A master’s in industrial-organizational psychology, one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, equips you with the skills to work in the surprisingly broad field that revolves around applying the principles of psychology to the workplace. Three distinct subfields make up the specialized field of industrial-organizational psychology: industrial psychology, organizational psychology and human factors psychology. These three areas of the field each have a different focus, but together, they encompass the array of different aspects of work and workplaces that can affect the safety, performance and efficiency of individual workers and the organization as a whole.

Industrial Psychology

The industrial psychology subfield of industrial-organizational psychology focuses largely on recruiting, training and retaining workers and encompasses the entire process. Suppose a company brings in an industrial-organizational psychologist to focus on the industrial psychology side of preparing for a new hire. The industrial-organizational psychologist might start by working with the organization’s managers and administrators to identify the requirements and responsibilities of a position for which the organization is hiring. These requirements and job duties should be made clear in the job description.

As applications come in and the interview process commences, an industrial psychologist can help evaluate candidates. The industrial psychologist may identify employment tests that would be beneficial to use to assess whether applicants are the right fit for the job. Some types of employment tests used in industrial psychology include cognitive ability tests, physical ability tests, personality tests, job knowledge tests and integrity tests, according to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

Some hiring situations require extensive on-the-job training to get workers, especially inexperienced ones, up to speed. Even highly experienced workers need some amount of job training to align the way they work with company protocols and procedures. Part of industrial psychology is developing the training programs and methods used to effectively shape employees’ work styles and outcomes to meet the organization’s needs. Fair and insightful employee performance evaluations are part of a well-run workplace, and the principles of industrial psychology can be used to develop ways of measuring workers’ performance and their potential for promotion.

Aside from issues of business productivity and efficiency, legal issues – and how businesses handle them – can arise in the field of industrial-organizational psychology. One of these issues that is pertinent to industrial psychology is hiring discrimination laws.

Organizational Psychology

The organizational psychology subfield of industrial-organizational psychology focuses on relationships at work. The overall wellbeing of employees and the relationships they have with their jobs, their coworkers, their managers and the organization as a whole all impact a company’s performance. Worker satisfaction and ways of motivating employees are part of the field of organizational psychology. So much of company culture and worker satisfaction is affected by the words, actions and impressions made by company management, so evaluating management styles and leadership strategies used in an organization is also part of organizational psychology. Like other social groups, workplace culture encompasses certain social norms, role expectations and structures and hierarchies. Studying and optimizing these elements to improve the culture of a company is another aspect of organizational psychology.

The legal issues that are studied as part of the field of organizational psychology include violence and harassment in the work environment.

Human Factors Psychology

What Are the Three Most Important Fields of Industrial Organizational Psychology

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Although the subfield of human factors psychology doesn’t make it into the job title of an industrial-organizational psychologist, it does play an important part in making a workplace functional and efficient. Human factors psychology emphasizes the interactions between human workers and the tools, equipment, systems and procedures used to perform their work.

If you have ever worked at a station where the height of the desk, chair and computer monitor didn’t fit quite right, you have probably noticed that these factors take a toll on your productivity. Similarly, devices and tools that don’t function in intuitive ways can slow down an employee’s progress. In its most extreme situations, poor interactions between the human worker and the tools and work systems they have to deal with could lead to serious safety risks.

Although you can earn specialized degrees in human factors psychology, you can also tie together each of these subdisciplines under the umbrella of your industrial-organizational psychology career. Factors in each subfield affect an organization’s overall performance. 

Additional Resources

What Does an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Do?

What Personality Traits Are Best for an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist?

What Should You Know When You Interview for a Job With a Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology?