What are the Most Important Elements of an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist’s Job?

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A person who is studying psychology and plans to become an industrial-organizational psychologist may want to know, “What are the most important elements of an industrial-organizational psychologist’s job?” This information is important because it allows a student to decide if their preferences and skills are well-aligned with the typical job duties and responsibilities of an industrial-organizational psychologist. Having this information could help a person decide on a specialty of psychology or a type of job for their career path.

Before making a career choice, it can help to know the most important elements of an industrial-organizational psychologist’s job. From planning operations to resolving disputes, an I/O psychologist’s responsibilities are essential to the operation of any company. I/O psychologists work with human resources teams, corporate executives and managers to design and implement workplace policies.

Using scientific data and software tools, I/O psychologists analyze systemic efficiency and make recommendations about improving employee productivity. With their training in psychology and social science, they can identify organizational problems and offer support to employees affected by policy changes.

Planning Human Resources Policies

A big part of what an industrial-organizational psychologist does is planning human resources policies. For example, they may study employee working styles and help with the development of policies that encourage teamwork and efficiency. They may also observe management styles and make recommendations for changes that could help boost employee satisfaction and morale in the workplace. Industrial-organizational psychologists also improve the quality of life on the job for all of the workers.

Companies employ I/O psychologists to ensure that their daily operations run smoothly. Human resources departments rely on I/O psychologists to use research and psychological theory to help keep the workplace organized and efficient. Managers and H.R. professionals work closely with I/O psychologists to create and implement new workplace policies.

Not only do I/O psychologists have formal organizational training, but they have experience analyzing data drawn from large populations. I/O psychologists can use their scientific expertise to identify potential problems in a work environment by looking at data taken from employee surveys. During the policy-making process, they may also speak to employees about specific issues in the workplace. Then, together with the H.R. team, the I/O psychologists will turn their findings into office policy.

Testing and Evaluating Recruits and Employees

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Another important element of an industrial-organizational psychologist’s job is to evaluate applicants and recruits for the skills and strengths that are necessary in order to do a particular job or task. They may also test recruits and employees. For example, they might test the personality types of employees. This allows the industrial-organizational psychologist to work with human resources and put a qualified applicant into the position that is best-suited to their personality type and skills. The personality test could also determine if a person would be a good fit for the organization.

The process of testing and evaluating employees gives I/O psychologists a chance to recommend changes to the workplace, such as new training programs or team substitutions. I/O psychologists use their knowledge of personality types, human relationships and workplace productivity to minimize the uncertainty in any decisions they make.

Data analysis is a major component of I/O psychology, so a large part of the evaluation process is devoted to data gathering. Employees, managers and human resources personnel routinely fill out questionnaires and surveys to provide accurate data for I/O psychologists to use while evaluating policy choices. This human-sourced data represents the best information available for I/O psychologists, so they can rest assured that uncertainty in their policy-making will be minimized.

Although questionnaires and personality tests may provide data, they can’t eliminate the uncertainty in making policy decisions. This is because I/O psychology is a social science, which makes predictions about human behavior, as opposed to a natural science, which makes predictions about natural systems. Social systems have higher levels of uncertainty than natural systems because human interactions are influenced by a wide range of factors that can’t easily be measured. I/O psychologists can use data science as well as their own judgment to make sense of workplace data.

Implementing Employee Training and Development Programs

An industrial-organizational psychologist is also responsible for implementing employee training and development programs. The training programs might include how to perform a certain task with efficiency or how to perform a new task in an ergonomic way so as to reduce the risk of a repetitive strain injury. They may coordinate employee development programs in order to reduce workplace stress, enhance employee morale or help employees learn techniques for communication with coworkers and management. They may also coordinate with human resources or employee health in order to provide additional employee development around injury prevention and long-term health.

After I/O psychologists have evaluated the workplace data, they must decide how to implement new policies without disrupting daily operations. Although some disruption is inevitable, employee morale is an important factor in office productivity, so employers must try to balance any major structural changes with worker satisfaction.

When a company’s culture needs to be transformed, the changes must be incremental. A complete overhaul is sometimes necessary when a company suffers from bad leadership and low morale for an extended period. A toxic workplace culture can arise during these periods, and eventually the entire company can become unproductive and unprofitable. When this happens, the company can either be dissolved or rebuilt from the top down, beginning with the board of directors, executives and managers.

I/O psychologists can play a role in rebuilding a company’s culture by crafting data-driven employee training and development programs. The company may have to invest in such programs for several years before they yield results. Employees who undergo training and development play a role in creating a productive organizational system with other workers at the company.

Organizing the Work Environment for Optimal Productivity and Safety

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, another one of the most important elements of an industrial-organizational psychologist’s job is to organize the work environment for optimal productivity. This includes organizing both the physical environment and the processes performed by the workers. For example, the industrial-organizational psychologist may observe employees performing a particular task and make recommendations on how to change the layout of the equipment in order to reduce repetitive movements or stretches that could result in a slower speed or increased rate of worker injuries.

The best way to organize a work environment depends on the goals and structure of the organization. In some cases, office organization can be as simple as arranging desks and dividers for optimal workflow. In other cases, the job may require deeper thinking about how to improve employee creativity and productivity.

