I’m spending an extended weekend in Los Angeles, attending and participating in the biennial “Work, Stress and Health” conference co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Society for Occupational Health Psychology. This year’s conference theme is “Protecting and Promoting Total Worker Health,” and the agenda packs in four solid days of speeches, panel discussions, symposia, workshops, and poster presentations.
Despite its serious sounding title (anything with “stress” in the name tells us something, yes?), Work, Stress and Health is my favorite larger-scale conference. It’s where I learn the most from fellow participants, and it’s where I’ve had opportunities to present my work to knowledgeable, savvy colleagues.
These days I find myself less and less drawn to big conferences. To me, they’re usually too impersonal and have the feeling of being caught in an urban commuter rail station during rush hour. Work, Stress and Health, however, manages to overcome my predispositions, and here’s why:
First, it’s multidisciplinary. Although the fields of industrial/organizational psychology and occupational health psychology frame the overall conference, it draws presenters and attendees from many occupations related to employee relations. Tackling the challenges of making our workplaces healthy and productive requires input from many different perspectives, and this conference does a very good job of bringing many of them together.
Second, it’s relevant to both research and practice. Academics and graduate students form the largest cadre at the conference, but the programs typically carry significance for scholars and practitioners alike. Equally important, most people drawn to this conference bring a genuine respect for both research and practice.
Third, it’s friendly. Frequent conference goers understand the significance of that statement. Too many such gatherings are cold, stuffy, uptight assemblages, and I greet them with dread. Work, Stress and Health manages to avoid that look and feel. I actually look forward to being a part of it.
Fourth, it’s a great place to learn. Here, too, conference devotees get what I mean. Frankly, at some conferences, all you really care about is not saying something really stupid during your own presentation. The rest of the conference holds scant interest to you. By contrast, at Work, Stress and Health, there’s a lot of compelling stuff being presented, and not infrequently one has to make a choice among two or three appealing programs during the same time slot.
Finally, it connects and reconnects me with good people. This conference enables me to reconnect with valued associates and make new ones. Indeed, last night I joined long-time friends Gary & Ruth Namie (Workplace Bullying Institute), Kathy Rospenda (University of Illinois-Chicago), and Stale Einarsen (University of Bergen, Norway) for an excellent dinner and lots of story swapping at Mio Babbo’s Ristorante in Westwood Village. These folks are among the pioneers in helping us to understand workplace bullying, and I always enjoy their company.
I look forward to sharing several future posts summarizing and commenting on information and research presented at the conference.