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What is industrial-organizational psychology?

An industrial or organization psychologist works with a group of business professionals

By Michael Feder

At a glance

  • According to the American Psychological Association, industrial and organizational psychology (or IO psychology for short) is a branch of psychology “characterized by the scientific study of human behavior in organizations and the workplace.”
  • Industrial and organizational psychology can help businesses when leveraged to assist with the hiring process, analyze performance and motivate employees.
  • background in industrial and organizational psychology can prepare candidates for a career in human resources, management analysis and more.

The success of each employee largely affects the success of a business. Yet many business managers struggle with keeping both morale and employee productivity high. This is why businesses often turn to industrial-organizational psychologists for help. Whether in a corporate office or a healthcare facility, psychologists can help organizations address employees’ nuanced and personal needs on a psychological level. And that can translate to success for everyone.

Industrial-organizational psychology definition

According to the American Psychological Association, industrial and organizational (IO) psychology is a branch of psychology that is “characterized by the scientific study of human behavior in organizations and the workplace.”

This field has its origins in the early 20th century and gained prominence after World War I and grew even more after World War II. Many businesses began to recognize the importance of psychological health among employees when it came to productivity. Psychologists like Elton Mayo incorporated aspects of social psychology and other behavioral sciences.

This development was reflected in a number of workplace changes. For example, by incorporating psychology into manufacturing, employers could provide their employees with equipment that was more psychologically and physically intuitive. This, in turn, helped boost productivity in some areas. 

What do industrial-organizational psychology professionals do?

The responsibilities of an IO psychology professional vary according to the needs of the workplace. Broadly speaking, businesses have an interest in the psychological health of their employees. That isn’t the only function of an IO psychology professional, however.

In the following, we’ll go over some of the various things that industrial-organizational psychology professionals do. They may perform one to several of these functions, and this list is not exhaustive.

Assist in the hiring process

Potential employees bring a lot to the table. There are, of course, the “hard skills” that would benefit a candidate’s technical performance in their role at a company. These can be easily identified: Hiring managers just have to review the candidate’s resumé or CV to explore work experience, technical certifications, education, etc.

These skills, however, do not reveal everything HR needs to know about a potential candidate.

IO psychology professionals can help in the hiring process by illuminating the psychological aspects of candidates. In addition, they can help HR develop the optimal psychological profile for a potential hire. This insight can be translated into evaluations that reveal a deeper understanding of the candidates or into job listings that attract the right personality for a position.

Analyze performance

Employers have an incentive to increase productivity, profit and reach. The work required to achieve these metrics comes down to the contributions of individual employees. Though employers can improve performance through better technology, improved manufacturing processes and other technical improvements, that isn’t always enough.

When businesses want to understand the intersection between the psychology and the performance of their employees, they may turn to IO psychology professionals who can:

  • Define success metrics and communicate them across the company
  • Help managers remove bias when rating employee performance
  • Create reward systems that promote better performance
  • Develop and administer surveys

These processes are informed by industrial and organizational psychology and can help employers take a more holistic approach to improving performance.

Motivate employees

The psychological health of employees can translate to the overall health of an organization. When employees feel motivated in their work, they may put in that extra effort that takes a project over the finish line.

IO psychology professionals can help in this regard by crafting team-building strategies to motivate the staff to work better. This can be a top-down effort. IO psychologists can help managers get a better sense of how their employees are feeling.

On the flip side, IO psychology professionals can conduct interviews and surveys to communicate employee feelings to management.

IO psychology professionals work from a number of theories surrounding workplace motivation, including:

  • Expectancy theory: Employees have a certain expectation of reward and put in the effort they feel is commensurate with the reward.
  • Goal-setting theory: Employee motivation comes from having goals that are specific and well-understood.
  • Need theory: Employees have three primary needs: achievement, power and affiliation. These vary by employee but form the primary parameters of employee satisfaction.

Evaluate protocols

When management takes a proactive approach to employee psychology, the benefits may be felt up and down the organizational ladder. IO psychology professionals can study the dynamics of the workplace to recommend how to improve operations. They can help make sure that the company mission and its protocols are properly aligned.

This work can take a number of forms, including:

  • Meeting with senior leadership to define key success metrics
  • Identifying the optimal personality profile for each role
  • Making suggestions on employee training and development
  • Suggest new approaches to management and talent recruitment

These professionals, in other words, can play a critical role in improving the experiences of individual employees. In turn, this can improve the overall performance of a business.

What are the benefits of industrial-organizational psychology?

More effective recruiting

As noted, IO psychology professionals can improve hiring processes for businesses. By clarifying the ideal psychological profile of a recruit, they can help hiring managers narrow down a field of candidates who may have similar credentials.

Higher job satisfaction levels

When employees are happy, it can really show in their work. Practices that improve employee motivation and satisfaction can help employees work better as a team. By implementing these practices, IO psychology professionals can play a role in employees being excited to come to work every day. This can also make the organization more attractive to potential talent.

Increased productivity

Productivity benefits greatly from employee satisfaction. When IO psychology professionals help management make employee-centered protocols and policies, they can help employees work better. When employees are ready to go the extra mile, the company as a whole can be more productive moving forward.

Please note, the Bachelor of Science in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at University of Phoenix provides a foundation in psychology and its relevance and application to industry and organizational settings. This program does not lead to professional certification or licensure as a psychologist, counselor or other mental health practitioner.

Want to know how you can remain productive? Learn about productivity hacks from around the world on our blog!  

Careers in industrial-organizational psychology

If this intersection between business and psychology sounds interesting, then a career in industrial-organizational psychology may be something to consider.

Here are a few career opportunities to consider:

Overview: HR specialists are responsible for bringing in candidates to fill vital positions. In addition, they often oversee compensation and benefits, employee relations, and learning and development. They rely on both technical and subjective information to make hiring decisions, and they strive to create a positive work environment. They generally administer HR policies in line with local, state and federal regulations as well.

National salary range: According to May 2020 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), human resources specialists earned between $37,710 and $109,350.

Education requirements: bachelor’s degree in human resources, or a related field such as industrial-organizational psychology, is a common prerequisite for work as a human resources specialist.

Job outlook: According to BLS, employment of human resources specialists is projected to grow 10% from 2020 to 2030, which is about as fast as average for all occupations.

Want to learn more about human resource management? We cover the topic in our blog!

Overview: Businesses employ training and development managers to ensure that staff members are trained with the skills and knowledge to perform at their best. They oversee training and development programs that can include virtual and in-person development. They assess where employee skills are lacking and design programs to fill the gaps. Training and development managers may work with outside vendors to aid in their development programs.

National salary range: According to May 2020 data from BLS, training and development managers earned between $66,270 and $200,210.

Education requirements: Training and development managers can have a diverse range of educational backgrounds, including industrial-organizational psychology. While many companies hire training and development managers who have a bachelor’s degree, some also require a master’s degree.

Job outlook: According to BLS, the employment of training and development managers is projected to grow 11% from 2020 to 2030, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

Businesses thrive on motivated employees working in positive work environments, and industrial and organizational psychology is key to companies achieving this.

The salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Learn more about industrial-organizational psychology at University of Phoenix!      

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