Organizational psychologists study and analyze human behavior in the workplace setting, using these data to improve operational processes. Organizational psychology is concerned with strengthening the organizational infrastructure to enhance efficiency and productivity.
For the workplace to function smoothly and productively, systems, processes, and policies must give due consideration to employees’ needs and aspirations while ensuring that everyone is guided by common goals. To accomplish this, organizational psychologists often engage in talent management, conflict resolution, and policy realignment activities. These are also primary concerns for businesses regardless of size, sector, and management style.
Historically, organizational psychology has been a rapidly growing field. The question is, will this trend continue? Let’s have a deeper look at this career field and see what the future might hold for prospective organizational psychologists.
Key Tasks of Organizational Psychologists
Research and research design are key functions of the organizational psychologist. Also known as industrial psychology, this field focuses on human behavior in the workplace and how human behavior influences corporate achievement.
These psychologists may work directly with employees in training and development programs, or they may work as back office support staff, helping to establish and implement guidelines for talent acquisition, performance reviews, and staff development programs to enhance morale and motivation. Organizational psychologists often work on methods to help improve employee motivation, guide corporate mergers, and adjust the organizational structure of a business to help it run more smoothly.
Additionally, you’ll find that organizational psychologists work closely with businesses to develop job roles and descriptions. By focusing on making each role well-defined with set expectations for performance, employees are able to more easily fulfill those roles and meet or exceed expectations. This, in turn, improves employee satisfaction, which also elevates productivity.
In recent years, the study and implementation of ergonomics has penetrated organizational psychology. While ergonomics psychology and human factors psychology are distinct fields, organizational psychologists can use the benefits of ergonomics in creating a workspace that is more comfortable for employees.
For example, as an organizational psychologist, you might work with a team of designers to design a workspace for an employee. The workspace design would seek to minimize safety concerns while maximizing their ability to be productive. This could be an actual physical space – like a station on an assembly line – or it might be a digital space, like a computer program or app that helps employees stay focused while at work.
Organizational psychologists may also play key roles in studying consumer behavior and how consumer behavior can be influenced to enhance branding and marketing programs. In this regard, organizational psychologists can be a “jack of all trades” for many companies, providing insights in a wide range of areas related to the overall operation of the company.
Whatever the case, the underlying goal of organizational psychology is to improve the quality of life of employees because job satisfaction enhances productivity and efficiency – two things that any business owner appreciates.
Where Organizational Psychologists Work
Most profit-oriented companies, regardless of their size, maintain a human resources team. These employees manage day-to-day administrative processes, and as an organizational psychologist, you may be part of this team to support hiring, retention, and reassignment of employees as needed.
Likewise, as an organizational psychologist, you may be part of the in-house team or may be hired as a consultant on a per-project basis. Additionally, the entire human resources department may be outsourced to specialized professional companies, which means organizational psychologists may be working directly with the client company but will be considered an employee of the consulting business.
An advantage of working in this field is that there is a need for the services of organizational psychologists in almost any sector. This includes private corporations, nonprofit institutions, school systems, and government agencies, including the military. This being the case, you might find employment in:
- Health care organizations
- Local and state governments
- Consulting services
- Private practice
Some organizational psychologists work in higher education as well. Typically, professors of organizational psychology have had careers directly in the field, then transitioned to education later in their careers. This is important because having practical, real-world experience as an organizational psychologist gives professors a wealth of knowledge from which to draw. This can make their teachings more practical and more valuable to students too.
Something of note is that the industry in which you pursue an organizational psychology job can influence what your job prospects might be.
For example, careers in academia are in less demand than careers in the private business sector. That’s because, typically, college professors stay in their position for many, many years, so unless a new position is added or a professor retires, those positions are hard to come by.
Conversely, though the growth of this field is not expected to be at a breakneck pace in the coming years (more on that below), it is likely that more jobs will be available in the business sector than in most other fields. Businesses and organizations are always looking for ways to improve their bottom line, and since organizational psychologists can be an integral component of that, there are often jobs advertised in this area.
Preparing for a Career in Industrial Psychology
The field of industrial psychology requires extensive preparation for those who want a lifetime career specializing in this area. Your level of education could very well have a significant impact on whether you can find the type of job you want as well.
A bachelor’s in psychology or related field is the minimum requirement for entry-level work in this field. It’s a good option for you to get your foot in the door, but a master’s in psychology may be needed to stand out amongst job applicants. An advanced degree is almost certainly needed to pursue career advancements as well.
There are many options for getting an advanced degree. You can get a Master of Arts or a Master of Science, the primary difference being that the former is more focused on liberal arts education while the latter is more focused on research.
