Industrial psychology looks at behavior that occurs within the workplace. Also called industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology, people who work in this field might study worker personalities and performances, or the interactions between the individuals within a business or organization. As advisers, these professionals may provide recommendations for how to resolve conflicts, increase worker productivity, and improve employee morale, among other things.
Most aspects of industrial psychology, from study to application, take place within a business environment, from manufacturing plants to global corporations. Researchers may study how people work together, how the work environment affects employee mood and behavior, abuse and bullying within the workplace, and many other issues. Employers may hire an expert in this field to come into the workplace and advise on areas that need improvement, such as job performance or employee health. Some I/O psychologists specialize in single major issues, such as occupational health psychology.
When employed to advise a company, the psychologist will draw on his or her knowledge about psychological areas and theories particularly important in the workplace, such as motivation and sociology. He or she may then give employees assessment tests to find out what they think about their jobs, other employees, and the company in general. The psychologist may interview individuals to get a deeper look at any potential problems within the workplace, as well as observing how workers behave in practice. Experts in industrial psychology are often employed to be problem solvers, helping to give businesses and organizations a more efficient structure.
Industrial psychology often focuses on worker interaction and satisfaction. Employees who work together well and are happy in their jobs can significantly strengthen a business or organization. A number of studies have shown a positive link between boosting employee morale and increasing workplace performance. Psychologists try to get a feel for the relationship an employee has to both the work itself and to his or her manager and co-workers.
Common workplace issues might include disruptive employee behavior, lack of teamwork, or personality clashes between employees. In these cases, the adviser might play the role of mediator and attempt to open lines of communication between conflicting parties. Workshops that simulate disputes and demonstrate effective ways to settle these conflicts could also be used. I/O psychologists or advisers often lead training sessions dealing with sexual harassment and cultural sensitivity, for example.
Once these and other problem areas are located within the organization, the adviser will usually develop a detailed plan for addressing them. In addition to workshops, feedback and reward systems are one common way of improving worker satisfaction, for example. The employees might be given incentives like an extended lunch break or public praise from his or her manager for performing a task well. In some cases, solutions are as simple as making the supervisor more accessible, showing that the company is interested in the ideas and concerns of all employees.
I/O experts may help create recruitment and training programs as part of a human resources department. In addition, they can help interviewers craft better questions to ask prospective employees. For example, a job interview might be structured so that the questions are aimed at uncovering an applicant’s personality and working style rather than focusing exclusively on a summary of his or her achievements.
Benefits are not limited to employees. This form of psychology can also help executives and managers adjust their way of thinking and their management style. An I/O adviser might work with an executive to get a clear idea of his or her personality and how he or she approaches management through personality tests and other measurement tools. They can then work together to come up with the most effective leadership techniques that take into account both the needs of the employees and the boss' own ingrained traits. Since executives are often the primary decision-makers for an organization, a well-rounded leader can often lessen worker stress levels, boost the satisfaction of employees, and improve the overall health of the company.
Individuals who want to work in industrial or organizational psychology should have an interest in psychology in general, an analytical mindset, and a steady temperament. Advanced education and training are also needed, which an individual can earn through a graduate school program. A student will be exposed to a wide range of industrial psychology theories, testing practices, and experimental approaches. Once the necessary graduate requirements, testing, and certification are completed, an individual will often have many employment opportunities in areas from government, to education, to human resources, to consulting.
Personality and intelligence measurement tests were developed for soldiers during World War I, and many companies wanted to use these devices for practical purposes. One of the key pioneers of the resulting organizational psychology movement was Walter Dill Scott, who answered the demand for worker selection tests with rating scales and group measures that considered intelligence, appearance, demeanor, sincerity, value, and other similar factors in determining workplace aptitude. These early tests created the foundation for contemporary industrial psychology testing.
Some later researchers focused on employee motivation, and were to demonstrate the adverse effects of fatigue and monotony on job performance. For example, the Western Electric Company of Illinois conducted a series of evaluations in 1927 that came to be known as the Hawthorne studies. They discovered that the effect of physical influences in the workplace often were not as important as psychological and social aspects. This and similar experiments helped give psychology in the workplace more validation and focus.