Industrial and organizational (I/O) psychologists focus on the behavior of employees in the workplace. They apply psychological principles and research methods to improve the overall work environment, including performance, communication, professional satisfaction and safety.
All About Industrial and Organizational Psychology

There are many variables that determine how well an organization or company operates. Effective communication and conflict resolution, process evaluation, professional competence and effective management are examples of the components necessary for businesses to succeed.

Often, shortcomings in any of these areas can be traced back to the ways employees are selected, trained, share information or interact. I/O psychologists use their knowledge of human behavior to address these challenges.

They use quantitative research and evaluation methods to apply best practices within a company and teach people how to work better. Their research may take the form of an observation, where they document how an employee or team performs in their work environment, or a survey designed to identify issues affecting workplace behavior. This research might be aimed at increasing employee productivity, developing screening procedures for new applicants, increasing overall workplace quality, or getting to the root of a work-related issue that is interfering with performance.

What You Can Do

I/O psychologists apply their scientific research in all types of organizational and workplace settings, such as manufacturing, commercial enterprises, labor unions and health care facilities. The focus of their research ranges from applicant and employee testing and assessment to leadership development, staffing, management, teams, compensation, workplace safety, diversity and work-life balance.

Other I/O psychologists work in research or hold academic positions in colleges and universities. In addition, they are qualified as trainers, facilitators, assessors, coaches and consultants. I/O psychologists may also work directly in an organization’s human resources department, or they may act as independent consultants, called into an organization to solve a particular problem.

Making It Happen

The career path to becoming an I/O psychologist begins with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Opportunities with a bachelor’s degree alone aren’t unheard of, but they are sparse. Most students interested in I/O psychology go on to earn an advanced degree, although they may take time off between degrees to work and gain real world experience.

A person with a master’s degree in I/O psychology is often able to find an entry-level position to launch a career. However, those with a doctoral degree will have more employment opportunities in this field.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, in 2012, the largest area of employment — and highest-paying — for I/O psychologists was in management, scientific and technical consulting services. This was followed by state government. Other areas included scientific and development services, offices of health practitioners and educational institutions.

What You Can Earn

An I/O psychologist’s salary depends on his or her experience and employer.

According to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s 2012 income and employment survey, the starting salary for an I/O specialist with a master’s degree was approximately $65,000 a year, while the starting salary for those with a doctoral degree was approximately $81,000. University professors make approximately $70,000 annually and those in the private sector earn approximately $100,000.

Overall, the median annual salary for I/O psychologists is $80,000. The highest earners can make $250,000 or more each year.

Helpful Resources

Society for I/O Psychology
Division 14: Society for I/O Psychology (SIOP) advocates the scientist-practitioner model in the application of psychology to all types of organizational and workplace settings, such as manufacturing, commercial enterprises, labor unions and public agencies.

I/O Psychology Goes to Mars
Research by I/O psychologists is guiding efforts to promote team cohesion among astronauts during the longest-ever manned space voyage: NASA's planned 2030 trip to Mars.