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Industrial-Organizational Psychology

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Industrial-Organizational Psychology

"She works hard for the money so you better treat her right!" This famous song by Donna Summers is on to something. Employees and workers should be treated fairly in the workplace and should have the greatest opportunity to reach their potential. Industrial-organizational psychology makes this happen.

  • What is the definition of industrial-organizational psychology?
  • We will consider the history of industrial-organizational psychology.
  • How did it evolve?
  • We'll look at some theories in industrial-organizational psychology.
  • Finally, we'll look at some examples.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Definition

Where we work; in other words, our occupation, is one of the most central parts of our lives. We will all spend a large part of our everyday lives working a job. It comes as no surprise that a better work-life can improve our lives overall.

Industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology applies psychological principles to improve the workplace.

Its goal is to create a happier, more productive workforce. Industrial-organizational psychology relies heavily on testing techniques, extensive research, and quantitative methods. I/O psychologists use statistics and empirical data to make decisions rather than clinical judgment and are therefore highly trained in these skills.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology, statistical papers on desk with laptop, StudySmarterStatistics and industrial-organizational psychology, Freepik.com

There are two approaches to industrial-organizational psychology: the industrial approach (personnel psychology) and the organizational approach (organizational psychology).

The industrial approach focuses on determining the skills required to perform a job successfully and using that information to help with employee recruitment, selection, placement, training, and development.

The organizational approach focuses on finding ways to improve culture and organizational structure to motivate employees and improve job satisfaction and productivity.

Industrial-organizational psychologists will help organizations promote teamwork, improve company climate, build employee retention, and resolve relational conflicts. Another subfield linked to I/O Psychology is human factors psychology. Human factors psychology applies what we know about human abilities, limitations, and characteristics to their job duties, work environment, and the design of machines used at work.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Examples

Industrial-organizational psychologists apply several psychological principles to the workplace. Principles of learning can be applied to training programs. Social psychology principles can be used when forming workgroups or to understand employee conflict. For example, concepts of group dynamics and group behavior are especially applicable in the workplace. Concepts such as conformity, ingroup/outgroup bias, groupthink, and group polarization will be relevant in maintaining a healthy work culture.

See Group Dynamics and Group Behavior for more information on these concepts.

Industrial-organizational psychologists may also use psychological theories of motivation to improve performance quality as well as leadership skills. A good boss must understand how to motivate their employees. This may include improving the workplace environment, providing company lunches, offering holiday bonuses, or allowing paid time off.

History of Industrial-Organizational Psychology

The field of psychology itself is relatively new, therefore so is industrial-organizational psychology. However, even in a short period, industrial-organizational psychology has come a long way. Let's take a look at the history of industrial-organizational psychology.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology in the Early 1900s

The very first appearance of industrial-organizational psychology is unclear. It may have started with Walter Dill Scott when he wrote The Theory of Advertising (1903). Either way, we know it was right around the early 1900s. Other pioneers of the field include Marion Bills, James Cattell, John Watson, Walter Bingham, and Lillian Gilbreth. Before World War I, I/O psychology was referred to as "employment psychology", "economic psychology", or "business psychology". It wasn't until after World War I that industrial-organizational psychology really took off. Suddenly, thousands of soldiers were returning home and needed to be re-assigned. I/O psychologists were then hired to test recruits and appropriately place them.

Until the 1930s, industrial-organizational psychology did not expand much past personnel or industrial issues. However, one study would alter the direction of I/O psychology. Conducted at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company in Chicago, the Hawthorne Studies were originally designed to measure the effects of various work conditions including work schedules, wages, temperature, lighting levels, and breaks.

Much to their surprise, they found that improving work conditions sometimes decreased productivity, and worsening work conditions sometimes increased work productivity. The true cause of improved productivity was what is now called the Hawthrone effect.

The Hawthorne effect is the condition in which an employee's productivity improves when they know they are being studied or receive attention from managers.

This motivated I/O psychologists to focus more on human relations and employee attitudes in the workplace.

Indutrial-Organizational Psychology, employing smiling at boss at desk, StudySmarterHuman relationships in the workplace, Freepik.com

Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the 1960s to Present

Industrial-organizational psychology in the 1960s was revolutionised by the Civil Rights Movement. The passing of civil rights legislation meant that non-white workers who were commonly mistreated or overlooked in the workplace finally had the law on their side. Industrial-organizational psychologists had an additional layer to consider (one that should have been considered all along), which led to the development of fair selection techniques while hiring. Employers were obligated to consider ways in which their structure, policies, or culture might be discriminating against people of color. This increased the need for industrial-organizational psychologists and the development of sensitivity training.

