The Evolution of Industrial Organizational Psychology

Meet The Robinsons

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In the Disney animated movie Meet the Robinsons, the main character of the film invents different items to make the standard of living more uniform and equivalent for humanity.

The character’s major belief suggests that science, if applied correctly with a little imagination, can make the world a better place to live.

A vivid scene in the movie occurs when the character travels to the future to see the fruit of all the scientific effort in both a good and a bad scenario—the bad suggesting to the mind when misapplied, science can work for the destruction of humanity.

In the study of organization development in reality, the same concept can apply—the application of science and imagination may cause contentment or anguish. An entire field of study devoted to the study of organizational synergy exists to help apply science and humanity for the good of employees. Discussed in this hub is the definition, evolution and methodology of Industrial/organization psychology--providing perspective how it improves business.

Industrial/Organizational Psychology Definition

Industrial/organizational psychology has two focus points:

  • industrial psychology

  • organizational psychology.

Industrial psychology’s primary focus on human work situations supports the idea of aptitude tests and performance evaluations—any of the different fields of psychology applied practically to any field of employ, learning or recreations.

Organizational psychology, the other part of industrial/organization psychology, “developed from the human relations movement in organizations” 1. The organization part of the field seems “concerned with understanding behavior and enhancing the well-being of employees in the workplace. Organizational topics include employee attitudes, employee behavior, job stress, and supervisory practices” 2.

Together industrial and organization psychology form a science that pulls from all the areas of psychology in practical terms to help understand human behavior, performance and professional satisfaction.

Industrial/organizational psychology is a science used to research, document and resolve organizational or institutional influences on employees, students or patrons.

The unique appellation industrial/organization psychology developed as time passed and as an understanding of the application of what psychologist in the past attempted to do with psychology in relation to society instead of just ruminating ideas through academia. Industrial psychology did not occur as a designation until after the 1920s according to Ludy T. Benjamin of Texas A & MU.

An orchestra of ideas and methods harmonize to produce an outcome using the scientific method as the lodestar or the conductor. Industrial/organizational psychologists develop research designs to substantiate a study question or group of interrelated study questions.

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Benjamin offers that the field began with names such as economic or business psychology. Pioneers such as Harry Levi Hollingworth, Hugo Münsterberg and Walter VanDyke Bingham trusted in their interpretation of how to apply psychology to the new cultural developments in the United States by taking psychology to the business world.

The American Association for Applied Psychology came into existence with the idea of promoting the different fields of applied psychology.

Industrial and business psychology developed more a distinction as a separate division among the applied psychologies.

Eventually, because of the WWII effort and the need for national support, a request to unite came to both professional and academic psychologist from the National Research Council.

“As a result, AAAP disappeared as a separate organization and was reborn in 5 of the 18 charter divisions of the new APA (American Psychological Association),”3 today called Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. The combination of the different entities and the resultant new APA created a front from which the field of industrial/organizational psychology has blossomed into an integral part of the business industry and society in general.

Industrial/Organizational Psychology The Method

The importance of research and statistics in industrial/organization psychology ranks in comparison with the importance of air-travel to aeronautical machinery. One cannot occur without the other. Every particular case begins with a research question—a particular problem to study for resolutions.

An orchestra of ideas and methods harmonize to produce an outcome using the scientific method as the lodestar or the conductor. Industrial/organizational psychologists develop research designs to substantiate a study question or group of interrelated study questions.

Theresa Kline
Theresa Kline | Source

For example, as suggested in Defining the Field of Industrial-organizational Psychology by Theresa Kline, one of the new problems in industrial/organization psychology today stems from job ambiguity. Kline’s article circulated over a decade ago, but her assessment of what continuously trends toward teamwork and job-sameness has effected society—changing the focus of industrial/organization psychologist to a group synergy approach for organizational enhancement.

Research designs go further than merely studying a question.

Research designs can be divided into experimental and nonexperimental forms. In experimental designs, the researcher randomly assigns subjects to conditions that are constructed for the study. Nonexperimental designs involve observation without assignment of subjects or construction of conditions.4

Two types of designs allow psychologist to perform field or laboratory studies. Observing trends in business prompted the article submitted by Kline. Because her findings exist in many different industries of today’s market, Kline's research meets the criteria for experimental and nonexperimental designs extending into other sectors.

Industrial/organizational psychologist use practical research methods, as do other researchers to substantiate or unsubstantiated research questions to solve organizational and industrial issues.

Industrial/Organizational Psychology in Action

A competitive market produces a need for qualified employees to keep productivity at optimal levels. Organizations need to make sure that the boon that shuttled them into expansion remains as each organization grows into larger organizations and diversification. Even in the diverse and targeted field of education, a business of the mind, the market needs mirror those of the business market. Schools want more capital and less overhead.

Private schools, particularly those of higher education tend to have more of an interest in less overhead seeing as such schools need a profit to function in the optimal levels. The for-profit schools need to do the same thing that businesses do to save money, which is to build an entire division dedicated to the reduction of operational costs. Such a division exists in many organizations called human resources, which best works if an industrial/organizational psychologist plays an invested role.

