Industrial and Organizational Psychology, or I/O psychology, is a branch of psychology that applies the theories and principles of psychology to organizations, industries and workforces. From studying worker behavior to conducting research on leadership, I/O psychologists are interested in how human beings behave — and why they behave in the ways they do — in the workplace.
With roots in experimental psychology, the I/O psychologist looks at the workplace via issues like how humans and computers interact, the psychology of personnel, how organizations affect worker behavior and more. If you’re looking to head into a career as an industrial and organizational psychologist, this newer branch within the still somewhat nascent field of psychology is preoccupied far beyond the strictly or theoretically psychological. While it is based on research and theory, I/O psychology is a heavily practical field that works to apply psychological principles to the real life and everyday situations that occur in working environments. Industrial design, statistics, engineering, computing — all these fields come into play for an I/O psychologist because of how much those areas affect and are affected by the contemporary workplace. Workplaces and workplace behavior — especially since the advent of the technological age — are nothing like they were 100 years ago. The I/O psychologist is someone trying to make sense of the brave, new world in which we work. To that end, I/O psychology has two primary distinctions within it:
- Industrial or Personnel Psychology. The industrial side of industrial and organizational psychology involves trying to best match individual workers to specific jobs to increase efficiency in the job and maximize employee satisfaction. Employee training, the development of performance standards and measuring how employees are performing at their jobs are all aspects that fall underneath this side of the I/O psychologist’s umbrella.
- Organizational Psychology. The organizational side of I/O psychology focuses more on how work environments and organizations affect individuals’ behavior. Management style, an organization’s structure, societal norms, role expectations — all these and more can affect how a person thrives or struggles in a particular job or business. The I/O psychologist hopes that by understanding these factors in the systems of employment, he or she can improve an individual’s performance and satisfaction, while also benefitting the organization and workplace.
Beyond these two distinguishing characteristics in industrial and organizational psychology, there are six primary areas where an I/O psychologist can apply his or her skills and knowledge:
- Employee training and development. The industrial and organizational psychologist who focuses on this sub-specialty will help an organization determine which kinds of skills a person needs to properly perform specific jobs and tasks. This application of I/O psychology would also develop and evaluate employee training programs, documents and the like.
- Employee selection. From developing assessment materials to ensuring proper employee selection to writing and analyzing screening tests that can more thoroughly determine an applicant’s qualifications, industrial and organizational psychologists help organizations find and hire the right people.
- Ergonomics. From designing procedures to equipment, I/O psychologists help further the cause of maximizing employee productivity and safety. This area can also apply to human and computer interaction, which assesses how to make computers more user friendly so employees can get their work done more efficiently.
- Performance management. Psychologists in this area of the job work to develop ways to assess just how well employees are doing in their jobs and how performance might be improved.
- Work satisfaction. This sub-specialty hones in on ways to improve employee job satisfaction in order to maximize productivity. By making a job more rewarding or improving a working environment, I/O psychologists help organizations retain good employees.
- Organizational development. This area of industrial and organizational psychology works to improve organizations. Through product redesign, employing better efficiency protocols or improving organizational structure, the I/O psychologist can increase a company’s health and profit margin.
When it comes to business, a company is only as healthy as the individuals who perform its work. Whether the goal is employee satisfaction or organizational profits, the industrial and organizational psychologist can assist both in getting what they want. From making sure the best candidates are the ones found and hired to providing a workspace centered on the employee’s well-being and productivity, the I/O psychologist has something to offer almost everyone in almost any organization.
About the Author: James Horne is a contributing writer, who works for a think tank that aims to improve how computer systems are integrated into business.