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5 Crucial Terms for all Industrial-Organizational Psychologists to Know

Crucial Terms for all Industrial-Organizational Psychologists to KnowIndustrial-organizational psychology is an interesting field with many different influences and applications. 

As a result of this, industrial-organizational psychologists must be familiar with a wide range of concepts, ideas, and terms.

Of course, no one can memorize every term that they might need to know over the course of their career. But there are a few that are more common or more important than the rest.

By understanding these common terms and knowing how to apply them to the work environment, you’ll be able to fulfill the duties of your job and help businesses meet their organizational goals.

Below is a list of five of the most critical terms with which you should be familiar.

Organizational Constraint

Organizational ConstraintOne important term that all industrial-organizational psychologists should know is organizational constraint.

Organizational constraints are conditions in businesses that prevent employees from performing the duties of their jobs efficiently. These conditions can include many different things, such as:

  • Unreasonable or overpowering supervisors
  • Lack of time or resources
  • Insufficient knowledge or instructions
  • Poor interdepartmental relationships

Additionally, organizational constraints can be exacerbated by conflicting job demands, the actions of other employees, or a lack of help from others. Even interruptions by co-workers can prevent employees from getting their job done in an efficient manner.

Not only that, but organizational constraints can lead to a bevy of other issues in the workplace. Higher levels of stress are certainly common as workers get further and further behind in their tasks. Job satisfaction also lowers as a result of not getting one’s job done efficiently.

Organizational constraints can have wider impacts, too. For example, they can lead to such intense job dissatisfaction that an employee quits. As another example, they can lead to an increase in non-work-related behaviors that further reduce an employee’s efficacy on the job.

Generally speaking, organizational constraints evolve out of two areas: an employee’s personality or the work environment.

For example, an employee that is prone to agreeableness might agree to help a fellow employee with a task related to their job. As a result, they might fall behind on their own tasks, which increases their level of stress.

The work environment can be a culprit of organizational constraints as well. For example, the workplace might be a hostile work environment in which an employee is so focused on avoiding conflict with others that they are unable to efficiently tend to the tasks of their job.

A third possibility is that organizational constraints arise out of the workload that’s placed on employees. For example, an employee that perceives their workload to be far heavier than a co-worker that has the same job title might begin to exhibit resentment that they have a heavier workload. This, in turn, can lead to conflict with their co-worker and the development of habits in the workplace that aren’t conducive to efficiently completing work assignments.

Note that each of the conditions listed above are common problems that you’ll face as an IO psychologist. Therefore, it’s important to not only understand what the term organizational constraint means, but it’s also necessary to understand the common causes of it as well as the most effective means by which to address it.

Action Process

Action ProcessAnother crucial term that all IO psychologists need to know is action process.

Derived from action theory, action process consists of the steps that people go through in translating a desire to take action. These steps are as follows:

    • Goal development – In this stage of the process, a person considers what their short-term or long-term goals are. This is also the point at which one must decide which goals to pursue and which competing goals to set aside.
    • Orientation – The orientation stage involves doing research related to the task, choice, or action. This is where you educate yourself and identify possible outcomes.
    • Plan development – After educating yourself about the decision to be made, the next step is to develop a plan. This is where concrete steps for taking action take shape.
    • Execution of the plan – Now it’s time for action. The plan is put into place and you will monitor your progress toward achieving your goals.
    • Feedback – Getting feedback is a critical part of taking action. It enables you to evaluate how you’ve done so far in your action plan while also giving you a good basis of information for creating plans to take new action in the future.

Knowledge of this process is valuable to IO psychologists because it helps them determine the factors that can motivate employees to act or not act. People view situations differently, but the basic steps in the process remain relatively predictable from one person to the next.

For IO psychologists, knowledge of this process is helpful because it can influence several different aspects of job performance or the workplace.

As an example, if an employee seems to be spinning their wheels on a project, an IO psychologist might use the principles of action process to help the employee more clearly define what they need to do to successfully complete the project.

As another example, if a particular department of employees is demonstrating a lack of direction or goal-setting, an IO psychologist might employ action processing to encourage the systematic development of forward-thinking behaviors as a unit.

Human Engineering

Human EngineeringYet another term that all industrial-organizational psychologists need to know is human engineering.

The American Psychological Association describes human engineering psychology as the study of how people interact with such things as technology and machinery. It involves ensuring that systems and devices are safe for use and making sure that they operate in the most efficient manner possible.

In that regard, human engineering is less about the development of new devices than it is about ensuring that people are comfortable and safe using them. To the same end, human engineering strives to make human-technology interactions more productive and less frustrating.

