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If a corporation, business, or organization is operating smoothly and at high efficiency, there's probably an organizational psychologist to thank for it. Professionals who understand human behavior, employee morale, organizational productivity and structure, and who can also crunch numbers can be a great asset to an organization. This guide answers some of your questions about an organizational psychology career. Besides the obvious "What does an industrial organizational psychologist do?" you'll also learn about the knowledge and skills that these professionals bring to the table. We'll also look at a "day in the life" of one organizational psychologist before looking at degree options.
What Are Industrial-Organizational Psychologists?
Organizational psychologists - often called industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologists - study how people behave at work. Applying best practices in psychology, these professionals can help boost fairness, problem solving, productivity, and job satisfaction in the workplace. They can help facilitate healthy communication and cooperation between employees and managers, so that the organization functions the way it should. They see both the small details and the big picture of what's needed for company success. I/O psychologists may be full-time company employees, or contractors hired for the duration of a project. So exactly what does an organizational psychologist do? Let's take a closer look.1
What Does an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Do?
Industrial-organizational psychologists work in a variety of fields and industries — from information technology and healthcare to biotechnology and consulting firms. Depending on which job description you read, an I/O psychologist might look like just another human resources manager. In general, the HR manager is more likely to work directly with employees, hearing complaints, resolving disputes, and so on. The I/O psychologist is more likely to be researching, gathering data, and developing competency models. But the line is sometimes blurred, as these roles vary from one company to the next.
There are multiple ways that I/O psychologists apply their skills and knowledge in the workplace. The American Psychological Association (APA) lists these six real-world applications, which we’ll examine individually:
“Identifying training and development needs.”
Companies may bring in I/O psychologists to conduct needs assessments . The purpose of this assessment is to close the gap between where a company is and where it should be. Needs assessments involve first setting goals for company and employee training, including which specific tasks and people will be addressed. After a plan is created, data collection begins. Both qualitative (surveys, interviews, observations, meetings) and quantitative (production reports, records related to employee absences, discipline and turnover) data are gathered. These findings will be used to develop training programs.
“Optimizing the quality of work life.”
Is the workplace stressful? Are employees able to openly communicate with management? Is good effort rewarded and recognized? Are employees motivated? Is the workplace free of harassment and discrimination? I/O psychologists may address anything that affects workplace morale and safety.
“Formulating and implementing training programs and evaluating their effectiveness.”
Training involves changing behavior for the better. Breakdowns in organizational productivity, communication and professional relationships can be addressed through training. Based on findings from the needs assessment, the I/O psychologist develops employee training programs that address particular needs. These programs can be implemented in various ways, like on-the-job mentoring, online videos, or professional development sessions. Subsequent follow-ups determine whether training programs made a positive difference in the workplace.
“Coaching employees and organizational leaders.”
In one form of training, I/O psychologists may work with individuals and teams to foster change and growth. Coaching sessions may address specific skills or behaviors needing improvement, or help prepare for transitions within the organization.
“Developing criteria to evaluate performance of individuals and organizations.”
Before you can evaluate an employee’s work skills and performance, you must first know exactly what that person’s job entails. I/O psychologists are often called on to conduct job analysis. This detailed procedure involves defining the particular skill set needed for each job in an organization. It also helps identify which type of person is best suited for that job. Job analysis makes it possible to evaluate job performances. But it also results in detailed job descriptions used for new hires. Competency modeling is closely related to job analysis, but with an organizational focus on influencing behavior.
“Assessing consumer preferences, customer satisfaction, and market strategies.”
This application involves data collection and analytics related to how well a business or organization is reaching and engaging its customers. I/O psychologists have an understanding of both statistics and human behavior, and their skills enable them to help interpret big data and direct companies in their marketing decisions.2
What Does an Organizational Psychologist’s Day Look Like?
It’s often difficult to understand what someone’s job is like without seeing their day-to-day activities. This is certainly true with industrial-organizational psychologists, who perform many functions in many different industries. With so much variance in the profession, it’s impossible to find one example that represents everything I/O psychologists do. But here are some of the tasks from a day in the life of an I/O in “talent management and organizational development.”3
- 8:00–8:30: Arrive at work, meet with colleagues and review that day’s task list.
- 8:30–9:00: Read and respond to new emails. Update task list as needed.
- 9:00–10:00: Lead webinar session for managers-in-training.
- 10:00–11:30: After reviewing data from the training session, give feedback on areas of success and areas of refinement.
- 11:30–12:30: Read and reply to new emails.
- 12:30–1:30: Lunch break
- 1:30–2:00: Discuss training program with the team leader and specific needs of trainees.
- 2:00–3:00: Plan orientation event for new leaders.
- 3:00–3:30: Phone call about a new vendor contract.
- 3:30–4:30: Search for leadership development initiatives that may suit the company’s future leaders.
- 4:30–5:00: Read and reply to emails.
- 5:00–5:30: Meet with the boss to recap today’s progress and ask for guidance.
- 5:30–5:45: Plan tomorrow’s task list.
What Skills Do Organizational Psychologists Need?
Industrial-organizational psychologists perform valuable roles in the workplace, putting into play skills gained from years of education and training. The APA lists some of the specialized knowledge and skills that an I/O psychologist position requires:
- Career development
- Consumer behavior
- Criterion theory and development
- Decision theory
- Ethical considerations
- Human performance and human factors
- Individual assessment
- Job and task analysis
- Organizational development
- Small group theory and process
- Statutory, administrative, and case law, and executive orders related to the workplace
What Degree Do You Need to Be an Organizational Psychologist?
If you’re considering a career related to organizational psychology, you have multiple educational paths. Alliant International University’s California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) offers three organizational psychology degrees. Consider these options as you prepare for a career in I/O psychology and related fields.
MA in Organizational Psychology. This program includes coursework such as Social and Personality Psychology, Cultural Diversity in Organizations, and Work Motivation and Productivity. The program includes a 240-hour supervised practicum in a real-world business or organization setting. Flexible coursework (available on evenings or weekends, and/or online) is ideal for the working professional.
PhD in Organizational Psychology. Your first two years of this program include courses such as Business Principles, Cultural Diversity in Organizations, and Organizational Change and Development. During your final two years, you’ll take concentration courses and electives as you work on your PhD dissertation. You’ll also complete a supervised internship in a real-world corporation, nonprofit or government setting. This program offers three concentration options: Executive Coaching, Strategic Human Resource Management, or Consulting Psychology.
PsyD in Organization Development. This program includes coursework such as Organization Theory and Systems, Leadership, Qualitative Research Methods, and Conflict Management. You’ll apply theory and research in a supervised field placement in an organization of your choice. The program culminates in an applied dissertation project. Designed for working professionals, executive-format classes are held one weekend a month for three years.
For more information about Alliant’s organizational psychology programs, request information online, or speak with a representative at (844) 582-4927.
- “Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology.” Noba. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://nobaproject.com/modules/industrial-organizational-i-o-psycholog…;
- “Industrial and Organizational Psychology.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/industrial.
- Woller, Posted By: Amanda H., and Amanda H. Woller. “A Day in the Life of an Industrial Organizational Psychologist.” Psych Learning Curve. Accessed November 23, 2021. http://psychlearningcurve.org/a-day-in-the-life-of-an-i-o-psychologist/…;
- “Psychologists : Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists…;