A person considering a degree or career in psychology may wonder, “Why is industrial-organizational psychology important?” While other specialties of psychology delve into a particular person’s personality and mental health issues that they are facing, industrial-organizational psychology takes a somewhat different approach in that it assesses and improves individual, group, and organizational dynamics in the workplace. Knowing why this branch of psychology is important could facilitate the choice of specialty when earning a psychology degree or choosing a job.
What Industrial-Organizational Psychology Is
Industrial-organizational psychology is the study of individual, group and organizational dynamics in a place of work. Those dynamics can be different in different workplaces. By using the scientific method in order to study human behavior in a place of work, a psychologist is able to determine how well teams communicate, whether or not workers are invested in the company and how happy people are in their jobs and how that correlates to their productivity, efficiency and absenteeism rate. The importance of industrial psychology is largely rooted in these practitioners’ ability to quickly assess a company, identify barriers to productivity and efficiency, and develop a plan to remedy those problems.
Industrial-organizational psychology also focuses on developing evidence-based procedures for hiring, training, and retaining employees. Essentially, the field consists of conducting research into workplace dynamics and applying research findings to optimize business efficiency and worker satisfaction.
The types of research used vary widely — some psychologists may primarily conduct observational research, some may design and carry out studies, and others may use surveys. Most use a combination of different research methods. Because industrial-organizational psychologists are trained as both researchers and practitioners, most people in this field both conduct research and apply it. However, some industrial-organizational psychologists (mostly those working in academia) may focus purely on research. Others may focus purely on the application of that research.
What an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Does
Every workplace has problems. Some of those could be unique to the people who work there, and others could be common based on the type of work that is done. Every problem will be somewhat different based on the people and place involved. An industrial-organizational psychologist assesses the individuals and groups in a place of work as well as the policies, procedures, and environment of the workplace. The psychologist identifies problems and uses research in order to choose and implement solutions. The solutions are designed to improve the well-being and success of the workers and the workplace.
Many industrial-organizational psychologists also perform research. Much of their research is designed to draw conclusions that allow them to better help businesses achieve their goals. For example, they may develop personality assessments that help businesses select the most suitable employees. They also might conduct observational research where they monitor several different businesses to see which management strategies work best and why. Some research is very specific — for example, it may involve looking into how both negative humor and positive humor impact employees and the work environment as a whole. Other research may examine the effects that diversity has on a workforce.
While most industrial-organizational psychologists focus on workplaces, the specialty itself doesn’t necessarily have to be connected to work in the traditional sense — it can be applied to any type of purpose-driven activity. These psychologists can be very helpful to sports teams and volunteer efforts as well.
People who choose this field may find themselves working in many different areas. Some industrial-organizational psychologists hold research or teaching positions at universities. Others apply their knowledge while working with branches of the military. Some may work with sports teams. And when it comes to workplaces, industrial-occupational psychologists can help factories and Fortune 500 companies alike.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the scientific research and development services industry has the highest concentration of employees who are industrial-organizational psychologists. This industry is followed by the management, scientific, and technical consulting services industry. State governments have the third-highest concentration of industrial-organizational psychologist employees, and the management industry (specifically, management of companies and enterprises) has the fourth highest. These numbers do not count self-employed industrial-organizational psychologists, and it’s important to remember that many work for themselves on a freelance basis.
How an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Solves Workplace Problems
An industrial-organizational psychologist looks at particular questions in order to solve workplace problems. For example, they might ask how decisions are made. The industrial-organizational psychologist might also ask how effective the communications are between colleagues or between workers and the management team.
An industrial-organizational psychologist also designs, conducts, and analyzes research studies related to interactions in the workplace. They use the data collected in order to analyze findings and find out which problem-solving methods work and which ones do not. The work of an industrial-organizational psychologist could improve worker morale, boost efficiency, decrease absenteeism or lower the turnover rate. All of these activities can result in a business that is better for workers and more profitable.
Because of their extensive training in human psychology and in managing workplace problems, industrial-organizational psychologists may sometimes need to help a workplace determine what its specific problem is before developing a strategy to manage it. For example, a manager may find that their employees all seem to be disinterested in work and very unfocused, but they may not be able to figure out what’s causing the issue. In this case, a psychologist would be able to evaluate the workplace as a whole and speak with individual employees. Based on those findings, the psychologist could develop a plan to help employees feel satisfied and motivated.
Why an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Is Essential for Business
At first glance, uninitiated people may not see the need for an industrial-organizational psychologist in the workplace. After all, in theory, managers are supposed to identify issues in the workforce and then do their best to solve them.
Most managers don’t have a deep understanding of psychology, though, so they often aren’t well-equipped to solve issues in the workplace. Industrial-Organizational psychologists, on the other hand, have several years of intensive training. Most start out with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, as very few schools offer undergraduate psychology degrees with a focus on industrial-organizational psychology. After earning this degree, candidates then earn a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology. A master’s degree is enough to start a career, but most people in the field pursue a doctorate.