IO psychologists have a number of processes at their disposal that allow them to apply human engineering principles to the workplace. This includes:

  • Usability testing – The process of usability testing involves testing new tools, equipment, systems, and so forth in real-world settings. By doing so, IO psychologists can identify problems and issues with human-technology interaction that might not have been considered in the planning phase of the new system.
  • Resiliency efforts – IO psychologists can rely on resiliency efforts to identify unexpected events before they occur. In other words, instead of focusing on design efforts to eliminate problems, resiliency efforts utilize risk management strategies to explore how businesses and organizations identify, anticipate, and adapt to issues as they arise. What’s more, resiliency efforts seek to outline what a business’ ability is to bounce back when problems or accidents occur.
  • Forcing functions – This design process refers to the practice of preventing an action from occurring unless another action is performed first. For example, modern vehicles require you to push the brake pedal before the vehicle can be put into reverse. This forcing function prevents the car from accidentally being put into reverse, thereby improving safety.

As you can imagine, there is a wealth of possibilities for IO psychologists to utilize their human engineering skills to improve production, enhance safety, and help businesses and organizations meet their bottom line.

For example, an IO psychologist might consult with a small manufacturing company to offer guidance on how to set up work pods that improve efficiency while also maximizing safety for workers.

As another example, an IO psychologist might offer their input on the layout of buttons and levers in a workstation such that the layout is designed for maximum comfort for the user.

The results of making changes like these are many:

  • Improve employee productivity
  • Fewer accidents
  • Better efficiency
  • A more comfortable work environment
  • More intuitive interactions between humans and technology
  • Reduced costs
  • Fewer redesigns
  • More satisfied customers

Of course, this isn’t a complete list of all the benefits that can be derived from a focus on human engineering, but you still get the gist – human engineering can have a widespread, positive impact on businesses and organizations from employee productivity to customer happiness.

Political Skill

Political SkillAll industrial-organizational psychologists should also be aware of the term political skill

Political skill in the business world refers to the ability of staff members to influence other employees in accomplishing organizational goals. This is usually done via the use of a combination of other skills, namely:

  • Effective communication skills, particularly understanding when to talk and when to listen.
  • Power of perception, which refers to the ability to evaluate social interactions, understand peoples’ behavior, and prevent issues from occurring before they become a larger problem.
  • Networking, or having a large cadre of people inside and outside the organization from which one can ask for advice.
  • Integrity, which refers to the ability of someone to maintain their cool, control their emotions, behave professionally, and respect others at all times.
  • Concern for others, which enables politically skilled people to empathize with others and make decisions that benefit the greater good.

By examining persons who possess these valuable skills, IO psychologists can help design effective training programs that can improve the performance of employees across the board.

This doesn’t just apply to employees, though. IO psychologists would do well to ensure that managers and executives in a business or organization are informed of the positive qualities that politically skilled people possess. By building an organization from the top down with people that communicate well, have integrity, concern for others, and so on, IO psychologists will be much more effective in helping organizations achieve their goals.

Affective Commitment

A final term with which you should be familiar if you want to become an industrial-organizational psychologist is affective commitment, which refers to a person’s emotional attachment to their place of employment.

There are many different reasons why employees choose the jobs they choose. Some choose their jobs because they pay well or because it is the only job available at the moment. Other people, however, choose their jobs because they truly enjoy the work. These types of people are usually extremely committed to their positions. This form of commitment is known as affective commitment, and it is this type of commitment that managers and IO psychologists strive for in human resources.

If you think about it, employees that are in it solely for the money might only do the bare minimum that’s necessary to draw their paycheck. But an employee that genuinely loves their work and wants to make a positive difference in the organization will be more likely to make contributions to the company that go above and beyond their expected duties.

Furthermore, employees with affective commitment are more likely to work for a business or organization for a longer period of time. This not only reduces turnover, but it also reduces the expense of having to train new employees as frequently.

Of course, people that enjoy their work typically work harder and do better work, which are certainly traits that any employer would love their employees to have. But the development of affective commitment is not just up to individual employees. Instead, employees that exhibit this type of trait typically feel that they are supported by their employers. Additionally, they usually have clearly defined roles in their job and have little to no concern about conflicts in the workplace.

As a result, IO psychologists strive to foster the development of affective commitment amongst employees by ensuring that the policies, procedures, roles, and responsibilities are clearly defined for every employee.

These IO Terms are Just the Start

Industrial-organizational psychology is a subset of psychology that examines the behavior and interactions of employees in work settings. And while this is a general descriptor of this field of work, the application of IO principles runs far and wide.

There are many crucial terms that industrial-organizational psychologists should know to be competent practitioners. And while this is just a partial list, the five IO terms outlined above are some of the most important terms that you’ll need to be familiar with as you work toward becoming an industrial-organizational psychologist.

Sean Jackson

B.A. Social Studies Education | University of Wyoming

M.S. Counseling | University of Wyoming

B.S. Information Technology | University of Massachusetts

Updated September 2021

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