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What is Industrial-Organizational (I/O) Psychology and how can it help your organization?

Updated: May 6



What is I/O Psychology?

There are numerous branches within the field of psychology, one of which is I/O psychology. The “I/O” in I/O psychology stands for Industrial-Organizational. I/O psychology is the use of research, theories, and best practices from various areas of psychology and human resource approaches to improve the work and family lives of employees. I/O psychology focuses on evidence-based tactics to improve the overall work climate.


Where did I/O Psychology come from?

In 1973, the fields of Industrial Psychology (individual testing and assessments) and Organizational Psychology (social psychology and organizational development) merged into Industrial-Organizational Psychology. The field of I/O psychology also adopted concentrations from Industrial Social Psychology (group processes and motivation). I/O psychology is also known as Business Psychology or Personnel Psychology. Previous labels included Economic Psychology and Employment Psychology.[i]


What do I/O psychologists do?

I/O psychologists enhance productivity and efficiency in the workplace while also optimizing well-being of the workforce.[ii] I/O psychologists research and provide solutions to common workplace issues. They also advise policy planners and executives regarding ways to enhance employee engagement and resolve conflicts. They can also work with marketing departments to influence consumer behaviors. In essence, they integrate strategy with psychology by bridging research, theory, and practice. I/O psychologists can assist nearly any professional area, to include government, research, academia, non-profits, and for profit organizations.


What do I/O psychologists study?

I/O psychologists are trained and educated in a wide variety of topics and sub-specialties aimed at aiding employees, employers, and organizations.[iv] Foundational areas include but are not limited to: Data analysis, problem solving, and decision-making. Core competencies include research methods (inductive and deductive reasoning, research synthesis, and research design), statistical methods (quantitative and qualitative data analysis), and organization theory (theories of organizational structure, design, structures, functions, processes, culture and climate). Core content usually consists of strategic human resource planning, strategic management concepts, organizational development, training, leadership coaching, and organizational design. Additional areas of study often include communication, strategy alignment, organizational change, job/task analysis, job design, competency building, modern group processes and team topics such as virtual teams, cross-cultural teams, and multi-team systems.


What are an I/O psychologist’s areas of expertise?

Due to their education and training, I/O psychologists have competence in multiple related disciplines, to include:

  • Change Management

  • Diversity and Inclusion

  • Training and Development

  • Consulting Practices and Ethical Issues

  • Cross-Cultural Issues related to the workplace

  • Professional Development and Job Performance

  • Personnel Recruitment, Selection, and Placement

  • Performance Management and Appraisal/Feedback

  • Strategic Human Resources and Personnel Practices

  • Career Planning, Mentoring, Socialization, and Onboarding

  • Research methods, statistical methods, data analysis, synthesis

  • Organizational Development, Design, Culture/Climate, Performance

  • Employee Counseling, Retention and Engagement, Motivation/Rewards/Compensation


How does I/O psychology relate to other fields of psychology?

Within the scientific field of psychology, there are numerous major branches or sub-fields. Some examples include Clinical Psychology (providing care to patients suffering from mental illness), Educational Psychology (the study of factors that impact learning), and Health Psychology (the study of how social factors influence disease and illness). I/O Psychology is the application of psychological principles to the workplace and the study of how human behavior impacts behavior in industry and organizations. I/O Psychology also incorporates aspects of social psychology and sociology, to address occupational health and safety.


How do I/O psychologists help people and organizations?

I/O psychology takes a systems view of organizations and study the interrelatedness of an organization, employees, and its environment.[iii] I/O psychologists serve both the management and the worker by helping executives to link human capital to strategy implementation. They utilize education, research, training, experience, and expertise in multiple disciplines to bridge gaps between employees, workplace behaviors, social aspects, management, decision making, problem solving, organizational processes, innovation, and initiatives.




[i]Highhouse, S., & Schmitt, N. W. (Eds.). (2013). A snapshot in time: Industrial-organizational psychology today. In N. W. Schmitt, S. Highhouse, & I. B. Weiner (Eds.), Handbook of psychology: Industrial and organizational psychology (p. 3–13). John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [ii]Major, D. A., & Morganson, V. J. (2011). Applying industrial-organizational psychology to help organizations and individuals balance work and family. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 4, 398-401. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1754-9434.2011.01360.x [iii]Henson, R. M. (2012). Industrial-organizational and strategy are integrated in practice! Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 5(1), 82–119. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1754-9434.2011.01408.x [iv]Gibson, J. L., Payne, S. C., Morgan, W. B., & Allen, J. A. (2018). The society for industrial and organizational psychology’s guidelines for education and training: An executive summary of the 2016/2017 revision. American Psychologist. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000266