Additionally, most workplace problems can benefit from an outside perspective. Since managers are closer to the daily goings-on of a workplace, they often are too close to a given situation to be able to clearly strategize a way to fix it. But an industrial-organizational psychologist can bring both their training and a new perspective to workplace issues. Sometimes, these psychologists work in a company’s human resources department. This is more common in very large companies. But in many cases, industrial-organizational psychologists work either as independent consultants or as part of a management consulting firm. They are often hired by different organizations to solve existing problems. Since they have a vast knowledge of current research on workplace dynamics, they can often quickly strategize a way to get a business back on track.
Every businessperson knows that workplace strife, low employee morale, and high turnover rates lead to loss of profit over time. With the services of an industrial-organizational psychologist, a business is likely to see increased focus and productivity. And since employees will likely be happier, the business will be less likely to need to spend money and time interviewing, hiring, and training employees to replace those who have quit.
Applications of Industrial-Organizational Psychology Research
There are many applications for the work of an industrial-organizational psychologist, explains the American Psychological Association. Often, the work of industrial-organizational psychologists identifies areas in need of more training or development in a particular workplace. It also optimizes the quality of the day-to-day work environment. An industrial-organizational psychologist can evaluate the effectiveness of a training program and make suggestions for changes. The beauty of this occupation is its ability to not only find the reasoning behind workplace problems, but also to use that knowledge to create a solution.
Depending on a business’s needs, an industrial-organizational psychologist may work with employees on an individual level. Industrial-organizational psychologists can coach workers as well as managers on how to improve workplace dynamics. In high-level companies working toward maximum efficiency, these psychologists may counsel each employee one-on-one to assess their attitudes toward their job and discover any factors that may be compromising their productivity and workplace satisfaction. They can then recommend solutions to keep all employees fulfilled and focused. In some cases, psychologists may work one-on-one with CEOs in order to help them improve the way they relate to other people.
It’s important to note that the one-on-one work that an industrial-organizational psychologist may do is very different from the one-on-one work done by a traditional psychologist. Industrial-organizational psychologists are not trained in diagnosing mental disorders, and they don’t dig deep into the psyche of a worker or manager. Rather, they evaluate personality traits as they pertain to the person’s work.
Many of these psychologists primarily focus on creating and maintaining harmony and productivity in the workplace, but some are able to apply their knowledge to improve a company’s marketing tactics. For example, they may conduct research into a given company’s customers to evaluate customer needs and customer satisfaction. From there, they can help companies revise their marketing strategies to be more effective. Because industrial-organizational psychologists have a nuanced understanding of human behavior, they are well equipped to be able to predict how customers will respond to a new marketing strategy.
Some people in the field are asked to apply their knowledge to specific procedures. For instance, a company’s hiring practices are vital to its success, but there are a wide range of laws that apply to the process. If a company is looking to change its hiring procedures, it may ask an industrial-occupational psychologist to both review the new procedure for effectiveness and ensure that the process won’t violate any existing hiring laws.
Depending on the population that an industrial-organizational psychologist works with, both the research and its application may be very specific. For example, astronauts who work at NASA have to face psychological challenges that the vast majority of people do not. When in outer space, they are in very close quarters, and they have to deal with the psychological impact of being very far from home. Being in a drastically different environment — like one with very little gravity — can also cause psychological issues. These issues can be personally damaging, but they also can compromise the safety of everyone involved in the mission.
For these reasons, NASA works with industrial-organizational psychologists. These psychologists determine what future research needs to be done to reduce the risk of psychological harm to astronauts and ensure that the mission goals are met. Of course, most industrial-organizational psychologists probably won’t be working with missions to outer space, but the NASA example is an illustration of one of many diverse applications of industrial-organizational psychology research.
The Growing Importance of Industrial-Organizational Psychology
As more and more businesses begin to realize the importance of industrial psychology, jobs in the field will grow at a faster than average pace. This is especially true in the private sector of the economy. In fact, in 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics called industrial-organizational psychology the fastest-growing occupation in the United States. Between 2019 and 2029, it’s estimated that employment in the field will grow 2.5%. As a growing field, industrial-occupational psychology offers some very exciting opportunities, but most people know very little about it or have not heard of it at all. And while high-value companies and larger corporations often already know about the field or work with industrial-organizational psychologists, many companies have not yet discovered the benefits of hiring or consulting with someone with education in this area.
Since more companies are understanding the value of industrial-organizational psychologists, people in this field are generally paid fairly well. As of 2019, the median salary was $92,880. The relatively high pay is likely to draw more people into the field as it continues to grow.
A person who is interested in understanding how people interact in the workplace and interact with each other in a place of work could have a personally and professionally satisfying career as this type of psychologist. Knowing, “Why is industrial-organizational psychology important?” could also help a person promote the profession and explain to others exactly what it is that they do in their job.
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