Function and applications of Industrial and Organizational Psychology

What is Industrial and Organizational Psychology?

Industrial and organizational psychology is a fast evolving subfield in psychology. Its main concern is to study and asses human behavior at workplace. Performance inside organizations depends upon several factors including the well-being and motivation of employees. Employees can be efficient and productive only when they are motivated and satisfied. There can be several factors in any work environment that can hurt employee morale and cause loss of focus and motivation.

Organizational success also depends upon the ability of businesses to identify and resolve workplace issues. This is where I/O psychology proves relevant. Through an assessment of individual, group and organizational dynamics, I/O psychology offers solution to the problems that affect the well being and performance of employees. The solutions that I/O psychologists offer through their assessment and research help improve the psychological well being of employees and maximize employee morale and performance.

Mostly people assume that a profitable business is a successful business. It is true that profitability is important for growth and competitiveness. However, there are several factors that affect the profitability of businesses. Apart from the other things, the human resources and their efficiency also determines how profitable and productive a business is. Motivated, well trained and committed employees are important to find growth in both the short and the long term. Employee motivation depends upon several factors including the workplace environment, culture as well how fast the workplace issues are resolved. I/O psychology helps find the answers to the most  difficult questions related to workplace environment and employee morale.

What do the Industrial and organizational psychologists do?

The I/O psychologists focus on employee behavior at the workplace. By applying psychological principles and research methods, they help improve overall work environment including employee performance, communication, work satisfaction and safety.

They look into areas like decision making and communication inside the organization to identify problematic areas and bring solutions. Business owners themselves are often unable to find the areas where the problems lie. So, they need the help of Industrial and organizational (I/O) psychologists. Some of the common questions that the I/O psychologists ask to identify problems and issues are:

  • How decisions are made inside an organization?
  • How effective is communication at each level and among the various levels inside the organization?
  • How team members interact and what is the level of collaboration between them?

By addressing these questions, the I/O psychologists find answers to problems hindering employee performance and morale. Business owners can thus know processes, systems and dynamics that need to be changed in order to improve the functioning of the organization.

Complexity of jobs has increased a lot in the twenty first century. The work pressure inside the organizations is relatively high. Due to higher work pressure and increased complexity of jobs and work environment, employee morale is affected and this causes decline in performance and productivity. Apart from that work pressure can also increase chances of errors and accidents.  These things can be controlled with the help of Industrial and Organizational psychology.

Applications of Industrial and Organizational psychology

Industrial and Organizational psychologists are experts at the design, implementation and analysis of psychological research. The I/O psychologists apply heir findings in several ways to solve the human and organizational problems at the workplace like:

  • Identifying training and development needs.
  • Optimization of quality of work-life.
  • Formulation and implementation of training programs.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of training programs.
  • Coaching individual employees, managers and organization leaders.
  • Setting performance evaluation criteria for individuals, teams and organizations.
  • Assessment of consumer preferences and satisfaction as well as marketing strategies.

The I/O psychologists have received specialized training in science of human behavior at the workplace. This provides them knowledge of issues which are critical to business success. Many companies hire them as full time employees to deal with issues like worker productivity, employee training as well as other human resource related issues. A large number of I/O psychologists also work in the field of academia.

Techniques used by I/O psychologists and goals.

There are several variables affecting successful operation and profitability of an organization. Companies need to set may things rights including communication, conflict resolution, efficient processes, professional competence as well as efficient and effective management. Shortcomings in any of these areas are mostly a direct result of how companies select and train their employees as well as how the employees share information, communicate and interact with each other.

These are challenging areas and I/O psychologists use their knowledge of human behavior to solve these problems. They frequently use quantitative research and evaluation techniques for applying best practices within an organization and for helping people learn how to work better. Common research methods utilized by the I/O psychologists include observation and documentation of how employees perform in a work environment  as well as surveys that are designed to identify the issues that can affect human behavior at a workplace. The goals that I/O psychologists try to achieve through their research may include the following:

  • Improving employee productivity.
  • Developing screening procedures for new applicants.
  • Increase the overall quality and environment of workplace.
  • Finding the roots of the issues at workplace hindering performance.

