Applying psychology to ‘make work not suck’
Industrial-organizational psychology (or I-O psychology) is the scientific study of human behaviour and attitudes in the workplace. It applies psychological theories and approaches to maximize individual, group and organizational potential… or in the words of Adam Grant (our one and only famous I-O psychologist), it helps “make work not suck.”
I-O psychologists are qualified coaches, consultants, trainers, facilitators, and assessors. They may work directly in human resources departments or act as independent consultants that are called into an organization to solve a particular problem.
Two Pillars of I-O
First, there’s the industrial side (also referred to as personnel psychology), which involves looking at how to best match individuals to specific jobs. This includes:
- Assessing employee characteristics,
- Matching employees to jobs that suit their characteristics,
- Training and developing employees,
- Developing job performance standards, and
- Measuring job performance.
Then, there’s the organizational side, which is more focused on leveraging organizational systems and structures to affect individual behavior. This includes:
- Designing organizational structures,
- Moulding social and cultural norms of the organization,
- Developing policies and procedures,
- Evaluation and improve the quality of employee relationships, and
- Assessing and developing leadership styles.
What types of work do I-O psychologists do?
Most I-O psychologists work in one of these six areas:
1. Organizational Development
Designing (and redesigning) organizational structures to improve performance—from increasing revenues, reducing cost, fostering innovation and more.
2. Personnel Selection and Assessment
Developing and administering employee assessments—like screening, personality and aptitude tests—to help businesses place employees in the right type of job for them.
3. Training and Development
Determining what type of skills, knowledge, abilities and other attributes (or KSAOs for short) are necessary to perform specific jobs, and developing training programs to enhance them.
4. Performance Management
Evaluating and monitoring employees’ performance, and designing environments that enable them to meet their potential, including developing reward and recognition systems.
5. Leadership Development
Helping managers and supervisors develop new strategies and skills to manage their teams more effectively.
6. Team Dynamics
Assessing team performance and dynamics, and providing tools to improve communication, collaboration and conflict resolution.
Hot Topics in I-O Psychology
Emerging specialties in the field also include:
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Developing goals, strategies, and practices to support greater diversity in the workplace, and leverage it to achieve a competitive business advantage. Increasingly important as employers tap into diverse, globalized talent pools and respond to emerging social movements like Indigenous reconciliation and BLM!
Helping prepare, equip and support organizations to adopt changes, minimizing resistance and maximizing positive outcomes. Increasingly important for large technology transformations—like enterprise-resource planning (ERP) or cloud solutions—required to manage agile (and often distributed) workforces.
Improving employee satisfaction and motivation by finding by improving the quality of jobs and organizational systems and structures. Increasingly important to retain top talent in a market where demand outweighs supply.
Designing the structure and quality of the work to improve the physical and mental health of employees and promote work-life balance. Increasingly important as employees reach the highest levels of burnout and mental health challenges amid the pandemic.
Strategically planning to have employees willing and able to step into key positions as others leave the company, retire or pass away so the organization can continue to function effectively. Increasingly important as Baby Boomers retire and employees job-hop more frequently than ever before.