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What is Industrial/Organizational Psychology?

What is Industrial/Organizational Psychology?

Industrial-Organizational Psychology pertains to the study of human behaviors in the workplace and maximizing the economic and psychological well-being of all employees. Psychologists in this field can be consultants, research scientists, practitioners or educators; they assess conditions, develop and implement interventions, measure interventions, and make suggestions for improvement relative to all phases of workplace activities. The main benefit of industrial organizational psychologists' interventions is that it fosters organizational and individual satisfaction and productivity.

Psychology in the Workforce

Each successful workplace operates like a well-oiled machine with cogs fitting into place and running smoothly, but how did they get there? What compels them to keep going? Are they operating at a satisfactory capacity, and are they satisfied with their station?

Asking these questions, providing answers, making suggestions, and implementing plans are the jobs of industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists.

What is Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

Psychology deals with the mental behaviors of a particular group. Industrial-organizational psychology is the scientific study of human behaviors in the workplace. I-O psychologists assess how social, cognitive, developmental, learning, and individual differences play roles in workplace development and research. According to the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, Inc., industrial-organizational psychologists have the knowledge and foundation to address workplace dynamic revolving around talent management, coaching, assessment, selection, training, organizational development, performance and work-live balance. Their goals are to:

  • Understand and measure human behavior to improve employee satisfaction.
  • Improve an employer's ability to select and promote the most ideally suited people in a role.
  • Make the workplace a better environment for employees.

I-O psychologists are research scientists who primarily study workplace conditions, consultant or staff psychologists within an organization who deal directly in workplace development and intervention, or educators who teach future I-O psychologists. These professionals can work in or for business, labor, industry, academia, and community and health organizations. The work done by I-O psychologists addresses workplace issues pertinent to:

  • Recruitment, selection, and placement
  • Training and development
  • Performance measurement
  • Workplace motivation and reward systems
  • Quality of work life
  • Structure of work and human factors
  • Organizational development and human behavior

To address these issues, I-O psychologists take the following measures:

  • Identify training and development needs
  • Design and optimize job, work and quality of work life
  • Create, implement, and assess training programs
  • Coach employees
  • Develop performance evaluation criteria for individuals and / or organizations
  • Evaluate individual preferences and satisfaction and assess market strategies

A sampling of studies done by I-O psychologists aim to provide useful information about all aspects of the workplace such as employment discrimination, the role of personality traits, workplace culture, reducing absenteeism and workplace aggression, and leadership behaviors.

To successfully undertake all of these responsibilities and address such a variety of issues, entities that employ I-O psychologists generally require that psychologists hold at least a Master's degree. An advanced graduate degree provides them requisite knowledge in the following areas:

  • Organizational development
  • Job and work analysis
  • Workplace attitudes
  • Human performance and human factors
  • Personnel psychology and management
  • Recruitment and selection methods
  • Group theory
  • Legal issues and human resource management

Furthermore, they possess the know-how to conduct research, statistical analysis, and data synthesis, which is useful for measuring the effectiveness of workplace interventions.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology in the Workplace

Benefits of Implementing I-O Psychology

By taking all of the above activities as well as ethical factors into consideration, I-O psychologists are able to enact meaningful improvement to workplace attitudes and employee behaviors. I-O psychologists recognize the conflict between an organization's need and an individual's needs. Thus, their aim is to find ways to minimize this tension via ongoing collaborative efforts. Doing so can have a measurable impact on the attitudes and behaviors within the workplace.

Some key areas psychologists are involved when studying in creating beneficial workplaces are:

  • Attitude and satisfaction, which involves addressing issues of empowerments, retention, job satisfaction, burnout, stress management, gender issues, and resignation.
  • Motivation specific to performance.
  • Selection and promotion, which includes succession planning, and performance appraisal and management.
  • Training and development, which involves team design, competency modeling, computer-based learning, and effective coaching.

Among the most successful approaches in improving workplace attitudes and behaviors are to enrich the current job by adding responsibilities, allowing the employee to contribute to feedback, and letting staff influence the job structure, design, and functionalities. Autonomy is very important in terms of employee satisfaction.

Meanwhile, the organization can make structural improvements by conducting surveys and implementing other tools to assess where change can be enacted that will have a positive impact on the work environment. If both the organization and individual are working toward mutual satisfaction, then attitudes and behaviors in the workplace stand a higher chance of being improved.

The Importance of I-O Psychology in the Workplace

The impact of I-O psychology reaches further than just attitudes. They also extend to personnel management, organizational behavior, performance assessment, and employee development. By addressing each of these areas, I-O psychologists can facilitate the operation of the workplace machine.

  • Personnel Management: Deals with psychological research in hiring practices, employment law, training and development, performance evaluation, and resolving issues. This subset of I-O psychology also analyzes corporate culture, interactions between individuals, and groups, and assesses employee motivation strategies. The aim of personnel management is to figure out the causes of and provide resolutions to internal conflicts, so employees can be of maximum value to an organization with increased employee satisfaction and productivity.
  • Organizational Behavior: Pertains to explaining and understanding the behaviors at individual, interpersonal, group, intergroup and organizational levels. Understanding these behaviors can explain how different personalities, cultures, and backgrounds affect group dynamics and how those things impact decision-making, conflict resolution and organizational change. It also improves organizational operations, employee motivation, job satisfaction and organizational commitment.
  • Performance Assessment: Relates to using psychological tests, biographical information, interviews, work samples, surveys, and computers to evaluate individual or group performance.
  • Employee Development: Deals with the design, administration, and evaluation of training programs. Computer assessment instruments, simulations, and behavioral models can be used to address performance gaps.

I-O psychology as it pertains to these four areas is important because the outcomes of studying, testing, and reviewing employees and organizations can have a significant impact on workplace productivity. I-O psychologists work in businesses and in many roles to glean information about how humans function in the workplace and what contributes to their satisfaction and motivation. I-O psychology is integral to a thriving workforce.

Sacred Heart University's Online Master of Science in Applied Psychology is a top-ranking, research-driven program that gives students the competitive knowledge to pursue advanced careers in areas like industrial organizational psychology where students apply psychology to areas of workplace analysis and intervention. One needs a master’s level of education in order to work at a professional level in an organization. The program's online format provides a flexible learning opportunity that enables students to continue working while earning an advanced degree.

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