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 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 reversed 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 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 understand both statistics and human behavior, and their skills are in high demand. They are able to interpret big data and direct companies in their marketing decisions.