What is I-O Psychology?

So what is I-O psychology and what does it have to do with me and this blog?

Whenever I mention to someone that I am studying Industrial/Organizational (I-O) Psychology I am without fail met with either a blank stare or a look of awe as if I’m some super intelligent individual. I usually follow-up by saying that it’s either “workplace psychology” or “business psychology” both of which are oversimplifications of the field. However, simplifying it in such a way is usually necessary as  I-O psychology is not a commonly known field, which makes some sense given that it’s relatively small  (less than a few thousand I-O’s) compared to other fields. Despite the size of the field, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently ranked I-O psychology as the #1 fastest growing occupation between now and 2022, which has assuredly sparked increased attention and knowledge of the field. The purpose of this blog post is to briefly orient the reader to I-O psychology, describe how I became interested in the field, and explain how I will integrate I-O psychology in the larger context of my blog.

Taken directly from our professional website SIOP.org, I-O psychology is “the scientific study of working and the application of that science to workplace issues facing individuals, teams, and organizations. The scientific method is applied to investigate issues of critical relevance to individuals, businesses, and society.” In other words, I-O’s apply science to improve the performance, efficiency, and productivity of organizations. While this description seems central to the work setting, the application of I-O actually extends beyond that to include topics related to family, culture, legislation, etc. A simple breakdown of I-O psychology would include field (“I” vs. “O”) and type of job (academic or practitioner).  The “I” side is referred to as personnel (or industrial) psychology and includes topics such as recruitment, selection, training, performance appraisal, and termination. The “O” side is referred to as organizational psychology and includes topics related to the emotional and motivational aspects of work (e.g., well-being, diversity, teams, etc.). I-O’s with academic jobs work for colleges and universities with a focus on research, teaching, and service; whereas I-O’s with practitioner jobs apply I-O principles to address problems of organizations and commonly work as external or internal consultants. (This is a very brief and simplistic introduction to this field. If you would like to learn more, please visit SIOP.org.)

So, how did I become interested in I-O psychology? I actually became interested  in issues related to this field in my teenage years. Growing up in a single-parent household, I witnessed the direct impact that work-related stressors (e.g., work overload) that my mother experienced had on family life, as it was clear that these two domains were in conflict for her. Moreover, I had a less than stellar experience working one summer in a warehouse. During this summer experience, I witnessed the influence of ineffective leadership on the morale and performance of lower-level employees. In both of these experiences, I found myself asking if there was a way that work could be more fulfilling and motivating and less like a necessary evil. In the case of my mom and others experiencing work-family conflict, is there a way that this could be reduced and both domains could be compatible? In the case of poor leadership negatively affecting employees, are there more effective leadership styles that could lead to improved morale and performance among employees? Enter I-O psychology! The short answer to both of those questions is YES. As I continue to develop in this field, I increasingly understand the importance of our work as I-O psychologists. Essentially each and every person will or does work in some way shape or form. What’s more, we spend over half our waking days at work! Since so many people are working and spending so much time at work, I find it personally fulfilling to be involved in the study and application of concepts that have a wide-reaching effect on real people’s everyday lives.

Lastly, what does I-O psychology have to do with this blog and how will I integrate it? If you have perused through even a few of my blog posts I’m sure you caught wind of the fact that I talk a lot about God, Christianity, and related topics. How then can something as seemingly disparate as I-O psychology “fit” within the context of this blog? I personally believe that God and the characteristics of God can be seen in literally all facets of our life. Recall that I mentioned that mostly everyone comes in contact with work and we spend a lot of our time working. “Work” (and topics related to work) is a facet of life that I believe God and his characteristics can be seen in, considering that, in my belief, work was His idea in the first place. So what you will see in the I-O psychology section of this blog is how God intersects with many of the topics I am currently studying and coming across in I-O psychology. With my research focusing on work-family, career development, leadership, and motivation, you will see a wide array of topics discussed.

Interested in I-O yet?

Me presenting research at the 30th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in Philadelphia, PA




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