Industrial Psychology

What is Industrial Psychology and how does it relate to You and Your Organization?
History, Theories, Current State and Future Outlook


Psychology has long been thought of as the job of people who read minds. It arouses interest in people and throw in  the concept of Industry/Organizational Psychology (I/O Psychology), people’s interest grows as they try to learn more about the subject. This is mostly because work is so much a part of our lives for as long as humankind has existed (Peeters, Jonge, & Taris, 2014). Most of our adult life is spent at work or doing work related activities. Consider your own day, how many hours do you spend on work related activities? One will quickly learn that work consumes most of our  life, hence it is only right that concepts that seem to be working to make that experience better get increased attention. Jex (2002) defines it as a field of study that uses scientific methodology to better understand human behavior in organizational settings. The justification here is quite simple, the more we understand about something, in this case human behavior in a particular setting, the more we are able to use the means at our disposal to direct that behavior toward achieving a set of unified goals which are the goals of the organization. I/O Psychology has got an edge over all other fields that might have similar mandates, as it emphasizes that scientific knowledge support practice and approaches used in interventions (Landy, F.J., Conte, 2015).

This essay will attempt to discuss and review the main concepts of I/O Psychology in the workplace. This will be done mainly by looking at the history, how it all started and how it has progressed through time to this day, possible future paths will also be discussed. Then the paper will discuss the roles that I/O Psychology plays in the workplace and how important they are to the organization. Methods that are used by I/O Psychologists will also be discussed and how they generally impact the organization and society where they are taking place. As with almost every field where people are working, ethics which guide and ensure that the field of I/O Psychology maintains its credibility and integrity, will be discussed and critically reviewed. All these will be discussed within three main or rather broad aspects; the job, the one doing the job, and the context within which the work is happening. It is important that the three aspects be incorporated as it will add context to the essay to make it more understandable and relatable.


To better understand the concept of I/O Psychology, it is vital that its origins are brought to the fore. Foundations of I/O Psychology can be traced as far back as the years 1850 to 1930. This was according to Peeters (2013) a period soon after the industrial revolution, which meant changes in the way work was done and consequently how people would react to it. Hugo Musternberg and Walter Stein founded Psychotechnics or Applied Psychology, which was the first attempt to make the connection between psychology and work. Landy (2015) explains that around 1888 James McKeen Catell pioneered measuring individual differences followed by later (1890) developing the first mental test.

1913 saw the publication of the first I/O Psychology text. This was followed by the use of group intelligence test that was used for army recruitment during the First World War by the United States of America. This test was developed by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon, and was referred to as Stanford-Binet Test.  Walter Scott and Walter Van Bingham used this test on the American recruits (Landy, F.J., Conte, 2015). Around the same time, Fredrick W Taylor  developed the Scientific Management Approach which insisted that there was one best and most efficient way of performing various jobs, that is by simplifying the tasks so that the workers responsible would be able to do it (Peeters et al., 2014). Another achievement of note came about during the Second World War when human engineering (which is a part of I/O Psychology) was used to solve aircraft accidents. Later on in the 1950’s was when most commercial tests were developed. Title VII of The Civil rights act in 1967 was another important milestone as it controlled the mushrooming of tests, some of which were proving to be discriminatory and were used to exclude others from participation in various jobs (Jex, 2002).

The American Psychological Association was founded in 1892 but it was only nearly a century later that Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists was incorporated as division 14 (Landy, F.J., Conte, 2015).

On the future of I/O Psychology, Landy F.J & Conte (2015) further notes that the field needs to be relevant, useful, bigger, and continue to be grounded in research if it is to keep growing. All these four points point out to and address the modern issues that may lead to the downfall of I/O Psychology. By maintaining relevance to the times and methods of the day, the field will progress. By bring up issues, concepts, theories and research that is useful, it will remain a useful tool all over the world. By getting bigger and always looking to advance the field’s agenda and always presenting its issues on bigger stages, it will soar to greatness. Remaining grounded in research, which is not only the advantage over other fields but also the hallmark of I/O Psychology will mean it will continue to be a great force now as well as in the future. Jex (2002) argues that global events such as the fall of the Soviet Union in the past will continue to influence I/O Psychology. Major global events will indeed affect practice and research, but if practitioners continue on the path to greatness that Landy F.J & Conte (2015) wrote about, then a better and more informative future should be certain.


