety Act that all employers, regardless of the size of their company, must regularly carry out a risk analysis of psychological stress at the workplace. However, the guidelines for the implementation of the “Joint German Occupational Safety and Health Strategy” do not stipulate that such risk analysis must be prepared by psychologists. For example, at AMD TÜV it has been agreed that the psychologists will be in charge of the process, will advise on the methodology and will play a key role in supporting communication. Occupational physicians and safety specialists must also be involved. The cooperation in prevention teams with occupational medicine, occupational health and safety, occupational health promotion and occupational integration management is necessary in order to deal with the complex issues relating to occupational health and safety in companies.

Iris Dohmen
Iris Dohmen