Editor’s note: An experienced industrial and organizational (I-O) psychologist, Dr. Lori LaCivita is currently the program director for I-O psychology programs at Walden. She specializes in helping individuals and organizations unlock their potential, develop a clear vision, and establish a path to sustainability. In addition to her more than 25 years of experience in higher education, Dr. LaCivita has worked extensively in the areas of learner-centered approaches to education, employee and organizational development, emotional intelligence assessment and enhancement, and evidence-based coaching psychology.
What does a company do when too few of its employees are successfully completing a specialized training program or employees are not meeting a desired outcome or goal? Today, many organizations turn to an industrial and organizational (I-O) psychologist for help.
Those of us trained in I-O psychology are focused on the scientific study of the workplace. We apply methods of psychology to issues of critical relevance to employees and the workplace. We understand people and workplace behavior. To improve organizations, we bring together industrial psychology’s focus on testing and selection of the best individuals for jobs along with the skills of organizational psychology, which involves examining interpersonal relationships, group dynamics, and leadership. Working at the crossroads of business and psychology, we help organizations maximize their human capital by using science-based psychological assessments to strengthen performance. We’re the experts human resource management departments bring in to diagnose situations, interpret data, and build interventions based on our findings.
How do we do this? As I-O psychologists, we assess people for motivation, empathy, leadership skills, suitability for a position and potential for job burnout. We look at employees’ attitudes toward work and the alignment of organizational culture, create and evaluate training and development programs, coach employees and address how to manage conflict and change. We create surveys and use tools that help people and organizations work effectively across cultures and with diverse colleagues in a virtual or on-site environment. In short, we enable employees to reach their full potential so organizations can also achieve optimal effectiveness, success, and sustainability.
In the case of assessment and selection for good fit, how would an I-O psychologist address this issue with an organization that has experienced high turnover and loss of return on investment (ROI) by having to continually train employees who leave the position in a short period of time? In one such situation, an I-O psychologist created an assessment tool for use in the employee selection process. Candidates were evaluated on the basis of several important qualities: assertiveness, independence, flexibility, problem solving, and impulse control. With the tool in place, the ROI rate rose dramatically, saving the company millions of dollars by reducing overall training costs by selecting more suitable candidates from the onset.
I-O psychologists work in nearly every Fortune 700 company, a wide range of public and private businesses, the military, nonprofit research organizations, and colleges and universities. Our skills and knowledge are in demand both nationally and internationally, especially in rapidly developing countries such as China and India. This is due to increasing government influences, growing consumer awareness, skill shortages, and the changing nature of the workforce.
Sound interesting? Here are a few things you’ll want to know:
I-O psychology is a growing field. Organizations are realizing that they’re only as strong as their employee base. Now that the economy is improving and older workers are leaving the workforce, organizations want to hire and keep the best talent. Business needs and the successful track record of I-O psychologists are creating a surge of interest in the discipline and growing opportunities in the field. In the United States alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs for I-O psychologists will increase by 53% between 2012 and 2022, making it the fastest growing field within psychology.
Globalization is spurring demand. Globalization is creating more opportunities for I-O psychologists around the world. Companies rely on us to know the political, social, legal, and cultural aspects of the countries where they do business and to translate this into organizational needs. We also help global organizations bridge the gap between virtual and on-site employees, ensuring that everyone feels connected and can work together in an efficient manner.
Career paths are varied. With a master’s or doctoral degree in I-O psychology, you can take your career in many directions, including consulting; testing and assessment; employee relations; talent management; executive coaching; organizational development; and training, research, and academia. Your knowledge is applicable in many industries and types of businesses. For example, some I-O psychologists work only with family-operated businesses, where an understanding of leadership issues and relationships is key.
I-O psychologists have diverse backgrounds. Students interested in programs like Walden’s new MS and PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology may or may not have backgrounds in psychology. Some want to pursue the degree to help gain a promotion to a leadership position. Others want to add I-O psychology expertise to their current skill set. Still others are simply intrigued by I-O psychology and want to learn more. Rather than a specific background, I-O psychologists need curiosity and an interest in understanding human behavior and motivation and how these relate to the workplace.
I’ve been an I-O psychologist for many years now, and I still love my career choice. I continue to find it satisfying to help organizations build high-performing teams and develop practices that sustain success. I’m never bored, and I learn something new every day.
Best of all, the field is so varied that you will have the opportunity to change your career path as you evolve and grow professionally so that you, too, can reach your full potential.