Consulting and industrial and organizational psychologists volunteered their expertise to the New Orleans business community for two days during APA's 2006 Annual Convention. Through a program the organizers dubbed KARE (Katrina Aid and Relief Effort), 25 psychologists offered seminars and individual consultations to about 45 leaders from a variety of businesses and organizations including accounting firms, shipping companies and school systems.
One common issue faced by area business people is learning how to adapt to a changing work force, said Vicki Vandaveer, PhD, a member of APA Divs. 13 (Society of Consulting Psychology) and 14 (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology), which jointly sponsored the event. Hispanic employees are increasingly common in the New Orleans area, and psychologists can help businesses appreciate and overcome some resulting cultural and language barriers, she noted.
"Now is the time when survival mode is over and people are rebuilding their businesses," said Vandaveer, who runs a Durango, Colo., consulting firm. In addition to navigating diversity issues, many business people are struggling to support employees who may have lost houses or even family members to the floods, she noted.
To assist in the rebuilding, the consulting and industrial and organizational psychologists offered lectures on topics such as selecting and retaining employees, managing stress, handling change and supervising a diverse work force. Afterward, some attendees filtered into an adjacent room to discuss their challenges one-on-one with volunteer consultants. One such volunteer, Karen Y. Wilson-Starks, PhD, helped a person who runs a school system's food services accept that her group would not be able to provide as many lunch options as they did pre-Katrina.
"People are still understaffed, so I helped them figure out how they can reapportion workload and reprioritize," said Wilson-Starks, who also runs a business consulting practice in Colorado.
Wilson-Starks and the other volunteers will follow up with the business leaders after the convention, problem-solving over the phone or even returning to the area for free on-site consultations, said Leaetta Hough, PhD, president of Div. 14 and of The Dunnette Group, a research and development firm in St. Paul, Minn.
"We hope this will kick start our efforts to help New Orleans businesses and people," Vandaveer added.
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