Ask an Expert: Maya Crawley, Organisational Psychologist
A quick look at Maya Crawley’s LinkedIn profile shows a varied, extensive (and multi-lingual) career. As a registered Organisational Psychologist based in Auckland, Maya’s focus is on well-being science and business psychology and how these can be used to improve career experience of employees, their well-being, strengthen employer brand, and create sustainable competitive advantage.
I caught up with Maya to learn more about what she does and to get a few valuable career tips to ensure well-being in the workplace.
What lead you down the career path toward the area of business psychology?
When most people think of a ‘psychologist’ they typically think about someone working with individuals to help them resolve personal challenges, business psychology tends to go a little under the radar. My journey into this area started when I was working in the fashion industry. I saw so much potential for basic psychology to improve leadership, impact upon the happiness and well-being of employees, and improve performance.
There are a lot of rather wishy-washy theories of management, but business psychology puts some scientific methods and research substance behind it. We also have strong ethical obligations, via the Psychologists’ Board, to protect individual well-being.
Tell us more about what it means to be a work engagement specialist and some of the more rewarding and challenging parts of the role?
As a work engagement specialist I have a detailed understanding relating to how and why people become ‘engaged’ at work. Climate and well-being at work is really important, however in-house programs aimed at improving workplace culture often fail due to the structure and climate of the organisation. The challenging aspects involve trying to get business people to think critically about their projects. It’s sort of like ‘things need to look like they are changing but really just stay the same, because it’s comfortable for management like that’. It can be hard to convince organisations to take a hard look at their own practices. The rewarding part – helping people to look outside the box and achieve success in a personally meaningful way.
You’ve recently made the move to establishing your own consultancy. Congratulations! What were some of the motivations for going out on your own?
The areas that I am interested in are still quite new in New Zealand, despite being more established overseas. Many in-house HR roles don’t have the power, kudos or authority to really drive change, while Organisational Psychologists provide specialised information, and people don’t always need that on a permanent basis.
I love working with individual clients, it’s easier to give bite size recommendations, based on specific concerns or projects, and move forwards progressively as goals are achieved and that’s easier to do from my own consultancy. Also, I LOVE being my own boss!
Many people looking at dogoodjobs.co.nz are looking for new roles. What would you tell job seekers to look out for with prospective employers in relation to engagement and well-being in the work place?
Look very carefully at how your employer handles the interview and recruitment process. This will tell you A LOT about what it will be like to work for this company, and is likely to be a determinant of your future happiness. The problem is that many candidates tend to approach the interview with rose-coloured glasses and see only what they want to see – a bit like going on a first date!
It’s really important to focus on the behaviour that your potential employer demonstrates, such as their timeliness in getting back to you and how they treat you on the phone. Do they ‘invite’ or ‘ask’ you to attend an interview? Do they give you much choice about the time etc.?
There are also some red flag to look out for – during the interview, did they talk excessively about themselves and what they’ need’ without mentioning what they can offer to you as their employee aside from wages? If you are being recruited for a management role then consider why there was not an existing employee who could have been trained and developed to step up? You might like to find out as you could find yourself in their shoes, being blocked by an external candidate a few years down the track when you are looking for a promotion!
It’s really a matter of getting a realistic preview of the job and the company you are joining so that you can go into your new role with open eyes and take responsibility for your career success and happiness.
For those people already working in roles with a view to creating social and environmental change, stress can lead to burn out. Do you have any stress management tips to maintain well-being?
Yes – lots! It’s hard to give generic advice as different things can apply to different people at different times…
– Remember that you are the common denominator across all your jobs and sometimes making positive change in your current role may be a better long-term option than simply changing jobs.
– Formulating strategies to address work-related stress reduces stress-levels automatically because you start to re-gain control. Start by reflecting upon the source of your stress – are they purely tied to the energy and time required to complete the work itself with limited resources? Or does your stress relate to other emotional issues such as office politics, or anxiety about your performance? Poor alignment between your personal values and those of the organisation is also really stressful for people, although this is not often recognised. That being said, it’s tough out there these days and many jobs are just hard.
– Being honest with yourself and your employer about your career priorities is key; for example someone who is in their 20s and really keen to get ahead in life might be willing to burn the midnight oil, and even find this less ‘stressful’ than being stuck in a role in which they are bored. The reverse might be true for someone with a young family or seeking to move towards retirement.
– Does your extra work CORRESPOND TO PROMISED OR PRESUMED BENEFITS? What you do need to watch out for is when your boss fails to recognise and appreciate your extra efforts and overtime. For example, if you put in hard overtime you may reasonably expect this to lead to increased career opportunities, or other positive outcomes such as a positive performance review, promotion or raises. Otherwise, your employer may be taking advantage of your willingness to go the extra mile. It is important to be very clear about their expectations for performance and career progression as early as the recruitment stage. If you need to put in lots of overtime just to scrape by, something is wrong and I recommend consulting an expert.
– Try to push back early as soon as your employer goes over the line, because they will probably be doing it again with larger assignments and it will be increasingly hard to say no. Try to avoid taking on more than your share of ‘low prestige/low visibility’ tasks or doing other peoples work.
– By the same token, consider that some employers really do expect employees to bend over backwards, so you may realistically be jeopardizing your career by refusing to do the overtime. It’s your call – just be aware of the underlying motivators behind your decisions and check in with yourself regularly to see how these are working for you.
– Remember also that succeeding in the long term is not just about doing one assignment well, you need to look after yourself so your performance is sustainable. You know when your career is on track because you feel positive, happy and in control of your work situation. If something isn’t right, it’s wrong. Make sure you value yourself and stand sure in your own worth as a quality employee, because this is how your employer will come to see you as well!
If you want more career coaching or advice:
Check out Maya’s LinkedIn profile (it has some links to some great articles she has written too!)