I-O Psychology Resources

What is Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA): “The specialty of Industrial-Organizational psychology (also called I-O psychology) is characterized by the scientific study of human behavior in organizations and the workplace. The specialty focuses on deriving principles of individual, group and organizational behavior and applying this knowledge to the solution of problems at work.” 

People spend the majority of their waking hours at work and it is one of life’s most significant domains. I-O psychologists are interested in people at work, and how work affects people’s lives outside of work. We apply psychological principles and scientific methods to understand, explain, and enhance human behaviors in the workplace, and to understand how the workplace can affect human experiences in other life domains. I/O psychology is largely an applied science, meaning that most research in the field has direct and practical applications to problems in the world. 

I-O psychology uses a variety of psychological methods and approaches to study people at work – and beyond work. We use qualitative and quantitative methods, experimental and non-experimental approaches, and inductive and deductive methods. The field of I-O psychology is leading the way in terms of Future of Work and Big Data (e.g., technology, data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence) approaches in psychology. You can see a list of “hot topics” in I-O psychology on the SIOP website.

As psychologists, we focus on enhancing individual and organizational well-being. There are a few broad goals that I-O psychologists work toward.

What do the "I" and "O" stand for?

While you probably know what the “I” and “O” in I/O psychology stand for, the practical differences between the two are often a little less clear. Broadly speaking, industrial psychology tends to deal with topics that are focused on the assessment of individual attributes relevant to the workplace and making inferences based on those assessments. On the other hand, organizational psychology tends to deal with topics that are focused on human behavior in organizational settings. There is undoubtedly overlap between the two sides, and some see the dichotomy as unnecessary and unhelpful. With that caveat in mind, below we present some topics that are traditionally considered to belong to the “I” and “O” sides.

What do I-O psychologists do?

I-O psychologists can be broadly categorized as scientists or practitioners. The former work mostly in university psychology or management departments, and the latter work in a wide variety of industry settings including (but not limited to) consulting firms, government agencies, HR departments at large organizations, and as self-employed freelancers. Importantly, the work of some I-O psychologists does not fall neatly into these categories, but includes both academic research and practice, with one as the focus. Within the scientist and practitioner roles, there are many areas of specialization. To provide a preview into what you might do day-to-day, we interviewed individuals with an I/O psychology background who are working in a variety of positions.

How does I-O psychology differ from organizational behavior and human resources?

I-O psychology has significant overlaps with organizational behavior and human resources. The Industrial component overlaps with human resources, and the Organizational component overlaps with organizational behavior.

In general, human resources and organizational behavior emphasize the logistical and functional components of how to manage people at work (e.g., compensation, performance management systems). I-O psychology emphasizes the scientific study of work, workers, and the workplace. That is, we focus on the use of scientific principles and methods to uncover and evaluate organizational phenomena. Therefore, a lot of emphases is placed on cutting-edge measurement and assessments, research design, and technological innovation. Although I-O psychologists often study the workplace using multiple levels of analysis (e.g., individual workers, teams, and organizations), I-O psychologists tend to focus on outcomes experienced by workers (e.g., employee well-being, attitudes, productivity, and careers) rather than exclusively organizational-level outcomes (e.g., company sales, operating expenses).

I-O psychologists are applied psychologists and are trained as scientist-practitioners. We value research that has practical value to employees and organizations, in addition to theoretical contributions. Graduates of I-O Ph.D. programs have the choice of careers in academic research (e.g., professors, researchers) or industry (e.g., consultants), and many I-O psychologists are involved in both science and practice.

What is the professional organization of I-O psychology?

The professional organization for I-O psychologists is the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). Our organization is a division of the American Psychological Association (APA; Division 14). There are roughly about 10,000 members worldwide in SIOP.

What are the job prospects of I-O psychologists?

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job prospects for I-O psychologists are excellent. In 2014, I-O psychologists ranked #1 among the fastest-growing occupations. I-O psychologists work in academia (psychology departments, management departments), federal governments, consulting organizations. Our Purdue alumni have gone on to become professors at many top-ranked universities (e.g., BGSU, Houston, NIU, George Mason, UTSA, Georgia Tech, etc.) and acclaimed organizations (e.g., Google, PepsiCo, DDI, IBM, NATO, etc.).

According to SIOP’s 2019 report, the median salary of members who hold a master’s degree in I-O is $89k per annum; the median salary of members who hold a doctorate degree in I-O is $125k per annum. You can learn more about I-O psychologists from O*NET Online.

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