Having looked at the past, present and future outlooks of I/O Psychology, let us consider the roles that it plays within the organization. There are many roles that it plays but mostly they are split into three main parts; Personnel Psychology, Organizational Psychology and Human Factors Psychology (Human Engineering).

Personnel Psychology is often seen as a part of human resources management in that it deals with basic human resources issues like selection, recruitment, training, performance management, promotions, transfers and termination. According to Landy F.J & Conte (2015), it assumes that people have different attributes and work behavior and it is these differences that can be used to predict, maintain and increase work performance and satisfaction. It is more of a linking point between psychology and the personnel management in the industry. Unlike Human Resource, I/O Psychology combines research and practice.

Organizational Psychology combines research and ideas from social psychology and organizational behavior to address emotional and motivational issues in organizations. It deals with attitudes, motivation, stress, teams, fairness, leadership, organizational and work design, essentially, people’s reactions to work and the action plans they develop as a result (Landy, F.J., Conte, 2015). This is very important because organizations are run and operated by individuals who have human needs. According to McLeod (2014), Maslow’s’ Motivation Theory (Hierarchy of Needs) dictates that when individuals have satisfied their basic physiological needs like hunger, shelter, and clothing, they will move on to seek and satisfy their psychological needs, hence the importance of this arm of I/O Psychology. The motivation theory therefore claims that if all human needs are met, the human will be more motivated which may lead to higher performing individuals. Despite some important facts in the theory, it does treat individuals as existing and operating in a vacuum, it discounts greatly other factors (such as cultural context) that might come into play. Overall, the human needs are vital and must be satisfied if the humans are to be motivated and perform this then highlights the need I/O Psychology.

The Human Engineering aspect studies capacities and limitations of humans with respect to a particular environment. Of great importance here is creating an environment that will match the characteristics of the worker. A stark opposite of personnel psychology, which is more interested in matching the right person to the job. Cognitive science, exercise physiology, ergonomics and even anatomy are connected by human engineering (Landy, F.J., Conte, 2015). This appears as one of the missing components in most organizations. The design of the workplace mostly is haphazard, especially in Africa. Take an example of Malawi’s Civil Service. In most offices, there is very old furniture, dirty walls and among others, poorly planned layouts that mostly act to retard communication and productivity. This is the opposite of the private sector, which has in most cases open plans, that sees everybody being around each other and the furniture is modern. This may explain why the civil service staff are always lagging behind in productivity relative to the private sector.


Strategies that are used by I/O psychologists in the organization are equally very important and so are their practical implications to the workplace and individuals. Here we will consider Practice and Research as the main strategies and we will delve further to consider particular interventions such as Job Analysis and Design, and Personnel Selection and Recruitment.

I/O Psychologists intervene in organizations through Research as earlier discussed, this is an integral part of the discipline, offering the main guide by continuing to supply the field with research evidence backed arguments, ideas and interventions (Jex, 2002). Most researchers are based in colleges and Universities. These provide the discipline with the edge that it has over other similar disciplines, that of practice being strongly supported by research and evidence. As a result, the discipline has been growing in practice and influence as evidenced by literature (Landy & Conte 2015, and Jex 2002). In most African countries, research in I/O Psychology does not exist. There are currently no practicing practitioners and researchers, meaning that there is no literature on the subject. This opens up a wide opportunity for researchers to operate and support the growth of the practice.

Practice is the second way of I/O Psychology intervention in organizations. Here, I/O Psychologists operate in consulting firms, government and private corporations. Their primary role is to deal with real life problems in organizations (as opposed to experimental cases mostly in research) by closely referring back to research and using its findings to guide their practice. Let us consider Job Analysis and design, and Personnel Recruitment and Selection as examples. According to Landy & Conte (2015) in Job analysis and Design, practitioners use three main methods: Observation, which is currently losing steam due to its costly nature and lengthy times it takes to complete, Interview, which is one of the most popular and most common tool and Questionnaires, which are the most efficient. All these tools are used to gather information about a job in the process of Job Analysis. The result is then used to produce a job description or a person specification.

In recruitment and selection, practitioners use 5 main assessment methods to assess potential candidates for particular roles in various organizations. These are Psychological Tests, Biographical Inventory which is a form that collects standard information from candidates and focuses on the ones related to job performance, Interviews, Work Sample, and Assessment centers. All these are used in different occasions, sometimes some tools are paired to increase the likelihood of the successful candidate being successful at their job.


The discussion of I/O Psychology would be incomplete without talking about ethics. Ethics are moral principles to provide rules for conduct. They provide a moral compass that directs behavior and ensures integrity of the profession. There are four main ethics according to Landy (2013) in I/O Psychology; Respect of people’s rights and dignity, competence, integrity, and responsibility. It is through observing ethics like these that professionals within the field are able to realize the following benefits:

Ethics help ensure that professional standards are maintained. Individuals are dynamic and without proper ways and means to control behavior, there would be chaos. Each individual would want to set their mark in their own way, which may in some cases be detrimental to either the subjects involved, the professional, or the field in general. It is therefore ethics that come in and regulate individual quests and ties them down to professional standards.

Related to maintenance of professional standards is the issue of ensuring public welfare. Professional standards will in most cases determine that public welfare and public interest should always take precedence over individual needs. In the world today, there are so many rules and laws governing the conduct amongst particular groups. For example an experiment measuring the effect of using swear words on people and how it affect motivation, may be allowed on adults while on kids it will not. The ethics will help in aligning the needs of the society (public) to the needs of the profession and making sure that they co-exist harmoniously.

Ethics also help in permitting a sound relationship with other professionals. By reflecting collective definitions of morality in the field of work, peaceful relations are forged and maintained with other professions. This is very important, as different professions may not always agree with each other when it comes to approach of certain things and even interventions in particular cases. It is ethics that will bind the differences and make sure that co-existence is prime.


In conclusion, the essay discussed I/O Psychology through its history, current state and future. Looking forward, it must be pointed out that if the field of I/O Psychology is to develop and grow especially in most African parts, bold steps must be taken just like the pioneers of the field did in the early stages.  The role of research must be emphasized and it must inform practice. Strong adherence to ethics should also be insisted on.




Motivation: Definitions, & Linkages to the Workplace

What is Motivation and why is it important that you know and learn about it?

It has been a life-long mystery of what it is that influences an individual to behave in one way or another. Why no two individuals would always do something or activity the same way and achieve the same results time and time again, and why there is always differences in output of work when there is more than one person involved in a task or job. These differences are mainly because of the differences that humans have and it is these that lead to their respective different pushes to achieve particular results. This “push to achieve” is what is known as Motivation. Motivation is an internal state that persuades a person to behave in a particular way. According to Landy and Conte (2015), it involves intensity (amount of effort put in), persistence (behavior that is there over time), quality (value placed in an act), and direction (selecting to do one thing instead of another). Motivation is influenced by individuals’ wants, needs and desires, which explains why different people are motivated differently by different stimuli. Motivation is one of the main factors that drive performance of employees, as noted by Vitelle (Landy, F.J., Conte, 2015). It is therefore, of vital importance to every workplace and organization.


This paper will look at employee motivation through looking at the theories that try to explain it, how they relate to and influence the modern workplace, factors that bring positive or negative motivation in the workplace and personal differences and how they relate to people’s perception and consequently reaction to various stimuli and thereby explain stress and burnout.


