What is Industrial-Organization Psychology?

Industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology focuses on the behaviors of individuals in the workplace. I/O psychologists can be great additions to companies looking to improve the well-being of their employees, as well as increase the efficiency and productivity of their workers across the organization.

As the name implies, I/O psychology is split into two parts: industrial and organizational. While the two sides of this field study similar things, they focus on different perspectives and apply what they’ve learned in different ways.

The industrial side of I/O psychology “examines specific problems and issues that companies have to deal with,” said J. Michael Crant, professor of management and organization in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.

Industrial psychologists can help organizations with the following tasks:

Hiring. After studying a company’s culture and work processes, industrial psychologists have a well-educated idea of what type of employee will work best with the way the business already works. Industrial psychologists can help with many parts of the hiring process, including creating interview questions that can help hiring managers identify the best candidates for certain positions. When using industrial psychology for hiring, Amy Cooper Hakim, founder of the Cooper Strategic Group, suggested considering the values, personality and motivation of the applicant.

Training. To keep things running smoothly, businesses need to make sure their employees have the skills and knowledge they need to do their jobs. Industrial psychologists can identify missing skills among employees and create effective training to help fill these gaps.

Employee efficiency. By studying human behavior from the top of the business down, industrial psychologists can identify ways to make jobs more efficient and employees more productive for the overall good of the company.

According to Crant, organizational psychology generally addresses bigger-picture issues. Organizational psychologists want to motivate the workforce and create stronger teamwork, he said.

Various studies have shown that employees who feel comfortable, safe and happy at work are more productive and efficient. If you don’t feel you’re getting everything you could be out of your employees, organizational psychologists may be able to help. These are some areas these professionals could assist you in:

Employee satisfaction. Organizational psychologists study employee behaviors and attitudes to gauge overall employee satisfaction. Using their findings, psychologists then suggest changes to improve employees’ well-being and happiness at work, which makes for more productive employees.

Work-life balance. If organizational psychologists find that employees are stressed or unhappy, they may suggest work-life balance programs to ease the stress on employees, thereby helping them to produce not just more work, but better work. Successful work-life balance programs decrease turnover rates and burnout while increasing motivation and commitment.

Decreased job stress. A major difference between organizational and industrial psychology is where the psychologist focuses their point of view. Where the industrial side works from the top of the organization down, organizational psychologists work from the bottom up. By doing this, they may be able to provide helpful suggestions on managerial practices, company organization and other elements that might be creating job stress.

If you own a small business and only have five to 10 employees, it might not be worth the investment to hire an I/O psychologist. However, for midsize and large businesses, these professionals are a valuable asset if you want to increase the satisfaction and productivity of your employees. However, depending on the scale of your company and the work that you feel needs to be done, you might not want to hire an I/O psychologist in-house. A consultant might be a better fit for you. Here are some pointers to help you identify what type of I/O psychologist is best for you.

An in-house psychologist is best if …

  • You have a large, global organization.
  • You want to develop ongoing training programs.
  • You need to do long-lasting studies of workplace culture in multiple locations.

An I/O consultant is best if …

  • You have a smaller organization.
  • You only want to study one particular area or department.
  • You need only limited information and don’t have ongoing work available for an in-house psychologist.

One way to introduce I/O psychology into your organization without hiring a professional on-staff is by conducting personality assessments with your employees. Analyzing the results of these tests (typically in the form of a report compiled by the company administering the test) can help managers and their teams learn how to better work with each other based on individual preferences, work styles and behaviors. Juli Weber, organizational development manager at Business News Daily’s parent company, Purch, administered a test called the DiSC Assessment to the company’s employees, which she found to be an effective tool.

“We use it to help people understand two things,” Weber said. “First of all, employees understand themselves and recognize how they communicate. Along with that, there’s this awareness that others communicate differently than you do. If I communicate in one way and I’m speaking to an … employee who speaks in a different communication style than I do, I can adjust myself to be more effective.”

Hakim added that personality assessments can be used to help screen applicants as a “multiple-hurdle approach” to hiring, or to help develop employees.

These are some common personality tests you can purchase:

  • DiSC Assessment: This test identifies communication styles in the workplace and helps employees understand how to more effectively work together and talk to each other. Learn more about using the DiSC model in this Business News Daily article.
  • Myer-Briggs: Also known as the MBTI, this test puts you into one of 16 different personality types to help you understand how you perceive the world and why you make decisions. Though this is a popular test, there is some controversy surrounding it, according to Crant, since it doesn’t always produce the same results when someone takes the test multiple times.
  • Predictive Index: The Predictive Index, or PI, is a short, simple test that helps you understand your employees’ behaviors at work. This can help you align goals and improve efficiency.
  • Five-Factor Model of Personality: The FFM separates people into the “big five” traits – extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience.

While the data from these test results can be highly useful, Weber warns that personality tests aren’t for every company.

“You do have to be careful that [the test results] don’t become a form of segregation. You have to be careful that you’re not stereotyping,” she said. “If your culture is not where you can support that in a healthy way, I don’t recommend you bring it on board. There are probably other things you should clean up first.”

It’s important to note that attempting to analyze the results of any personality tests on your own, without the help of a professional, can lead to controversy and misunderstandings within your organization, so we advise that you consult a professional psychologist before you administer or share the results of any personality tests in your workforce. You can learn more about I/O psychology and find qualified professionals by visiting the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology website.