Another option is that you can study in person or online. In fact, there is a growing number of colleges and universities that offer graduate programs and even doctoral programs in this field. Some are completely online while others require periodic site visits. Either way, it gives you the flexibility you need to advance your education.
In some cases, a doctoral degree will be what enhances upward mobility in this field. For example, if you wish to work in private practice as an organizational consultant, a doctorate might be prudent, as having a terminal degree in the field will give credence to your expertise. Likewise, if you intend to pursue a teaching position, having a doctorate is a must in many higher education settings.
In addition to continuing your education, you can also boost your chances of getting a job in organizational psychology by becoming credentialed.
Having a certification or licensure in organizational psychology or a related area (i.e., industrial-organizational psychology), gives you more clout. It signifies that you have gone above and beyond what’s required to become an organizational psychologist and demonstrates your commitment to learning your craft. Think of credentialing as the icing on the cake – something that can help you stand out from other job applicants.
You should know that licensing requirements vary depending on the state, so if you’re unsure of what you need to do to get a license, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) maintains a database of information and links to state and provincial licensing boards.
Like any career, it is often prudent to expand your knowledge, skills, and qualifications to better your chances of getting a job. While it is possible to be overqualified for some positions, it is more often the case that applicants don’t get the job they want because they aren’t qualified enough.
It’s a competitive market for jobs in organizational psychology. This is true regardless of the location or industry of employment, as well as the level of the job – be it an entry-level position or one in management. If you have the right education, certification, licensure, and continuing education credits, you will be an attractive applicant for competitive positions.
Career Track and Growth Potential
As noted earlier, organizational psychologists are highly competent in psychological research. The studies they conduct aim to apply the science of human behavior to identify and design solutions to common workplace problems.
As such, a strong background in research and human resources skills will help psychology majors find a niche in this field. This means that many organizational psychologists initially pursue careers in the research field. Likewise, many organizational psychologists seek employment with companies in their human resources department. Doing so will help you in developing those strong research and human resources skills that are so important to this line of work.
On the whole, jobs in the field of psychology are expected to grow at about an average rate through the end of the decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychology jobs will grow at about a three percent clip through 2029.
The BLS notes that job prospects will depend on multiple factors, including the level of education and experience you have as a job seeker. Naturally, if you have a greater level of education and experience, your services will be more in demand by more employers than if you’re fresh out of college.Something else to consider is the number of applicants for organizational psychology jobs. The BLS notes that there is currently a large number of qualified applicants for jobs in industrial-organizational psychology. This means that you might face even stiffer competition for positions because of the strength of the general body of job applicants.
However, as discussed earlier, if you have extensive education, training, and experience, you should have a leg up on most other job applicants.
When considering future job growth in this field, we also need to look at the specific industries that have historically hired the most organizational psychologists. This will help inform us as to where the most jobs are likely to be found.
In this case, the BLS points out that the greatest concentration of jobs in organizational psychology are in the scientific research and development services sector. This is not surprising, nor is the second industry on the list – colleges, universities, and professional schools. Contrast these work environments with state governments, which employ less than one-third the number of organizational psychologists.
Let’s also remember that the geographic location in which you work can influence the availability of jobs. For example, the five states with the largest concentration of organizational psychology jobs are:
So, when thinking about where you want to settle into a career, one of these states will be your best bet for organizational psychology.
The takeaway here is that even though organizational psychology jobs are not expected to grow very fast in the coming years, if you know where to look, you might find the ideal job for you.
Of course, finding a job isn’t the only critical part of your job search – you also want to find a job in organizational psychology that pays well. Again, there are many factors at play when it comes to the compensation package you’re offered. Employers will take into account your education, training, and experience when offering you a job. The more of these three things you have, the more money you’ll be offered.
But, just like the industry in which you work and the geographic location in which you work can impact how many jobs are available, so too can it determine your salary.
For example, the highest annual mean wages for organizational psychology are found in the field of scientific research and development services. The mean yearly salary for this sector is $150,910. Compare that with a mean annual wage of $86,460 for organizational psychologists that work for state agencies.
While money isn’t everything, it’s still important to be aware of the variations in pay that you might find as you apply for jobs and to take those into consideration on your job search.
So, to circle back to our main question – is organizational psychology a growing field – the answer is yes, but it isn’t growing as fast as it once was. And as we’ve discussed here, jobs in this field will be more widely available in certain locations and in certain industries. You just have to know where to look!
B.A. Social Studies Education | University of Wyoming
M.S. Counseling | University of Wyoming
B.S. Information Technology | University of Massachusetts
Updated July 2021
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