Book Review: What Works at Work by Mark O’Sullivan


What Works At Work -01In ‘What Works at Work’, Mark O’Sullivan provides the reader with a good introduction to people management. 

It focuses specifically on highlighting where psychological research has been more successful as a science and is also honest about where it has been less so.  As such, the tone of the book is nicely self-deprecating, revealing the realities and limitations of our psychological knowledge and understanding, whilst also showcasing where psychological science can add real value to businesses.

A former ABP Management Board Officer, Mark O’Sullivan has a sound appreciation of the ABP’s aims and history, and this book goes some way to support the principles held by the Association; it emphasises the need for evidence-based practice, it underlines the importance of understanding the social systems rather than just focusing on the individual and the breadth of research cited reinforces the ABP’s drive to take a holistic, multi-perspective and cross-discipline view of problems in organisations.  In this respect, it might be a useful text for new members.

What Works at Work is a quick, easy read, organised into 8 main chapters which cover the topics of recruitment, skills, engagement, communication, conflict, change, leadership and action.  It is written using clear, straightforward language which will make it accessible to the management population at which it is aimed. 

This book would also probably serve as a useful reference for students of business and occupational psychology and organisational behaviour, as a summary of where psychological theory has been supported with empirical evidence and therefore where it is likely to have the most impact.  It cites many studies and references for further reading, beyond just the go-to journals that many occ psychs get into the habit of reading; drawing on work published in Behavioural and Brain Sciences, Human Relations, the Journal of Environmental Psychology and the Academy of Management Review, as well as broadsheet articles, books and a number of CIPD resources and publications.  It also balances evidence provided by more recent studies with older work that either has, or hasn’t, stood the test of time.

For me, this book acts as a call to researchers and academics to keep pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the working world with robust empirical evidence and proven theories, and as a reminder for practitioners to not get too big for our boots.

Book review by Debbie Hance