Career fields for I/O psychologists:

The I/O psychologists apply their research and knowledge in all kinds of settings including:

  • Commercial enterprises
  • Manufacturing
  • Labor unions
  • Health care enterprises.

Apart from these the I/O psychologists work in academic positions in college and universities. They are also qualified to work as trainers, consultants and coaches. Many times organizations hre tham directly as human resource professionals to work full time to obtain theri services for the short term as external and independent consultants. Organizations call them to solve specific issues which may be affecting organizational productivity and efficiency.

The focus of their research spans the following:

  • Applicant and employee testing and assessment.
  • Leadership development
  • Staffing issues
  • Business management
  • Teams and teamwork
  • Compensation management
  • Workplace safety
  • Workplace diversity
  • Work life balance

How to become an I/O psychologist?

The path to become an I/O psychologist starts with a bachelor’s degree. However, a bachelor degree alone is not sufficient. While one can come across such opportunities where a bachelor’s degree will suffice, they are still sparse. So, the students interested in becoming I/O psychologists go on to earn an advanced degree. However, they may take time off between education and work to gain some real world experience. Those with a master’s degree in I/O psychology can find entry level positions to start their career. Opportunities of employment are higher for those with a doctoral degree. Having a doctoral degree will open a the door to several opportunities in this field.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry with the highest level of employment in this field was 'Scientific research and Development services'. It was also the top paying industry for this field followed by ‘Management of Companies and Enterprises’. Median Annual wages for I/O psychologists in 2017 were $102,530 and hourly median wages were $49.29.  

Specialized Knowledge:

To gain specialized knowledge and training in the science of human behavior at workplace, it is essential to have in-depth knowledge in organizational development, attitudes, career development, decision theory, human performance, consumer behavior, small group theory and process, criterion theory and development, job and task analysis as well as individual assessment. Apart from these things specialty in I/O psychology also requires someone to have the knowledge of ethical, statutory, administrative and legal considerations related to workplace activities.

Being an I/O psychologist at NASA. (Dr. Kathryn Keeton)

Generally, the NASA missions are of very large magnitude and ensuring their success is difficult. There are quite a lot of variables to consider to ensure the success of any mission. In case of long term missions like the Mission to Mars, the crews are under immense psychological pressure. Dr Kathryn Keeton is an I/O psychologist who considers the risks on ground that can jeopardize any mission. Earlier Keeton had supported NASA’s human research program involving research on various risks related to long duration space-flights and their mitigation. During the long duration space-flights, crews live and work in isolated, extreme and confined environments. Away from home and with heavy workload, their day/night cycles are altered. Other environmental factors like microgravity, carbon dioxide and radiation can also cause serious psychological problems for astronauts. Keeton loved the job as it involved research with real impact on the design of long duration missions. Simultaneously, this job was a great mix of both the operational and research environment. It was a challenging opportunity for Keeton.

Now, Keeton works with NASA for the development of the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation.  This center works to solve the complex problems that the staff and scientists at NASA face. Keeton crowdsources solutions and solves problems in a virtual environment where everyone from NASA can contribute. This virtual environment allows everyone working at NASA to reach out to the other employees and help them when they need. Keeton and her team are bringing down barriers at NASA and fostering collaboration. This shift is designed to   bring about changes that make people more aware, accepting and willing to adapt and try new strategies. Keeton’s background in psychology as well as her knowledge of human behavior have helped her guide the focus of the project. Her team is made up of people from diverse professional backgrounds including Information technology, business management, marketing and communications and more. This ensures that the approaches of her team are more well rounded. Keeton finds her job thrilling and part of the credit goes to her background in psychology. I/O psychologists can find challenging and thrilling careers in various fields and industries.

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