The Fast-Growing Field of I/O Psychology

I/O Psychology

How can four generations work harmoniously in the workplace? How do employees stay engaged? How can managers hire the best person for the job?

These are questions industrial/organizational psychologists strive to answer, and with increasing urgency.

I/O psychologist is the fastest-growing occupation in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Fastest Growing Occupations report. Openings for I/O psychologists in the U.S. are expected to increase by 53 percent from 2012 to 2022.

It’s no wonder more corporations are turning to I/O psychologists to keep their businesses humming. A bad hire can cost a company from $25,000 to $50,000, according to a 2012 survey by CareerBuilder.com. Employee turnover costs not only dollars, but also lost productivity and lowered morale.

What is an I/O Psychologist?

A number of variables determines how well a company operates, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). When one variable, such as communication, conflict resolution, leadership, or performance management, falls short, it can be traced back to how employees are selected, trained, share information, or interact.

I/O psychologists apply their knowledge of human behavior and conduct research to address workplace challenges. This research can take the form of observing how teams work to designing surveys to measure employee satisfaction.

“Practitioners of Industrial and Organizational Psychology impact the community by making work a more meaningful experience,” says Michelle Dennis, Ph.D., director of Adler University’s master’s in Industrial and Organizational Psychology program. “Professionals working in this field are in a unique position to improve productivity and quality of life.”

I/O psychologists may study a variety of workplace issues, such as:

  • Stigmas in organizations
  • Corporate culture
  • Sexual harassment
  • Reducing absenteeism
  • Workplace aggression
  • Hiring barriers people with disabilities face

They may also help assess hiring and performance management systems, provide executive coaching, design training programs, and develop workplace diversity policies.

How to Become an I/O Psychologist

The path to becoming an I/O psychologist starts with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. There are very few undergraduate degrees specifically in I/O psychology. Most students complete a master’s degree in I/O psychology, although many take time off to gain business experience between undergraduate and graduate school. Most I/O psychologist positions require a master’s degree at a minimum.

“Students embarking on a career in psychology quickly realize the vast career opportunities available within I/O psychology,” says Tracy Kantrowitz in a February 2014 Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) publication. Kantrowitz is vice president of research and development for the consulting firm CEB.

Other titles for people who do this type of work are:

  • Organizational development specialist
  • Talent management specialist
  • Behavioral analyst
  • Assessment and selection specialist
  • Executive coach

I/O psychologists go all the way to the top, heading the human resources departments at Sara Lee, Ingersoll Rand, Merck, and Land O’Lakes, according to the APA. Although they’re most likely to be found in large companies, I/O psychologists also work in smaller companies, government, universities, and as self-employed consultants.

I/O Psychology Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an average salary of $90,070 per year for I/O psychologists overall. Some industries, such as high tech, report higher annual salaries.

SIOP members report in the organization’s 2012 Income and Employment Survey, average salaries of $100,000 for corporate positions and $103,000 for university professors. The top 5 percent reported earning $250,000 to several million each year. Starting salaries are $64,000 annually for master’s graduates and $78,000 for Ph.D. graduates.

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