Why Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

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One of the most frequently asked questions in my professional life is Why did you pursue industrial-organizational psychology (IOP) as a field of study and as a career path? My initial response which I very rarely vocalized: GREED!

There is quite a bit more to that story, though. At the time of my budding interest in IOP, I co-owned and co-operated a small countertop manufacturing company with my two siblings. While I indeed wore many hats — as many small business owners do — one of my principal roles was that of accounting for the income and expense associated with operating an organization that, at our largest, provided for the livelihood of 30 or so employees and their families. It was my goal to ensure that our income would meet and, where possible, exceed the daily expenses while also looking out for the strength of our future stability. Regretfully, the two were not always in sync and it is not because our income vastly outpaced our expenses. The weight of the responsibility to soundly and optimally run our business encouraged me to seek out ways to implement change that would set us up for greater effectiveness and efficiency. IOP became my passion. As I learned how to put science to work for our business, it did better. Not perfect…but better.

I-O psychology is a dynamic and growing field that addresses workplace issues at the individual and organizational level. I-O psychologists apply research that improves the well-being and performance of people and the organizations that employ them. This involves everything from workforce planning, employee selection, and leader development to studying job attitudes and job motivation, implementing work teams, improving diversity and inclusion, and facilitating organizational change.

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As we contemplated selling our company and my siblings and I were pursuing other interest, my study in IOP taught me a lot about calling, meaning, and purpose in vocation and career. As that happened, pursuing IOP became less about making money. Genesis 3:3 (King James Version, 1769/2017) reads: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread…” In this verse, God reminds Adam and Eve that, after being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, they would have to work hard (i.e., sweat) to sustain themselves. Two perspectives about this story are relevant: (1) one may not even believe in the Adam and Eve story as told in the Bible, and/or (2) if the story is true, you and I are thousands of years removed from it.In either case, I share the story because what we can attest to — as did Adam and Eve — is having to work hard! And sometimes too hard!

In its own way, IOP provides the understanding of work and practical tools to help men and women “sweat less” in their respective careers. You might ask yourself:

  • How do I better lead people who formally report to me or informally follow me from afar?
  • How can I better my practice in followership of those who are called to lead me?
  • In what ways are my attitudes and behaviors helping or hindering my ability to productively work with others as a member of a team or group?
  • How can I create joy in the career or job I have chosen such that I look forward to, not dread, Monday mornings?
  • What training and development opportunities can I leverage to proactively respond to tomorrow’s challenges by acquiring the needed knowledge, skills, and abilities today?


The science of work has answers to these and many other questions about work life and beyond. IOP is not folksy wisdom rattled off by generations that came before us but rather is an evidence-based practice of putting forth work-related theories and then, using the tools of science, gathering evidence that weighs in favor of some practices and theories while cautiously advising us against others. It is an evolving field that does not rest on its accomplishments of the past but rather seeks to innovate the next scientific approaches to work.

What in your work life could be better if science could point you in the right direction? Let’s connect and explore the possibilities for how IOP can help you to “sweat less” in your work.

Sources

King James Bible. (1769/2017). King James Bible Online. https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/ (Original work published 1769)

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