What is industrial and organizational psychology?
Industrial and organizational psychology may not be the most well-known field of psychology, but its recognition as a specialization by the American Psychological Association goes back to 1996. Industrial and organizational psychology, often simply called I-O psychology, is the study of people in organizations such as businesses, academia, government, and a multitude of other industries. The knowledge of individual, group, and company behavior is analyzed and applied to solve problems apparent in the workplace. This does, however, make I-O psychology a bit of an outlier in the field of psychology. As industrial and organizational psychology is not only treating a person, but treating a business.
Common across the discipline of psychology, raised awareness and willingness to change behaviors that are detrimental to the individual, have resulted in the birth of new study fields. I-O psychology is no different, having also seen the effects of this social phenomenon. In I-O psychology, the focus is on the health of the team and how this impacts on the health of the organization. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average American spends 8.5 hours at work each day. It is this recognition of the time spent in the workplace and the importance of the employee attachment to the success of an organization, that has led to the predicted 3% rise of I-O psychologists over the next 10 years.
With such an impressive job title, it is worth unraveling what it is exactly that an I-O psychologist does. The goal of an I-O psychologist is to support and improve the overall well-being of employees and the organizations they work for. The work of an I-O psychologist, depending on their place of work, can be simplified into:
- Employee selection – this part is simple. One of the roles of an I-O psychologist in the workplace is to find employees with the skills and experience that match the job description and can fit in an existing team within the organization.
- Maximizing performance – one goal of an I-O psychologist is to maximize the performance of a company. This can include the identification of blocks that reduce the performance, and the implementation of solutions to promote organizational success.
- Organizational development – often this development refers to profit increases, product design, and company restructure.
- Performance management – this part of an I-O psychologist’s job is to assess how well employees are doing their jobs. This can be done through interviews, assessments, and surveys.
- Training and development – initially this involves the identification of skill gaps within the employee population. From this data, training and development programs are introduced to ensure this gap is closed and to maximize the overall performance of the company.
- Employee satisfaction – Importantly, an I-O psychologist looks at the overall happiness and satisfaction of employees and how it relates to performance. This can be through training, team building, and other programs that improve satisfaction in the workplace.
The combination of research and practical application makes this a dynamic study and career choice. If you are interested in the psychology of a workplace and that of the workforce, I-O psychology will be a fascinating area of study for you.
Requirements to study industrial and organizational psychology
On an undergraduate level
At the time you enroll in an undergraduate program, you may only have a vague idea as to your study and career goals. This is fine, although having taken courses in high school in math, science and statistics will set you on the right path towards I-O psychology. To apply, you will need to have academic transcripts with a minimum GPA score of 3.0., a personal statement, and letters of recommendation.
Your bachelor’s degree will take, on average, 4 years to complete, with the first 2 years being general education and the final 2 allowing you to specialize and major in your field of interest. Your undergraduate degree need not be in psychology, as graduate programs often welcome applicants who have majored in finance, business, education, or another field that is relevant to understanding the culture of organizations and industries. If you do choose to study psychology as an undergraduate, some colleges offer industrial and organizational psychology as a major. Example programs include:
- Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in psychology with a concentration in industrial and organizational psychology – this degree provides an introduction to the general discipline of psychology and the subfield of I-O psychology. Being a humanities-based degree, the focus of the program is human behaviors; the why, what, and how individuals respond to different stimuli in different environments.
- Bachelor of Science (B.S) in industrial and organizational psychology- this program looks at workplace psychology, topics like leadership and motivation are often covered.
- Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in psychology with a concentration in industrial and organizational psychology – this degree also covers the discipline of psychology and incorporates I-O subjects that guide your understanding of organizations from a psychological standpoint, for example, the influence that salary levels have on productivity.
Should you choose to end your studies upon completion of your undergraduate degree, you can enter the workforce. Careers in human resources, training and development, and employee training are all possibilities for those who hold a bachelor’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology.
On a graduate level
During your undergraduate degree, you may decide that you’d like to continue your studies. To be accepted onto a graduate course in industrial and organizational psychology, most schools require a 3.0 GPA or higher with many schools also requesting good results in the GRE.
In preparation for your application, it’s best to take a look at the school you’re interested in to check for any specific entry requirements. Many colleges offer a Master of Arts (M.A.) in I-O psychology and a Master of Science (M.S.) in I-O psychology with similar programs. Most programs allow you to choose an area to concentrate on, for example, human resources, or conflict resolution.
A master’s degree takes an average of 2 years to complete if you study full time. During this time, you may need to complete some practical training and research, depending on the degree.
