10 Questions for Psychologist Marie Součková
In this post from our “10 Questions” series, we talked to the psychologist, lecturer and Wellbeing Diagnostics supervisor Marie Součková about changes in the work environment, motivating people and identifying work competencies.
Marie, you studied what is a dream field for many people - single-specialization psychology. What did your studies give you and what did you realize only thanks to your own practice?
I must say that I am especially grateful that already while at my alma mater, I found many opportunities to get in contact with practical application. I attended seminars focusing on human resources and psychodiagnostics in HR. "First-hand" know-how for assessing people’s competencies was also brought to us by my dissertation supervisor and my supervisor during my PhD studies who also happens to be the owner of an HR consulting company.
However, I also completed soft-skills training sessions organized by the university career center and gained insight into leading development programs. With a group of similarly specialized students, we founded the Human Resources in Practice Association and organized events for people working in HR who used to come to our school to discuss and share their experience.
I dove into real world practice during my studies. Participation in hundreds of assessment center events in the banking sector (to which I made my way through my school), for a mobile network operator, in a company in the energy sector and elsewhere was truly valuable to me. So, my studies and practical experience went hand in hand, and both were extremely enriching. To this day, I see a strong connection between the two worlds and consider my experience gained during my studies to form the basis for a high-quality practice.
You have been specializing in psychology oriented at the corporate environment for more than 10 years. How have companies changed over the last decade in terms of corporate culture, turnover and approach to employees?
First of all, the quality of the relationship between employers and employees, and by extension job candidates, has been changing. Companies are retreating from their dominant position and giving people the opportunity to feel like an equal partner. While a wide range of benefits is becoming the norm, there is an increasing emphasis on the following areas:
- candidate experience,
- interest in the working environment and a healthy company culture,
- motivation, which is based on the purpose of the work and a vision,
- support for people facing difficult life situations,
- the opportunity to directly participate in the profits of the company.
Currently, the market is beginning to be affected by the "corona times", before which employees and job candidates were in a significantly stronger position, and many employers began to pamper their people. Fluctuation was often associated with people's desire to "leave for something even better", while now we can expect a greater share of involuntary departures.
And how do you think people's motivation has changed? Is it still true that money is their number one priority?
Money is important to us only to a certain extent. The law of diminishing marginal utility shows that when our basic needs are met and we do not have to strictly limit ourselves, the utility and enjoyment of money diminish with increasing amounts of money. On the other hand, free time (which we typically "exchange" for money), the need for purpose and self-fulfillment are gaining in value.
The motivation to have a meaningful job and use our potential is universal and has been rooted in us since time immemorial. However, the circumstances are changing which allows us to satisfy our own motivation to varying degrees, and with it our personal perception of the extent to which we can "afford" to aim higher. Today, employers realize more than ever that the right people will be attracted to them and retained by a meaningful vision, the values that the company creates and its wider impact on the society to which the individual belongs. This mainly benefits people who are in demand and for whom the need for financial security is relatively low.
On the other hand, people bound by the need (or desire) to make as much money as possible lose sight of the inner need for purpose over time and may not even admit that they may "want more". The pursuit of money and material benefits without considering other factors brings feelings of emptiness, uselessness and frustration. We encounter this relatively often in positions in production where employers often struggle to promote the purpose of the work. They struggle to promote it both in terms of internal communication and approach to the relevant people.
Company education has changed over the years, too. What changes have you noticed in this area?
When I was starting off 10 years ago, “soft skills” in the form of full-day or multi-day courses were a hot commodity. The lecturers mainly presented know-how from foreign bestsellers and "opened the course participants’ eyes". European funds were also often used to provide education to employees which was sometimes negatively reflected in the price pressures from competing suppliers and the final quality of the training. A few years ago, the saturation of the "standard training" market began to show, and companies switched their focus to the “on-the-job” development of people and to agile forms of education.
With e-learning and online platforms that bring know-how from experts from around the world, (self-)development has become more accessible and can be much better targeted at our specific needs. The role of the lecturer is shifting from the “know-how holder" to the role of the "expert navigator", who can guide people through an environment full of information and recommendations of varying quality and usefulness. New opportunities are also presented by the incorporation of virtual reality in learning (hard skills and soft skills) and various applications for "self-directed" learning or learning in cooperation with a lecturer, mentor or coach.
You are a co-author of the unique work video diagnostics. How can such psychodiagnostics help companies?
It is a method of diagnosing work competencies and behaviors based on a video recording of the participant. It is centered around a behavioral interview with a structure tailored to what the company and the participant need to take away from the diagnostics. In principle, the following areas may be targeted:
- selection of the right people for the right job positions: identification of competencies and personal qualities for the performance of the job role of “outside” candidates as well as an independent evaluation of the potential of internal candidates,
- self-knowledge to promote mental health and wellbeing not only in the workplace,
- mapping the development needs of employees and targeting their development,
- career diagnostics and support for professional development, also as part of outplacement.
The video diagnostics method is authentic because it evaluates real-life behavior which can be modified by the participant only with great difficulties. It brings companies data that is real and objective together with an independent assessment prepared by experienced HR psychologists. The diagnostics include recommendations on how to continue to use the potential and how to approach any room for improvement or risks. It provides significant support to leaders and HR in making the right personnel decisions across various areas of working with people.
How can the results of the video diagnostics be used? Do you create follow-up customized development programs?
Yes, customized development programs are one of the steps that follow video diagnostics. Only then we get to know the attitudes, motivations, patterns of thinking, experience and behavior of the person in detail. This gives us high-quality input data for designing a development program in line with how far the person is on their journey, which competencies they can already rely on and where they need more support.
Such development may be designed for individuals or small groups in which the needs of the individuals overlap and the dynamics of the group allow the group members to inspire and support each other in learning. We also use video diagnostics to monitor progress and modify the development program.
How does the video diagnostics differ from standard paper-based psychodiagnostics?
The video diagnostics is specific in that it relies directly on the manifestations of specific behaviors and emotions, not just on the person’s statements concerning such behaviors and emotions. This significantly increases the authenticity and credibility of the profile. It provides space for an undistorted show of the behavior of each participant to a much wider extent than standard questionnaires and tests which, on the contrary, narrow down the possible responses. They can much better capture the specific characteristics and the mix thereof in every individual. And as we know, everyone is an original. I am not a fan of categorizing or labeling people but instead I prefer to give them as much opportunity as possible to show what is in them.
Healthy relationships in the workplace, a good atmosphere in the company or team, mental wellbeing. To what extent do these aspects affect work performance?
Healthy relationships at work are absolutely essential to long-term satisfaction and performance. And that is only logical. Mental wellbeing gives us the energy and strength to cope with difficult life situations, including those at work. On the contrary, a lack of wellbeing prevents us from constructive decision-making, working appropriately with our own emotions or reacting to the emotions of others. If we experience tension, feelings of rejection, underestimation, misunderstanding, etc. in relationships, our brain evaluates the situation as a state of emergency and, through unpleasant feelings, signals to us that something needs to be changed. If we overlook dysfunctional relationships, we try not to “let them affect us” and we pretend that nothing is happening, the psyche and the body will return the favor. In that case, prevention and timely “treatment” is always more beneficial than reassuring ourselves that it is not “so bad”.
Which topics do you address most often in your psychological practice? What do people come to you with?
Very often it is self-reflection and a growth mindset for people to be ready for further learning or opening up to feedback and accepting change as a natural part of life. This topic is intertwined with recruitment and employee selection as well as the subsequent development.
Another frequent topic is personal productivity and maintaining long-term performance without being overloaded which could result in burnout. Managing stress, improving mental resilience and taking responsibility for one's own mental wellbeing are also common. These topics are a solid starting point for effective communication in a team or company that reflects facts and constructiveness (e.g. giving feedback) as well as relationships (emotional learning, reaching consensus in negotiations etc.). Last but not least, self-confidence and its building “from ground up” so that it manifests on the inside, which then shows on the outside, is another popular topic.
What do you think about the position of a happiness manager? How do you think such a manager should operate to be beneficial to the company in the long-term?
The topic of satisfaction and happiness at work stands in the center of attention of many of our clients, but the approach to it primarily from the position of a "happiness manager" can be a bit tricky. It is necessary to accept the fact that it is still mainly each one of us who has power over our inner worlds, including the world of experience. I know that it is difficult to hear because it is easy to think “How can I be satisfied/happy/content ... when around me ...?!” It does not mean that our environment does not affect us. It is also not advice to blame ourselves in situations when we are not satisfied. However, it is necessary to distinguish between the sphere of influence and the sphere of interest.
A happiness manager can monitor moods, needs and frustrations of people in the company and apply a number of stimuli that match people’s needs. What remains essential, however, is how the “recipients” respond to this and whether they really allow themselves to feel happy. Perhaps independently of whether their specific wish was fulfilled or whether they focus on another reason for dissatisfaction once one such need has been satisfied. Yes, there are such people among us (laughs). In that case, it may be frustrating for the happiness manager to try to make people happy when there is no outcome. Experiencing the purpose of work is a critical factor for satisfaction. The purpose should be carried directly by the work activity supported by clear communication of a meaningful vision.
Covey, Stephen Richards. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.