By the 1970s, industrial-organizational psychologists began to develop theories about employee behavior. B.F. Skinner, a behaviorist who first discovered operant conditioning, wrote Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971). This sparked an increased use of behavior-modification techniques by I/O psychologists.

If an employee continuously shows up late to work, managers may use concepts of reinforcement to change this behavior. For example, the next time they show up late, they get an official complaint on their record. Or, a new policy is put in place that gives employees a small bonus if they are never late for 6 months.

As we've mentioned, an industrial-organizational psychologist requires advanced statistical skills. In the 1980s and 1990s, I/O psychologists started to develop even more sophisticated statistical techniques. They also began to incorporate concepts of cognitive psychology, examining the thought process of managers. During this time, the field of industrial-organizational psychology started to highlight the effects of leisure activities and family life on workplace satisfaction and productivity.

By the 2000s, technology had made significant progress, and many of the techniques used in industrial-organizational psychology became digitized. Testing would now be administered via computers or using the internet. E-learning can be used for training allowing distanced education opportunities.

Evolution of Industrial-Organizational Psychology

The workplace in America has changed significantly from the early 1900s to today. Industrial-organizational psychology must evolve with the times and the work climate of the present time. Work in developed countries has gone from farming to manufacturing to knowledge work, and our attitudes toward work have changed as well.

Outsourcing to temporary employees or consultants has become more popular, as well as telecommuting or work-from-home. Industrial-organizational psychology must account for how these structural changes might impact company culture and hiring strategies. Demographics in the workplace have changed as well. For example, more women are entering the workforce and stepping into management positions than ever before.

Industrial-organizational psychology continues to evolve based on factors such as:

  • Flexible work schedules.

  • Less hierarchical organizational structures with fewer management levels.

  • Family-friendly work policies.

  • Increased accommodation for child-care and elder-care responsibilities.

  • Population shifts such as urban to suburban.

  • Increasing costs of health-care benefits.

  • Older retirement ages due to changes in Social Security.

Theories of Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Several theories have developed within the field to explain topics regarding employee motivation, retention strategies, leadership strategies, and much more. Let's take a look at a few examples of these theories including the job characteristics theory, the self-leadership theory, and the path-goal theory.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology, female manager at head of table, StudySmarterIndustrial-Organizational Psychology, female manager at head of table, StudySmarterWomen in leadership, Freepik.com

Job Characteristics Theory

Industrial-organizational psychologists are very interested in employee motivation because it directly relates to productivity.

The job characteristics theory developed by Greg Oldham and Richard Hackman suggests five primary factors will increase employee motivation.

Many of us crave variety in our lives. Doing the same thing over and over becomes mundane for most people. Allowing workers to use a variety of different skills that they enjoy can go a long way in increasing employee motivation.

It can be incredibly motivating to see your hard work pay off. Workers who are able to see the progress of their work will be more motivated to continue. The job characteristic theory suggests that employers create task identity by establishing a distinct sense of beginning and ending; they highlight the transformation process in the final product.

A sense of meaning can be a driving factor in motivation. Workers who have a sense that their work impacts the lives or work of people either in their organization or in their community may be more motivated to complete those tasks. This characteristic is defined as involving the degree to which the job has a substantial impact on the lives or work of other people, either in the immediate organization or in the environment external to it.

No one likes to be micromanaged, especially at work. Employers should create opportunities for workers to be autonomous, or to work and make some decisions on their own. Autonomy can allow employees to feel personally responsible for their work.

Sometimes it's hard to gauge how we are doing when we receive no feedback. Workers should receive regular feedback on job performance. This feedback should be woven into the task itself.

Self-Leadership Theory

You've probably heard it said that a team is only as strong as its weakest link. This could also apply to an organization or company. If each and every member is not showing up to do their best work, just one could impact the overall productivity of the organization.

The self-leadership theory proposes ways to help improve employee self-management or self-control through behavior, thoughts, or reward.

Self-management can ensure that every worker is monitoring the quality of their own work. This can be done by creating ways for employees to increase self-awareness and internal motivation.

There are eight core competencies and skills one must possess for self-leadership:

  1. Self-awareness and self-knowledge.

  2. Constructive thinking and decision-making.

  3. Ability to identify desired experiences (or what makes you happy).

  4. Optimize motivation.

  5. Consistent planning and goal-setting.

  6. Willingness to seek social support and resources when needed.

  7. Constant evaluation of, and improvement in, performance.

  8. Embrace failure, and long-term commitment to goals.

Improved self-leadership can influence employee stress, mood, and satisfaction. It can also impact organizational outcomes such as turnover and absences.

Path-Goal Theory

If a goal or task does not seem very rewarding, it's difficult to feel motivated to see it through. It's easy for us to think it's not worth our time or energy.

The path-goal theory argues that a leader must help employees recognize ways in which the rewards outweigh the risks.

