What is I/O Psychology?

The Basics of Industrial-Organizational Psychology

It’s an easy question to ask, but a little more difficult to answer. At the most basic level, I/O Psychology is the scientific study of people at work, and it’s comprised of two distinct branches:

  • Industrial which is all about recruitment, selection, performance appraisal, and other “numbers-oriented” constructs.
  • Organizational which includes the more warm and fuzzy topics such as motivation, leadership, and organizational development.

If we’re delving in a little deeper, though, it may be helpful to describe what I/O psychologists are and what we ain’t.

What Exactly Do Industrial-Organizational Psychologists Do?

I/O Psychologists come in a wide range of specialties. We study training, leadership, mentoring, selection, promotion, organizational change, diversity, and (the almighty) performance, just to name a few. And, I/O’s don’t just study. I/O Psychology hinges on a scientist-practitioner model, with some of us studying what’s right, what’s wrong (and why) and how to make it better, while others work with or in organizations implementing our discoveries about what really drives performance and engagement at work.

And as for what we don’t do? Well, I/O is not pure strategy, human resources, or management, although we often reside in the realm of where these three intersect. We work in consulting firms, Fortune 500 companies, government agencies (I could tell you who, but then they’d have to kill ya), business schools, colleges, and universities. For a group of professionals numbering around 6000, we’re everywhere. (Yes, it’s ok that you just cautiously looked over your shoulder.)

We are psychologists, but we aren’t your therapist.  Feelings matter, but we mostly care about them in relation to your work performance.  So, no, you may not just sit on the couch and tell me about your problems at work. Not unless you bring snacks. But if you want to talk about improving performance at work and aligning strategy and talent in your organization – we are there!

– written by Katie Bachman and Elizabeth Brashier –