Whistle while you work: Students’ organisational psychology project to improve wellbeing in the workplace

Anthony Joffe, Danica Berjanovic, Paige Hyslop and Danica Berjanovic

How do you improve performance while promoting feelings of wellbeing in the workplace? A small team of Macquarie University psychology students, Anthony Joffe, Danica Berjanovic and Paige Hyslop, addressed this question when they produced a useful performance management guide as part of their PACE placement at The Star Sydney in Pyrmont.

The students started their project by analysing a volume of peer-reviewed literature and then transformed that information into an easy-to-understand 26-page booklet called the Conversation Guide. The booklet contains checklists which allow managers across the company to look at talent reviews and succession planning. It’s especially designed to initiate meaningful conversations between managers and their team members so managers can support professional staff development and hopefully achieve higher rates of job satisfaction in employees.

MyMQ asked the students questions about their work experience:

What was the purpose of your placement?
The main objective of our placement was to construct a guide for managers to assist them in having performance-based conversations with team members.

What we ultimately produced allows managers to understand their own roles and responsibilities and to determine how employees are tracking with various tasks. Our guide is beneficial for the employees because it sets individual goals and directions (whether it’s for promotion or for training needs), and also requires managers to provide greater clarity about what they expect of employees.

Describe your project and what you produced?
The project, which formed part of our capstone unit, helps managers at The Star Sydney review current talent and their performance and to engage in effective and evidence-based succession planning. The employees also benefited from this, as it allows them to realise their personal and professional potential. The booklet we created, the Conversation Guide, included easy-to-follow checklists to assist the line managers in preparing for performance-based discussions with their employees.

Did your group work on site?
Our meetings with The Star Sydney’s human resources managers were on site, which we found to be extremely beneficial as we got to experience a truly contemporary work environment where important consultations were conducted face-to-face. The research, however, was conducted off premises.

2018-04-06-jessetaylor-17-body-copy-2
Pictured at The Star Sydney with their ‘Conversation Guide’ are students Anthony Joffe, Bachelor of Psychology (Honours); Danica Berjanovic, Bachelor of Business Administration with a Bachelor of Arts – Psychology; and Paige Hyslop, Bachelor of Science – Psychology. 

 

What did you learn about the modern workplace from an organisational psychology perspective?
The modern workplace brings many challenges for employees, aside from workplace health and safety, mental wellbeing plays a significant role in the development of a more engaged and productive team. In addition, an organisation’s success is directly tied to the success of their people.

A case study titled ‘Workforce engagement: case study of an award-winning leadership model’ by Chief Executive Martin Edwards from Julia’s House, a hospice in south England, found that positive workplace engagement resulted in a “20-fold increase in productivity as sick leave reduced by one third and staff turn-over reduced by more than half”.

Damaging workplace factors, such as role conflict or an overwhelming task list, can result in employees having a negative approach to work. They can become withdrawn and this can lead to job dissatisfaction, hindering performance and even opportunities for career development.

Why is performance management an important factor for improving workplace wellbeing?
Performance management can help mitigate against the problems outlined above by establishing a positive mind-set at work, which can support staff by boosting their levels of enthusiasm and encouraging a positive approach to tasks. Talent reviews and the succession planning process enforces this through role clarity, which is associated with higher workplace engagement and enthusiasm for their professional development.

This link is highlighted in a study from Cranfield School of Management titled ‘Performance management and wellbeing: a close look at the changing nature of the UK higher education workplace’, which cited that “the positive relationship between enabling practices and wellbeing is mediated by how academics experience their work (i.e. their perceptions of job demands, job control and management support)”.

How was the booklet’s content received?
The managers said they found the booklet easy to understand and it aligned well with the goals of the organisation and with an employee’s personal development expectations. The scientific knowledge embedded throughout, which was free from the complex jargon typically seen in scientific papers, contributed to the Guide’s success.

What’s been the feedback and has the Guide been officially tested?
Overall, the general feedback has been very positive from both top-level management through to the middle-level managers. The Guide is in the final stages of being integrated into a wider performance management program, and The Star Sydney is hoping to use the full program in 2018.

What did you all get out of this project?
Professionally, the opportunity to work at The Star Sydney allowed each member of our group to realise that, rather than counselling, or a ‘more traditional’ psychology pathway in the choice of career, we could apply our psychological knowledge to the realms of business and organisations in general.

How has your experience contributed to your study aspirations?
The project was part of a PACE unit (PSY399) that allowed us to see the culmination of our studies applied in a real-world context. Our work at The Star Sydney showed us how personality, cognition, perception, and social psychology are prevalent in all areas of our lives, including the workforce. In this way, this project brought into focus the knowledge acquired throughout our undergraduate study.

Finally, give three reasons why other Macquarie students may find this study interesting?

  • Firstly, the work we completed as a part of our internship at The Star Sydney shows other Macquarie students ways undergraduate knowledge can be applied externally. Whether you are a business, economics, law, psychology or media student, you just need to think outside the square!
  • Secondly, we hope that other students get involved in the programs Macquarie University has to offer – especially PACE. Our example, of creating the Conversation Guide, may help them see how organisations, such as The Star Sydney, are willing to help those who are committed to their roles.
  • Finally, other Macquarie University students may find our study interesting because it might challenge their perceptions on the role of psychology in the 21st century.

For more information, visit the Department of Psychology webpage.

Photography credit: Jesse Taylor

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  1. This is a great way for undergraduate students to experience the joys of Organisational Psychology. Speaking first hand – it is a fantastic career!