The harsh reality is that most people in this country spend most of their waking hours working.
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Whether you are on the factory floor or in the executive suite, most of workers’ time and energy is focused on the means with which they make a living. Our relationships, lifestyle choices, and ultimately our identities, are more likely driven by our vocation than anything else.
Consider the fact that nearly every social introduction begins with: “so, what do you do?” There is no doubt about it: We are a work-obsessed nation. So, when it comes to dealing with the challenges of the workplace, who do you turn to?
As a practitioner in the field of industrial and organizational psychology (often referred to as I/O psychology for short), I have always been an advocate for enhancing the work experience. What drew me to the field was the fact that the discipline is rooted in the principles and traditions of psychology. Workplaces often turn into extended families and even mini societies, so understanding the psychology of how individuals operate within the work context is important for both personal and professional success.
When it comes to defining I/O psychology Dr. Eduardo Salas, professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida and current president of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), believes that I/O psychologists are “scientist practitioners” who offer “evidence-based solutions for solving practical problems.”
A great deal of the research and practice in I/O psychology is centered on selection/hiring, leadership, team dynamics, job satisfaction and motivation. If you have ever dealt with issues concerning job performance, personality differences or a bad boss you have likely crossed paths with the work of an I/O psychologist.
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I/O Psychology is not Therapy: Because I frequently drop the “I” and refer to the field as organizational psychology, I inevitably get asked if I deal with hoarders or organize people’s closets. Truth is, I can’t even organize my own closet. The “organizational” refers to businesses and workplaces, not space saving.
Another common misconception is that I/O psychologists conduct workplace therapy. Although I/O psychologists deal a lot with personality differences, motivation and conflict, mental health therapy is not part of the I/O tool box. Due to the deeply personal nature of psychotherapy, therapeutic interventions are, and should remain, the realm of counseling and clinical therapists.
I/O Psychologists vs. Management Consultants: According to Salas, one of the key differentiators between I/O psychologists and those who broadly define themselves as management consultants is the fact that I/O psychologists “bring the rigor and methodology of social science to the table.”
I/O psychologists are specifically trained to apply science-based principles in both the research and practice of workplace problems. I/O practitioners will employ such science-based tools as personality assessments, feedback surveys, and behavioral interviews to explore organizational challenges in a structured and methodical way. Practitioners who operate in the world of management consulting run the gamut when it comes to their training and focus.
Where the Field is Going? According to David Nershi, executive director of SIOP, there is an “increased emphasis on evidence-based management” in the business world. Due to the fallout from the Great Recession, companies are focused more than ever on their bottom line. Companies are looking for more than just good advice, they want actionable solutions that produce measurable results. As evidence of this, the field of I/O psychology continues to grow at a rapid pace. According to the Department of Labor, there will be a 26% increase in I/O psychologists over the next decade, which makes I/O psychology one of the hottest growing fields of the future. Today membership in SIOP stands at 8,239 internationally with nearly half of the members being graduate students.
Any mention of psychology is more likely to conjure up images of marital troubles, adolescence or criminal behavior than workplace dysfunctions. However, the workplace is where most of us really live our lives. I/O psychologists have a wealth of research, training and experience in dealing with the broad range of workplace issues that impact all facets of our lives. The next time you have a workplace quandary, consider reaching out to an I/O psychologist.
Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership.Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook