November 29, 2017

What does an I/O psychologist do, again?

I was engaged in conversation with new faces at a recent happy hour, learning about what they do for work, where they live, football allegiances, common acquaintances, and so on. Upon hearing I have a PhD, one individual asked,  “What’s your degree in?"

I told him I studied industrial / organizational psychology. Not for the first time, this response was met with a funny stare.

So I quickly followed up. “Basically, if it has to do with data and people and work – that’s I/O psychology,” I said. And that seemed to make more sense to my new happy hour friend. 

But then he asked, “What exactly do you do?”

I often find myself struggling to define what I do. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the nature of the field, or more likely, it's a little bit of both. And so I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to ask my colleagues what they think I/O psychology is and what they think I do at TSP. Their answers made me smile.

The recruiter perspective: “I honestly wasn’t sure what to say, but... I believe the customized assessment our I/O psychologists create gives our hiring managers a different perspective on candidates and can help tap into the intangibles that are important in hiring but difficult to measure. I’m sure it’s saved many of our clients from making some horrific hiring decisions.”

The IT perspective: “We’ve all had experiences, to some degree, with bad hires and the burden each brings. I/O psychology, in part, quantifies the traits and behaviors of the good and the bad, so we can achieve better candidate work ethic and culture fit."

The business development perspective: “A little over a year ago I really wasn't familiar with the term or idea of I/O psychology. When I think of I/O psychology and how it impacts me at TSP on a professional level, it's one of the differentiators we offer our clients to help them make better hiring decisions. It's a set of tools the I/O team creates after sitting with leadership to better understand what soft skills work within an organization and their specific role.”

At this point I’m thinking to myself – hey, my colleagues get it. Even better, from each of their vantage points, they see value in what my fellow I/O psychologists and I can offer to get the right people in the right role. 

Tracking the history of the I/O psychology sheds more light. In 1992, researchers R.A. Katzell and J.T. Austin offered a comprehensive review of the field's history. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • I/O Psychology has its roots in the late 1800s, when experimental psychologists started applying psychological principles to problems experienced in the business world – in particular, the selection of employees and application of psychological testing.  
  • An engineer in the early 20th century (the one and only Frederick Winslow Taylor) began studying employee productivity.
  • The first I/O textbook was published in 1913.
  • The military engaged I/O psychologists to help place new recruits in the job they were best suited for during World War I.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had a major influence on the field by illuminating organizational practices on hiring and treating employees. 
  • Today, I/O psychologists focus on a myriad of topics in the workplace ranging from diversity programs, work/life balance, leadership coaching and development, employee engagement, assessing the effectiveness of training programs – just to name a few!

This (very) brief history lesson is meant to illustrate that first, the problems facing many organizations today are not new, and second, the work of I/O psychologists can vary widely. 

At TSP, our team of I/O psychologists supports our executive search team and our clients through assessments of top candidates, helping to define better selection processes and tools, studying the data to identify new trends, and many other areas related to ensuring the right person is in the right role. It is fun, offers variety, and is focused on people and experience. I feel very fortunate to be able to meld my expertise in I/O psychology with the #powerofpersonal.

I would encourage anyone interested in learning more about I/O psychology and what I/O psychologists can offer your organization to check out SIOP, the professional organization for I/O psychologists, or connect with me through email or LinkedIn.

Tags: I/O psych

Megan Van Hoy

Megan is Director, Consulting & Assessment at Taylor Strategy Partners where she focuses her work energy on helping organizations use the best data and insights to make informed decisions about people.  She spends her non-work energy soaking in the latest good read, working on her bowling skills, and planning her next vacation.  Megan earned her Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from The University of Akron and undergraduate degree in Psychology from The Ohio State University #gobucks.

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