Look up the United States Department of Labor’s occupational employment statistics for the profession of Industrial Organizational Psychologist and the first noticeable fact is that this is a very specialized field. That is a pro or con depending on the perspective. As a highly specialized occupation, qualified professionals earn high wages in most industries of employment, with the management, scientific and technical consulting services industry paying the highest salary. The con is the very fact it is a highly specialized occupation, meaning there is a limited number of employment opportunities. The May 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics figures indicate a total nationwide employment figure of 1,030 people. However, that does not include self-employed consultants, and there is rising interest in the profession as work environments become more complex and diverse.
The Industrial Organizational Psychologist is a bit misunderstood by those not familiar with this particular field of study. That can be a disadvantage to the newly hired because organizational members have to be taught more about the purpose and focus of the position before the person filling it can be fully functioning. Having the word “psychologist” in the title can lead people to believe the I-O Psychologist is the same type of professional as the psychologist people see when needing counseling. That is just not true, but it is necessary to bring people in the organization up to speed.
The unfamiliarity of the general public with the role of the Industrial Organizational Psychologist led the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, Inc. to hire a firm to raise awareness of the I-O psychology research and practice. The good news is that growing awareness of the importance of the Industrial Organizational Psychologist is bringing opportunities in a wider number of industries besides manufacturing and the military, like finance, healthcare, sports and more.
The Science of the Workplace
The Industrial Organizational Psychologist is a behavioral scientist applying psychological and scientific principles in the workplace. The complex nature of the profession is reflected in its title. As an industrial psychologist, the focus is on personnel psychology issues like employee motivation, training and development, productivity and work-life balance; the organizational psychologist focus is on organizational systems, leadership and management issues, team functioning and assessments.
Blending the two together creates a position that tries to find ways to scientifically understand and measure personnel behaviors to increase workforce satisfaction; improve hiring, promotion and retention policies and practices; increase productivity; assess organizational culture; and enhance organizational development strategies. With the advance of technology, the functions of the I-O Psychologist are expanding to accommodate the changes that technology brings to the workplace. One of the advantages of this position is that it is free to institute groundbreaking methods or research and assessment. The disadvantage is that change is constant as new workplace projects and needs frequently shift. Adaptability is a mandatory requirement.
The scientific nature of the position includes doing a significant amount of research, designing measurement tools, developing metrics, benchmarking and analyzing data. To enjoy working as an Industrial Organizational Psychologist, it is necessary to like working with data, conducting studies and tests, and doing research. Some might find this aspect of the job a bit tedious. Yet, it is an unusual job in that it enables working with people at all levels of the organization, including managers and general staff. In some cases, the I-O Psychologist also works with the Board of Directors since job responsibilities usually include addressing issues like workplace inclusiveness and leadership effectiveness.
Large Degree of Variability
One of the many advantages of this profession is that I-O Psychologists can work for private or government organizations, academic institutions or as an independent consultant. Consulting work expands specialization options. For example, there is a need for expert witnesses in cases of employment discrimination and who can make significant contributions to understanding associated quantitative and behavioral issues.(2)
Globalization and technology have created new opportunities, and this is an advantage of working in a profession that deals with workforce issues. Globalization presents unique challenges in areas of organizational diversity, culture development, training and development, teamwork, and hiring and retention. Technology has led to specialty areas like human-computer interaction and maintaining employee engagement in a global business.
The I-O Psychologist can approach the profession from different perspectives. Some people choose to concentrate on the selection and personality perspective. Another area of concentration is career development, and yet another perspective is measurement and training. Academics focus on research. From any perspective, being able to effectively manage change is an absolute necessity. Overall, the main advantage of being an Industrial Organizational Psychologist is that it offers a large degree of variability in terms of responsibilities and interests. There are virtually no limits or preconceived notions to hem in the professional. This is a growing field of interest offering exciting possibilities to anyone interested in workplace management.
- The Ins and Outs of Industrial Organizational Psychology (ncu.edu)
- Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s Identity Crisis and How to Fix It (workplacepsychology.net)