Motivation theories are divided into two main categories, Content theories, those that try to explain the concept through focusing on the question “what?”, they look at motivation as a concept stemming from needs. Therefore, their explanations border around motivation as a process to satisfy the needs. Process theories on the other hand, focus on the question “how?”, explaining the processes behind motivation and also other factors that affect it. Jex (2002) further splits the theories into four categories. These are; Need Based (focusing on the extent to which employees satisfy the needs of the workplace), Job Based (explain motivation as coming from jobs that employees perform), Cognitive Processes Theories (decisions and choices employees make when carrying out their duties are the main emphasis), and Behavioral Approach (emphasizing on principles of learning).

It is worth noting that these differences in categorizing theories is a mere difference in opinion on how to broaden the theoretical explanation. The four categories dig even deeper than the two earlier categories. For simplicity and to better explain Motivation, this paper will base its discussion on the two general categories (content and process).


There are four main content theories. These are Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Alderfers ERG (existence, relatedness, and growth) theory, McClelland Achievement Motivation, and Herzberg Two Factor theory. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains that needs fall into 5 (five) main categories, physiological needs (like food, water, sleep), security needs (like shelter), love or social needs (like a sense of belonging), esteem (being respected for accomplishments or capabilities), and self-actualization (desire to develop ones capacities to the fullest) (Landy, F.J., Conte, 2015).  The needs were organized in the form of a pyramid; with the bottom level needs requiring to be satisfied before the higher needs. For instance, one cannot go looking to fulfill their potential when they barely have the necessities like food and shelter. However, factors like social pressure can force needs like esteem to be put before physiological and security needs, for example, an individual buying fuel for their car to satisfy their esteem when they do not have food in their home, just so that people see that they have a car and they are well off. Life experiences like divorce, chronic illness can force unexpected movement through the needs hierarchy.

This theory, like most of the others are lacking in that they are not able to explain motivation on their own. They just explain part of it. They do not mention job satisfaction and how it relates to motivation neither do they explain demotivation. They also do not take into account cultural factors that may come in between their explanations. For example, in the Western world, people leave in nuclear families meaning that they are isolated from others in their own society, this would force someone to look for a sense of belonging once they have a chance. On the other hand, in African societies, people are organized in groups, be it communities, villages, and extended families. This leads to people, especially the young, wanting to break free of these groups once they have a chance. This would affect the prioritization of needs.

Alderfers ERG theory is very similar to that of Maslow. Jex (2002) refers to it as Maslow’s closest descendant. It focuses on existence needs (basics for survival like safety), relatedness needs (significant relationships like family and peers), and growth needs (self-development and personal growth). This theory agrees with Maslow in that one level of needs must be satisfied before an individual seeks to satisfy another level. It goes further to claim that needs that are satisfied can reoccur unlike in Maslow’s hierarchy where upward mobility is the only way to go. This is significant as it paints human beings as dynamic beings and not machines in their quest to satisfy needs.

Mc Clelland’s Need for Achievement, Affiliation, and Power is a little different and Jex (2002) claims, more useful than the earlier two. It focusses primarily on the need for achievement to explain differences in the drive to attain goals. It is also known as learned needs theory as it bases its origin in Maslow. It sets itself apart by explaining that the dominating motivator is developed throughout ones culture and life experiences. Achievement is seen as the need to accomplish and demonstrate mastery, affiliation is need for love belonging and relatedness, and power is the need for control over ones’ own work and the work of others. The underlying principles (needs) are the same, the theories only differ in how the needs are achieved and what gains prominence over the other.

