What is Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

industrial organizational psychology define

Posted November 2019 by Clifton Stamp, B.S. Psychology; M.A. Rehabilitation Counseling, M.A. English; 10 updates since. Reading time: 5 min. Reading level: Grade 11+. Questions on industrial-organizational psychology? Email Toni at: editor@online-psychology-degrees.org.

Industrial-Organizational (I/O) psychology is the application of psychological principles, processes and techniques to the workplace. It is a highly popular psychology specialty that studies human behavior in workplaces of all sizes and types, as well as organizational systems.  I/O psychologists examine how the psychology of the individual person and groups affects behavior to solve problems and challenges in the workplace. Businesses, corporations, hospitals, factories, assembly facilities, shipping and logistics and warehousing are all areas that make use of I/O psychology.

What Do Industrial-Organizational Psychologists Do?

Industrial-Organizational psychologists study behavior, attitudes and beliefs relating to work. Human social behavior is also a key aspect of I/O psychology. Industrial-Organizational psychology requires professionals to have specialized knowledge about many aspects of employment practices, as well as law and ethical concerns.

A typical job description of an I/O psychologist might look like this: industrial-organizational psychologists solve problems in the workplace by using their knowledge of the underlying principles of human behavior. They also work to prevent common problems from ever arising. They study the way tasks are performed and how a company’s workflow is structured, looking at measurements of not just productivity and efficiency, but also morale.

How people feel about their work and working environment is a critical driver of good productivity. By studying management and corporate culture, I/O psychologists can help improve the quality of worklife for employees while supporting productivity. I/O psychologists also help plan company policies, create and carry out training sessions, and assist in improving company procedures.

I/O psychologists:

  • Help identify and hire the most qualified employees
  • Increase workplace and corporate efficiency
  • Apply psychological research to the workplace
  • Assist human resources offices
  • Train the workforce
  • Assess job performance
  • Improve quality of life for employers and employees
  • Study and assess consumer behavior
  • Streamline and improve organizational structure

Industrial-organization psychology experienced significant growth during the early decades of the 21st century and continues to expand ahead of the national average for careers.

The History of Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Industrial-Organizational psychology was born in the United States in the early years of the 20th century. Hugo Münsterberg and Walter Dill Scott, students of the famed Wilhelm Wundt, were the fathers of I/O psychology.  Münsterberg’s book, Psychology and Industrial Efficiency (1910) was the first text in the field. Münsterberg’s interest lay in the use of psychological tests and measurements for industrial personnel selection. Walter Dill Scott pioneered the use of psychology in commercial advertising, which remains a staggeringly lucrative field to this day. He also assisted in the development of psychological tests used to screen inductees into the US military during WW I. Robert Yerkes, also in WW I, developed the Army Alpha and Army Beta screening exams, which used psychological testing to evaluate the best tasks for inductees, as well as their intellectual abilities.

I/O psychology continued to grow throughout the latter half of the 20th century, affecting the development of human resources, human relations and management theory. In 1982, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology became independent from the American Psychological Association (APA).

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Careers

The following are only a few of the many well-paid careers within I/O psychology.

Human Resources Management. I/O psychology meshes well with human resources. HR managers provide input on hiring and assessment of employee job performance.

I-O Analyst. I-O analysts require excellent critical thinking skills, expertise in efficiency and industry best practices and  analytical skills. Analysts evaluate efficiency in the workplace, morale, workflow, and company culture. They suggest improvements and modifications that increase productivity and employee well-being.

Organizational Psychologist. Perhaps the most flexible of all careers in I/O psychology, I/O psychologists may work in the business, government or academic sectors. I/O psychologists assist businesses to increase productivity, bolster employee morale, reduce turnover, and increase worker satisfaction. A career in I/O psychology requires a doctorate and licensure.

Industrial-Organizational Consultant. I/O consultancy can lead to employment with a consulting firm or as an independent expert. Consultants have a wide range of abilities and duties. They can create job training programs, assist Human Resources departments in creating employee evaluations, examine workflow for efficiency upgrades, make improvements in employee morale and many other tasks.

HR Organizational Development Specialist.  Human resources organizational development specialists develop programs that assist companies undergoing significant change. These changes can be about mergers, layoffs, or re-organizations. They design training programs that help employees develop new skills and knowledge, as well as adjusting to big changes in management.

Becoming an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Earning a master’s degree in Industrial-Organizational psychology is the best place to start. Although there are a few bachelor’s programs in I/O psychology, a graduate of such a program would still have to earn a master’s degree to be employable. As with many other specialties in psychology, earning a doctorate leads to more opportunities and higher wages. Some tasks within the I/O field require a PhD and state licensure as a psychologist. The mean salary of a doctoral level I/O psychologist in 2014 was $92,320, with master’s level salaries in I/O psychology around 87,000 dollars a year  according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014).

Professional Organizations for I/O Psychologists

The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) was the primary certifying board for I/O psychologists, but it has been replaced by the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology (ABOBCP). The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology has been a major resource for Industrial-Organizational psychologists and specialists since 1982.

Industrial-Organizational psychology continues to grow and expand as the USA transitions into new kinds of manufacturing, industry and commerce. Likely, growth will not slow down throughout the rest of the mid-21st century.

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