The pre-employment testing, interviewing and role-play helped with the front-end of the hiring process....

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Pre-employment Tests

One particular for-profit higher education institution, the University of Phoenix uses industrial/organizational psychologists to assist specialization of its employment force.

The University of Phoenix utilizes its human resource department to reduce problems that cause expansion to slow to a crawl. The university could not keep enough entry-level employees to assist potential students into its programs.

“One of the major problems with the position,” admits a former employee in a face-to-face interview “was that it was a sales position. When I was hired though, I was told it was an adviser position.”

When applicants searched for employment with the University of Phoenix, the position of adviser did not clearly set forward the expectations for new employees.

Either the job description needed adjusting or job tasks needed clarification. According to the former employee, after the initial training ended and on-the-job training began many received instruction to forget the learning from training because it did not apply to the position correctly.

The University of Phoenix lost many dollars in training because of the high turnover rate after employees disaffect due to perceived deception or stress for the sales/adviser position.

To assist in reversing the turnover trend at the university, the University of Phoenix introduced pre-employment testing to help aid in the hiring tactics. Shawn Smith states that “an employee who does not have the right skills to perform the job or is not a good fit for the culture of the organization will have to be replaced”5.

The wrong people made it to the University of Phoenix too often; so, testing helped in selecting potential candidates. Role-play and interviewing assist in selecting new employees at the university. Edward Prewitt offers that tests alone only provide a small part of the help needed in hiring new applicants. The interviews and role-play allow the employer to view a candidate for employment from more than one perspective and creates a more informed basis from which to choose new employees.

The pre-employment testing, interviewing and role-play helped with the front-end of the hiring process, but the task of preventing current employees from defecting also received greater attention.

Employee Evaluation

Another way that industrial/organizational psychology can help an organization is through monitoring employee progress and providing incentive programs. Of course, the company will provide the benefits, but the idea behind the incentives and monitoring comes from the information acquired through research.

Assessment strategies should be developed with a clear understanding of the knowledge, skills, abilities, characteristics, or personal traits you want to measure. It is also essential to know what each assessment tool you are considering using is designed to measure.6

An organization should know what it wants before it initiates progress and incentive programs. The University of Phoenix uses assessment to measure the status of employee performance bi-annually. Depending on the performance of the employee, a reward of increased pay, awards and recognition, or decreases follows.

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PracticeWorks, though not an educational institution, is an example of a company which did not employ the use of an industrial/organizational psychologist for development.

It instituted assessments in the form of call evaluations. The company, an arm of Carestream, wanted to improve customer service relations for its selective service to the dentistry industry. PracticeWorks employed a team of evaluators to monitor the phone calls of all the technicians who assisted its clients over the phone.

Over time, the company developed a system through trial and error that worked to give them the data needed to perform assessments properly. It did eventually meet its aim; however, PracticeWorks spent thousands of dollars in man-hours and time to develop its own system that a professional could have completed in a fraction of the time.

The University of Phoenix, offering a degree in industrial/organizational psychology itself takes advantage of the tools that makes the university a stable business model and keeps its employees motivated to work and remain.

In today’s world of business, the proper infrastructure provides longevity and efficiency to organizations that take advantage of the principles of industrial/organizational psychology.

Perfect Integration

Industrial/organization psychology is a science that helps to understand employee performance and professional satisfaction, student & teacher learning and instruction benefits. Industrial/organizational psychology solidified itself as an integral part of world society for the furtherance of safe and productive work environments, educational facilities, and recreational and health institutions. The field of study found shaky beginnings, but maturation and integration has permanently welded this branch of psychology similar to the beginnings of the main character in the Meet the Robinsons. The main character eventually became a prominent inventor in the film making the future one of the perfect integration of industry/organization and society.

Reference Material

Benjamin, L. (1997, August). Organized Industrial Psychology Before Division 14: The ACP and the AAAP(1930-1945). Journal of Applied Psychology, 82(4), 459-466.

  • (Benjamin, 1997, AAAP and World War II, ¶ 2)3

Kline, T. (1996, November). Defining The Field of Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 37(4), 205-209.

Mckim, D. (Producer), & Anderson, S. (Director). (2007). Meet The Robinsons [Motion Picture]. United State: Walt Disney Animation Studios & Walt Disney Pictures Spector, P. (2006).

Patterson, M. (2000, September). Overcoming The Hiring Crunch:Test Deliver Informed Choices. Employment Relations Today (Wiley), 27(3), 77-88.

  • (Patterson, 2000, p. 79-80)6

Smith, S. (2002, June 10). To Test or Not to Test? That's the Pre-employment Question. Westchester County Business Journal, 41(23), 4.

  • (Smith, 2002, ¶ 1)5

Spector, P. (2006). Industrial and Organizational Psychology (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley

  • (Spector 2006, p. 5)1

  • (Spector 2006, p. 5)2

  • (Spector, 2006, p. 48)4

© 2013 Rodric Johnson

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