Herzberg 2 factor theory, also known as Motivation-Hygiene Theory argues that there are only two basic needs that are not hierarchical in nature. This is in opposition to Maslow who came up with five hierarchical needs. Its basic premise is that employees’ needs are sourced from the content of their jobs. Hygiene needs (salary, benefits, status, etc.) have positive satisfaction in the short term but less effect on the long term. Motivational needs (recognition, sense of achievement, growth, etc.) are work related other than external, they are psychological needs and are intrinsically rewarding. All the content theories have commonalities in that they all focus on the same building principle, need. Needs are split into levels, and individuals/employees are viewed as being capable of making a choice and prioritizing particular needs over others depending on their stage in life or career.


As earlier indicated, process theories try to explain how employees are motivated and consequently, the process behind motivation. Skinners Reinforcement theory states that an individuals’ behavior is determined by its consequences. Landy and Conte (2015) mention three elements as being central in the theory, stimulus, response and reward. If a particular stimulus (behavior) is rewarded, that behavior will likely occur again to elicit a similar reward. This is positive reinforcement, behavior being encouraged through reward; on the other hand, removing positive consequences from a behavior will lead to prevention of undesired behavior.  The theory however is lacking in its explanation when the current day situation is considered, where some behavior (protests, industrial strike action) is done while fully being aware of its negative consequences. Employees just do not do what is right based on reinforcement therein, but rather weigh their options and do what they consider right at a particular time, sometimes even without thinking they just join their peer groups.

Vrooms Expectancy Theory tried to tie down process and content theories. Jex (2002) highlights the uniqueness of humans in that their cognition allows them to expect the future and adjust ones behavior accordingly. Vroom suggested that motivation comes from belief that particular decisions will bring desired outcomes. This then leads employees to do one thing instead of another. This   belief is influenced by three factors, expectancy (belief that success is a result of greater effort), instrumentality (belief that activity is closely linked to goals), and valence (the degree to which an individual values a reward). If all three are present, chances are very high that an individual will become motivated and behave in a desired way. On the other hand, if there is absence of any of the three, there is no motivation. To an extent, the theory captures the essence of motivation, although as much as it combined the content and process approaches, it still fell short of explaining the social influence and pressure on motivation. For example a case where an individual who believes that success is a result of greater effort (expectancy) but doesn’t subscribe to instrumentality and valence for other reasons, but still gets motivated to perform so he/she can provide for their family.

Adams Equity Theory, states that people evaluate their actions by comparing their contributions, costs of their actions, and received benefits thereof in reference to the next person. Simply put, if two people are putting in the same amount of work, energy and resources, the expectation is that their rewards should be similar. Employees are motivated when they view their treatment as equitable to individuals in their frames of reference. This theory brings to light comparison (with people one thinks is in the same frame with) which is a very important aspect of motivation. However, it still needs to be partnered with other theories to fully explain the concept.

Austin and Vancouver cited in Jex (2002) allude to psychological research suggesting that human behavior is mostly being motivated and regulated by goals. This forms the basis of Lockes’ Goal Setting Theory. According to the theory, setting specific and challenging goals increases motivation. Accomplishing these goals is therefore, what motivates individuals to perform well. Jex (2002) further delves into attributes that make goals to motivate, he notes that goal specificity (specific and not vague), goal difficulty (difficult goals motivate more than easy ones), and goal acceptance (belief that a goal is attainable) are the main attributing factors. Being modern, the theory does account for itself well, but just like others before it, there is less focus of social influences and life experiences. Some people are motivated simply by altruism (selfless behavior) and may be doing some job so that they help. In this case, altruism is not a goal, but rather a personal trait.

As has been demonstrated above, the theories of motivation, both content and process theories are not able to explain motivation at least not each on its own, but they must all be considered in their totality when interventions in workplaces are being considered.

Motivation theories do have practical implications in organizations. Organizations try to influence some behaviors using the theories. Among the behaviors are attraction, productive behavior, counterproductive behavior, and retention (Jex, 2002). The process of motivation starts from before the organization employs, during attraction to it, the organization offers great salary, benefits, good working conditions and more. Then when employees are in the organizations, attention is turned to encouragement of productive behavior, which is about getting the best out of people for the organizations benefit. At the same time, focus is placed on discouraging counterproductive behaviors such as late coming and in discipline. Then the organization puts its efforts in retention, which means trying to keep the talent they have.


There are three main influencers of motivation in organizations, and these are work-life balance, personality and cross cultural issues (Landy, F.J., Conte, 2015). Work-life balance is the extent to which demands of work get into conflict with those of life outside work (family, social life). Too much conflict will lead to decreased motivation in most cases because this causes cognitive dissonance (mental discomfort) and employees are unable to put their energies towards achieving the best results.

People with a personality trait of internal Locus of Control (LOC) believe that their fate is in their hands and those with an external LOC believe that they are at the mercy of external forces. This affects motivation in that employees with internal LOC increases their chances of being motivated while external LOC does the opposite. Landy and Conte (2015) explain that research has backed the claim that internal LOC is positively connected with motivation.

The cultural diverse workplaces are also presenting a problem of their own. Due to differences in perception in different cultures, interventions for motivation are bound to be difficult and tricky. Landy and Conte (2015) present issues like how different cultures view masculinity-femininity, individualism-collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and long term-short term orientations. These issues will result in employees having different views of interventions and therefore not being able to achieve the required goals.

However, motivation in organizations employees can also be influenced by other factors. These are factors like job content (how challenging a job is), power expectancy (how much power one has over their and others work), salary and benefits (the rewards for their input), job satisfaction, upward mobility and personal development (opportunity to grow within the organization and ones career) among others  (Hosseini, 2014; Kivuva, 2012).


Lack of Motivation and its consequences is also a very important issue that must be discussed along with the concept of employee motivation. Research has shown that improved well-being of employees also improves their performance (Jong, 2002). This will conversely imply that employees who are unwell will also not perform. Simple logic will show that lack of motivation will lead to employees doing their work only as an evil necessary for their survival. This will mean effort levels are very low and consequently so is the performance. This situation usually ends in burnout.

Burnout is an extreme state of psychological strain resulting from continuous exposure to chronic job stressors and an employee is unable to amass resources to cope with them (Landy, F.J., Conte, 2015). To tie in everything together, it is important to know what job stressors are. These are environmental stimuli that trigger physiological or psychological stress. Examples of these stressors are increased workload, role ambiguity and role conflict, social stressors, change, control and many others. It is vital to note that stress is mostly a product of perception of task versus ones resources to cope. This perception will be worsened in cases where motivation is absent, as an individual would only see everything happening to them and around them as working against them.

Carefully considered, employee well-being and employee motivation are to an extent reciprocal, presence of one would easily result in the flourishing of the other. Strategies in employee well-being target the same important areas of motivation like work-life balance, communication, a sense of community, and bonding the various personality types.  These are the same issues that motivation strategies look to address in their interventions to employees.

Personal differences is yet another important factor to consider. The differences emerge from the simple fact that no two individuals are the same. The transaction model of stress looks at stress as an individual phenomenon that is based in psychological processes (Cartwright & Whatmore, 2005). Individuals being different means that perception will also be different. As earlier noted, it is perception that will enable an individual to consider an event or stimulus a threat, and thereby put together resources to deal with it. The individual differences also determine if one will be able to cope or not. Coming from a background of lack of motivation, an employee will therefore suffer from adverse effects of stress (burnout) due to the absence of a push to try and do better.


To sum up the discussion, it will be of great importance to consider further research in cross-cultural effects on motivation especially looking at the current African setting where Western influence is present and operates with long held African traditions and customs. This may mean a shift in perceptual processes and many other things that will affect theoretical perspectives. It would also be important to put all the theories to the test in one setting and come up with an all-encompassing theory that would be able to explain Motivation. Most theories were developed before the turn of the century, before the year 2000 and using an all-encompassing theory to solve current organizational problems would lead to advances in the concept and in Industrial/Organizational Psychology.