A leader should use at least one of the following four leadership styles. However, the most effective leader would use a combination of all four. The four styles are as follows:

Directive Leadership

Effective leaders provide guidance by setting acceptable standards and expectations of job performance.

Supportive Leadership

Effective leaders should show compassion and understanding for subordinates and should be genuinely concerned for their well-being.

Participative Leadership

Effective leaders consult employees about ideas and suggestions and allow them to be part of the decision-making process on issues that directly affect them. Effective leaders will also value employee suggestions.

Achievement-Oriented Leadership

Effective leaders set appropriately challenging goals and high expectations for employee performance levels. They also regularly emphasize improvements in work performance.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology - Key takeaways

  • Industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology applies psychological principles to improve the workplace.
  • The industrial approach focuses on determining the skills required to perform a job successfully and using that information to help with employee recruitment, selection, placement, training, and development.
  • The organizational approach focuses on finding ways to improve culture and organizational structure to motivate employees, and improve job satisfaction and productivity.
  • Industrial-organizational psychology in the 1960s was revolutionised by the Civil Rights Movement. The passing of civil rights legislation meant that non-white workers who were commonly mistreated or overlooked in the workplace finally had the law on their side.

Frequently Asked Questions about Industrial-Organizational Psychology

The main concerns of IO psychologists are to create a happier, more productive workforce. Industrial-organizational psychology relies heavily on testing techniques, extensive research, and quantitative methods. I/O psychologists use statistics and empirical data to make decisions rather than clinical judgment and are therefore highly trained in these skills.

Industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology applies psychological principles to improve the workplace.

An example of an industrial/organizational psychologist can be found in marketing, human resources, corporate business, nonprofits, government, and higher education.

Industrial-organizational psychology applies psychological principles to the workplace such as principles of behavior, learning, motivation, and group behavior or dynamics.

There are two approaches to industrial-organizational psychology: the industrial approach (personnel psychology) and the organizational approach (organizational psychology). 


The industrial approach focuses on determining the skills required to perform a job successfully and using that information to help with employee recruitment, selection, placement, training, and development. 


The organizational approach focuses on finding ways to improve culture and organizational structure to motivate employees and improve job satisfaction and productivity.

Final Industrial-Organizational Psychology Quiz

Question

What is industrial-organizational psychology?

Show answer

Answer

Industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology applies psychological principles to improve the workplace.

Show question

Question

The ____________ approach focuses on determining the skills required to perform a job successfully and using that information to help with employee recruitment, selection, placement, selection, training, and development.

Show answer

Answer

industrial approach

Show question

Question

The __________ approach focuses on finding ways to improve culture and organizational structure to motivate employees and improve job satisfaction and productivity.


Show answer

Answer

organizational

Show question

Question

What is human factors psychology?

Show answer

Answer

Human factors psychology applies what we know about human abilities, limitations, and characteristics to their job duties, work environment, and the design of machines used at work.

Show question

Question

What was the impact of World War I on the field of industrial-organizational psychology?


Show answer

Answer

Suddenly, thousands of soldiers would be returning home and need to be assigned to a unit.  Queue I/O psychologists who were then hired to test recruits and appropriately place them in a position.

Show question

Question

The ____________ is the condition in which employee productivity improves when they are being studied or receive attention from managers.

Show answer

Answer

Hawthorne effect

Show question

Question

What as the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on the field of I/O Psychology?

Show answer

Answer

Industrial-organizational psychologists had an additional layer to consider (one that should have been considered all along) and that is the development of fair selection techniques while hiring.

Show question

Question

How did I/O psychology shfit in the 1980s and 1990s?

Show answer

Answer

I/O psychologists started to develop even more sophisticated statistical techniques.

Show question

Question

Work in developed countries has gone from farming to manufacturing to ____________.

Show answer

Answer

knowledge work

Show question

Question

What are the five primary factors that will increase employee notification according to the job characteristics theory? 


Show answer

Answer

1. Skill variety 

2. Task identity

3. Task significance 

4. Autonomy 

5. Feedback

Show question

Question

Define the self-leadership theory.

Show answer

Answer

The self-leadership theory proposes ways to help improve employee self-management or self-control through behavior, thoughts, or reward.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not one of the leadership styles suggested in the path-goal theory?

Show answer

Answer

Non-directive leadership

Show question

Question

True or False? Industrial-organizational psychology continues to evolve based on factors such as flexible work schedules and family-friendly work policies. 


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Finally, by the 2000s, __________ has made significant progress and many of the techniques used in industrial-organizational psychology became digitized.

Show answer

Answer

technology

Show question

Question

What does the path-goal theory say?


Show answer

Answer

The path-goal theory argues that a leader must help employees recognize ways in which the rewards outweigh the risks.

Show question

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