On a doctorate level
Doctorate degrees are the highest level of study for industrial and organizational psychologists. Career options with a doctorate tend to come with greater responsibility and pay. Generally, within psychology, a doctoral degree is essential for licensure. Yet in I-O psychology, licenses are not usually mandatory; deciding to commit to a doctoral degree is optional, although some employers may seek this qualification in prospective employees.
Psy.D. and Ph.D. degrees are available in I-O psychology and your choice of degree will be determined by your interests. A Ph.D. program is very research-based and you will be required to write, present, and defend a thesis at the end of the 4-5 year course. Research psychologists and professors of I-O psychology may choose this course of study due to the research and analysis involved in study and future careers.
A Psy.D. program would be a good choice if you would like to work with people. Many I-O psychologists work within companies and act as go-betweens between upper management and employees, so great diplomacy and people skills are a must. On a Psy.D. course, you will take part in supervised practical training and this will prepare you, over the course of 4-6 years, for your future employment in human resources, for example.
What will I study?
Your bachelor’s degree will take 4 years to complete as a full-time student. Some colleges do offer specific industrial and organizational psychology programs, and on these courses, you can expect to cover some of the following topics:
- An introduction to psychology
- Assessment and testing
- Cognitive psychology
- Industrial and organizational psychology
- Research methods
- Social psychology
Most undergraduate programs do not require an internship or practical experience as the courses are research-based. However, if possible look for opportunities to gain practical experience. This gives you insight into what the work may entail, and if you like it, is something that will make your resume stand out.
In master’s programs, most often M.A. and M.S. in I-O psychology programs, you study all aspects related to this subfield. In graduate I-O psychology courses, common study topics are:
- Human behavior
- Organizational behavior
- Personnel selection
- Survey development
The availability of specific courses will depend on the degree and college.
In addition to your coursework and research, you can decide to engage in an internship. As with the undergraduate program, this is not a compulsory requisite, although the benefits are obvious. Some useful internships take place in:
- Healthcare facilities – an example of this internship is looking at health and safety regulations in companies, learning about the importance of breaks and work hour regulations determined by law.
- Businesses – this valuable internship shows interns and students the dynamics of a specific business environment. Interns will learn about the social aspects of businesses and companies and see how important good internal relationships are.
The Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) often advertises internships on their website. This encourages students in the I-O field to get practical, useful experience while completing their studies.
Can I study on campus or online?
Online and on-campus study is available for students of I-O psychology at all degree levels. Often, undergraduate study takes place on campus as this is an experience in itself. It is also a good introduction to college life and the expectations of campus study. Online study may require you to be more disciplined and this is often more common in older students in graduate programs.
What is the cost?
Studies done by the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) show that, in recent years, the average cost of a bachelor’s degree is $17,797-$43,139 per year. This large cost discrepancy can be related to the different costs incurred by in-state versus out-of-state students and private versus public colleges.
Accreditations and licenses
Accreditation of I-O programs is an interesting topic. The APA does not accredit industrial and organizational courses because of the research-based study in this field. As an example, to accredit an internship or practicum, the APA would need to assess the workplace. A private organization is not required to allow assessment by an outside association so there would be no way for an assessment to take place.
This also applies for licenses, in general. The APA writes on its website “The distinct focus of I/O psychology is on human behavior in work settings. Therefore, the populations affected by the practice of I/O psychology include individuals in and applicants to business, industry, labor, public (including non-profit), academic, community and health organizations.” Some states specifically prohibit the licensure of industrial and organizational psychologists.
This fact is responsible for the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists (SIOP) deciding to develop a network system that allows for I-O psychologists to become licensed, if this is permitted by the individual state. The SIOP can guide licensing boards through the process of evaluation required for licensure.
Additionally, there is the possibility that an I-O psychologist, as a consultant, would need to travel outside of their state to work. This could be an issue due to state licensing. To combat this, the SIOP states that “A licensed I-O psychologist should be allowed to practice in another state for a reasonable period without having to obtain a license in that state.”
The costs listed above, for campus and online degrees, are not small. Therefore it is good to know that you could be eligible for financial support. Federal financial aid, grants, scholarships, and loans are some programs that can help you with the cost of tuition. On the Federal Student Aid website, you can find information about these different options.
As a graduate student, you are considered to be independent, hence your parent’s information is not required when you apply for financial aid. Applying to FAFSA (federal student aid) and following the steps will better inform you about the type of aid and the amount you are eligible for.
I-O psychologists work in 4 main areas: businesses, as consultants, within government, and in academia. Most I-O psychologists have a master’s or a doctorate but there are employment opportunities for all levels of graduates of I-O psychology programs. According to the APA, the average annual salary for an I-O psychologist is $80,000 and some can earn up to $250,000 per year.
Some attractive career options for an I-O psychologist are: