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.