What Is Industrial Organizational Psychology? - Definition, History & Topics

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  • 0:00 Definition of I/O Psychology
  • 1:03 History of I/O Psychology
  • 2:03 Industrial Side of the Field
  • 3:41 Organizational Side of…
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Industrial/Organizational Psychology takes the scientific study of human behavior and applies it to the workplace to increase employee, employer and consumer satisfaction. This lesson explains the history and current practices of the field and tests your understanding with a brief quiz.

Definition of I/O Psychology

Imagine a place loaded with sunshine, game rooms, free cafes, lounges offering free massages, bicycles, slides, and loads of really happy people. That sounds like fun, doesn't it? What if I told you that it was someone's office? You might agree that going to work in that office sounds like a vacation rather than work! Well, the office described was designed by industrial/organizational psychologists who understand that happy workers are better workers.

Industrial/organization psychology (I/O Psychology) is a field of psychology that applies the fundamental scientific principles of psychology to the workplace environment to make work more fun and more productive. Think about the jobs that you have held. What were the things that made you love going to work each day? What things at the workplace made you want to call in sick? These are the types of things that I/O psychologists are interested in finding out.

History of I/O Psychology

I/O psychology is fairly new, emerging just over 100 years ago as a result of the industrial revolution in America. During that period, assembly lines were introduced to reduce the amount of time and skill it took to build things. Workers were forced to maintain an incredibly exhausting pace in terms of production and frequently encountered unhealthy work environments and low wages. Workers did not feel connected to their work, their company, or their coworkers. Companies were seeing a decline in profits and worker enthusiasm and wanted to figure out what was going on.

Researchers in psychology determined that when people are overworked and unhappy on the job, they are not as reliable or productive and profits decrease. These findings taught employers that happy employees turn out better products and higher profits. It makes sense doesn't it? When you feel appreciated at work or school and enjoy being there, you typically perform better!

Industrial Side of the Field

How do you know if you are selecting a career that will be a good match for you? Let's say that Joe just graduated from college with a degree in marketing. Joe is applying for a sales position at ABC advertising company. A big part of this job will be to sell advertising to new clients. In addition to a degree in marketing, this position requires an outgoing personality because Joe will have to be willing to approach strangers and convince them to buy advertisements from him. Clearly, the right person for this job will be able to handle frequent rejections! Joe describes himself as a shy and quiet person who needs constant approval. Will he thrive in this position? Of course not, because Joe's personality does not match up with the job requirements.

The industrial side of the field, the I in I/O, focuses on job analysis, employee selection, training, and performance appraisal. If you have ever applied for a job, then you have personal experience with this aspect of I/O psychology. The process of hiring begins well before a potential employee fills out an application with a very detailed description of the position, necessary skills, and responsibilities. This makes sure that people like Joe do not waste time applying for positions that don't match their personality and skill levels.

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