Practical impact of Industrial Psychology in South Africa

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The field of Industrial Psychology has gained increased attention in the past few years. It is no surprise that this lead to increase in level of importance. The concern for sustainable growth and development in organisations in South Africa as well as on a global economic level has also become increasingly important.

Defining the key concepts

According to Luptons' comparison between an organisation and an organism an organisation needs to take careful consideration of the environment in which it operates and its changes in order to be able to survive. Hellriegal states that an organisation cannot function in isolation. It impacts and is impacted by people, communities and the economy. Sustainable development is according to the UN is, any development that 'meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs' (UN 1987, p. 54). Aamodt(2010) states 'Industrial/organisational psychology is a branch of psychology that applies the principles of psychology to the work place.'(p.2). According to Kwaitkowski, Duncan, Shimmin(2006) the practice of industrial psychology is all about finding the right people for the right positions at the right time. Schein(1994) states that organisational psychologists aim to create awareness and help managers manage development, and the concerns that are linked to it, as they become apparent. Industrial psychologists' job becomes important as they need to carefully ensure that all the stakeholders of the organisation are enabled to accept, cope and support the organisational developments to ensure sustainable development and growth. Industrial psychologists must manage their resources to remain sustainable for the benefit of the organisation and all its stakeholders. Therefore the responsibility is not solely in the hand of the industrial psychologist but the industrial psychologist serves as the driver of sustainability.

Ideas, theories and concerns

According to Chinta and Kloppenborg(2010) organisational effectiveness, although important to an organisations' competitive advantage and success, is not sufficient to provide the organisation with sustainable growth. This means that organisations that are merely focused on the bottom line of business are not necessarily going to be effective in terms of sustainable development and growth. Rossouw & Van Vuuren(2010) found that organisation's seeking only profit tend to neglect societal responsibility and ethics. The recent concern for organisations to shift their attention to sustainability of environment and the community, sustainability reporting has become important. The problem with sustainability reporting according to Knowles and Espinosa(2009) is that companies tend to use their reports to gain favour with the societies in which they are role players but the accuracy of these reports become questionable.

Chinta and Kloppenborg(2010) highlight the importance of the integration of process and project management. They state that isolated focus can lead to long term downfall of the organisation in terms of sustainable profit, development and growth objectives. Sustainable development and growth should then be a project in organisations because sustainable and viable organisations have positive effects on community sustainability and on the economy of South Africa. According to Knowles and Espinosa(2009) without effective formal and informal communication channels sustainable development becomes less effective. This raises concern about 'Managerial Hierarchy' which has been said to create barriers in informal and social communication channels. Lack of communication leads to decrease in employee satisfaction. According to Cooper and Robertson(2007) job dissatisfaction leads to decrease in organisational productivity which hampers economic growth and development. Empowerment and decentralisation can be used to minimise reduce these barriers in communication.

Heller(1976) states some distinct problems in understanding what sustainable development entails namely:

1) Economic development is not a synonym for sustainable development.

2) There are some concerns about the definition of sustainable development.

3) All parties are not committed.

These problems should be considered by Industrial psychologists in developing their sustainability strategies.

It is important then to note that with development and growth comes change, and with change comes the possibility of the resistance to change which according to Lupton will only be countered if the parties subject to the change, see it as beneficial, lawful and reasonable.

Implications and applications

Training and development of current staff as well as the orientation programs of new employees should instil an organisational culture that is supportive of the strategy as well as create clarity on the meaning of sustainable development and growth and their role in implementation. The application of policies and strategies for sustainable development and growth will ensure a long term focus and this will encourage investor confidence as well as role players support and commitment.

There is a chain reaction the more sustainable an organisation the more it will be able to provide direct(employment) and indirect(social investment projects) support to the community. The better its reputation, the more profitable it will be and as a result the more sustainable it will become. This means that Industrial Psychologists need to identify the key role players and ensure that they are providing the support structure necessary to enable the organisation to attain sustainable development and growth.

'SME form the bulk of the industry some countries up to 80-95% which makes it difficult to focus on sustainable development. It is therefore important for organisations to focus on creating learning organisational culture to make sure that sustainability is a shared focus.' (De Eyto, Mc Mahon, Hadfield & Hutchings,2008, p.331)

'The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can be used as an indication of sustainability if the GDP established id one that undertake in cost benefit analysis framework based on social choice perspective.' (Clarke & Islam, 2005, p.1) The GDP shows monetary gain and measures overall economic performance, and economic performance is dependent on the organisations profitability and growth, we can link economic and organisational sustainability to organisations socially responsible practices. According to LapinskienÄ- and TvaronavičienÄ-(2009) education is essential component in assisting with an increase in GDP. Organisations should be directing their efforts towards becoming learning organisations.

According to Crafford et al.(2006) Industrial psychologists job entails serving the community. Therefore an industrial psychologists job description includes promotion of sustainability, because sustainability of an organisation is essentially in the best interest of community in which it operates. I would argue that although sustainable development and economic growth are not the same thing, for an economy to become sustainable and reach growth objectives, its role players including organisations and communities must be sustainable as they are all interdependent. Industrial psychologists act as change agents in organisations. Industrial psychologists have knowledge in both people relations and business process management, and are therefore key in comprising the strategy to enable people in the organisations to accept and cope with the change. This requires implementation of sustainable development and growth policies in organisations as well as creating an organisational culture (Robbins ,Judge ,Odendaal & Roodt(2009) defined organisational culture as shared values of all members of the organisation) that is supportive of such developments.

Chatterton & Style(2001) Highlight the importance of participation in the implementation of sustainable development programs. They emphasise the use of 'local policy partnership networks' and explain that for it to be effective it should not be exclusive.

Although sustainability reporting has loopholes, it should be considered to allow for a organisation to focus its methods on sustainability of the organisations as well as on the sustainability and growth of the economy as a whole.


By doing all the above mentioned an organisation will instilling investor confidence and customer commitment creating long term profitability and creating sustainability in terms of growth and development which will be mutually beneficial to the organisation, society and economy of South Africa. Ultimately the more sustainable an organisation in South Africa the greater the economic benefits and sustainability will be.