I/O psychologists may be hired as consultants to work with executives and H.R. managers as they design the work environment to maximize employee potential. For example, a team of engineers may get more work done if they have access to a pool table or a basketball hoop. Similarly, a team of marketers might produce better ideas in a larger office with bigger windows or at specified intervals throughout the day. I/O psychologists can determine what options to try by analyzing data and making observations around the workplace.

Mediating Disputes

One of the challenges of working with large, complex social systems is dealing with negative human behavior. Disputes between workers can happen for many reasons, and they have to be factored into any system before it’s implemented. Although it’s not possible to predict when or why a dispute will occur, it’s almost certain that mediation will be required at some point.

I/O psychologists must step into the role of mediators because they have the training and expertise to deal with employee disputes. Although I/O psychologists aren’t trained to provide counseling for serious mental health issues such as addiction or depression, they can counsel employees in simple matters of courtesy and respect for others.

As workplaces become more diverse, I/O psychologists must learn and understand a growing range of cultural sensitivities. In their role as mediators, they must balance the needs and expectations of all parties in a dispute. Companies rely on I/O psychologists to resolve disagreements between employees while changing policies to minimize the impact of future disputes.

Offering Consultations

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Some I/O psychologists choose to work as consultants on a per-project basis. Companies hire freelance I/O psychologists for temporary projects that require social science expertise and organizational training. A team of freelance I/O psychologists might be hired to help a company rebuild its workforce and redesign its operations after a merger or acquisition. This type of arrangement is common for businesses that don’t need or can’t use full-time I/O psychologists, such as restaurants with high rates of employee turnover.

I/O psychologists that offer consulting services usually need to have years of experience working in a corporate setting to compete with other consultants in the same field. Although a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for most I/O psychology jobs, a master’s degree can help a freelance consultant stand out from competitors. Some jobs may be available only to experienced doctoral researchers or senior-level I/O psychologists.

Performing Research and Analyzing Data

Another important skill for I/O psychologists is academic research. The research conducted in college psychology departments is similar to the data gathering and analysis performed in the corporate world. The main difference between these two types of research is that the academic kind is published in public journals while the proprietary kind is kept in private corporate databases. The scope of academic research is typically also broader because it’s funded by government grants.

Academic researchers simply conduct surveys and publish the results for anyone to use even if the results don’t have an obvious commercial benefit. The goal of academic research is to produce knowledge whereas the goal of commercial research is to help a company make money. Because academic researchers don’t have to worry about making their employers more profitable, they’re free to investigate issues that impact the field of I/O psychology in general.

Related Resource: What Are Psychomotor Skills?

Researching Consumer Behavior

I/O psychologists are experts in human behavior as it relates to the workplace. However, some businesses also hire I/O psychologists to study the behavior patterns of their customers. This type of research is always proprietary. It’s used to help businesses craft their products and branding for a specific audience. For example, researchers might discover that a restaurant’s customers spend more money at lunch on weekends than during the week. They could then use that information to help their employer create a weekend lunch special that increases sales.

While consumer behavior research is a responsibility of some I/O psychologists, it’s also an academic field of research in its own right. I/O psychologists who perform this kind of research usually do so in a corporate setting. They may work with marketers and product designers on one-time projects or in an ongoing effort to help their employer stay competitive.

What Are the Best States for I/O Psychologists?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state with the highest percentage of I/O psychologists is Virginia. At $145,410, California has the highest median annual salary for this occupation, by far. Although I/O psychology is a relatively small profession, it’s projected to grow at 12.3 percent over the next decade, which is much faster than the national average of 4 percent.

Virginia may have the highest rate of I/O psychologists in its population, but California, being the most populous state, has the largest number overall. I/O psychology jobs are available all across the country, but they make up a small percentage of overall employment. Fewer than five states have a high enough rate of I/O psychologist employment to be listed in the B.L.S. database.

How Long Does It Take to Become an I/O Psychologist?

It takes about four years to earn a bachelor’s degree and find a job in a corporate H.R. department. This is the employment route of most I/O psychologists, but it isn’t the only option. Other routes require more education and training. An academic I/O psychologist usually needs a Ph.D. to find work in a university setting. A consultant must have advanced expertise in I/O psychology, but it might come from years of work experience instead of postgraduate education.

Occasionally, I/O psychologists are hired from pools of H.R. personnel, so they don’t need any formal training at all. In all cases, an I/O psychology career requires at least a four-year degree, and in most cases, some work experience is required.


Although each employer will have different responsibilities and job duties for an industrial-organizational psychologist, the general elements of the job tend to be common across different employers and industries. Knowing about these commonalities makes it easier for a person who is studying industrial-organizational psychology or graduating with a degree in this field to know what to expect when they begin applying for jobs. Understanding the answer to, “What are the most important elements of an industrial-organizational psychologist’s job?” could facilitate a person’s decision on a concentration or career path within psychology.

I/O psychologists play an important role in creating a productive and harmonious company culture. Although this profession has been around for decades, it has recently come to prominence as workplaces have grown more complex and diverse. Anyone looking to overhaul a workplace culture or smooth over employee relations should understand the most important elements of an industrial-organizational psychologist’s job.

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