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A Day in the Life of an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Cornerstone Editors

Industrial-organizational psychologists (also know as I-O psychologists) aren't your typical sit-on-the-couch therapists. This line of work involves applying the principles of psychology to the workplace to help businesses increase productivity, make better decisions around hiring and provide insight into applying market research to business strategy.

Sounds like a pretty useful person to have on your team, right? In recent years, more and more organizations would agree—in fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked I-O psychology as the fastest growing occupation in the U.S. in 2014. But although executives are increasingly turning to psychology to inform business strategy, it's not yet a mainstream practice. As Dr. Kelly Slack, an I-O psychologists at NASA, says "Although this field has gained traction in recent years, the vast majority of people have no idea what I-O is."

To learn more about the field, we spoke with three I-O psychologists about their daily work, biggest challenges and current initiatives.

Dr. Kelley J. Slack

Title: I-O Psychologist for the Behavioral Health and Performance Group at NASA Johnson Space Center and CFO and Managing Consultant for Minerva Work Solutions PPLC

What current initiative or past project are you most excited about? At Minerva, we've taken the Moonbase simulation—a simulation game developed for NASA—and adapted it to a business setting. Moonbase is used at Johnson Space Center to teach flight controllers and new astronauts soft skills. At Minerva, we've taken the basic Moonbase simulation and adapted it to teach teamwork and other soft skillsto workers and managers.

How has the growth of workforce analytics impacted your role as an I-O psychologist? One of the beautiful facts about I-O psychologists is that we've been taught to use scientific evidence to solve real workplace problems. For example, we might get hired because an organization is worried about employee turnover. We might decide the best way of finding out the 'why' behind what is happening is conducting focus groups and an employee survey. From the results of those, we can determine not only why employees are leaving, but also develop an action plan to improve engagement and reduce turnover.

What is your best piece of advice for companies looking to utilize I-O psychology in the workplace? A company that is looking to utilize I-O psychology is already way ahead of its competitors. For companies looking to support their workforce from line workers to the CEO, the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology (SIOP) says it well: I-O psychology is "science for a smarter workplace."

Dr. Brenda Fellows

Title: President and CEO of Fellows Corporate Consortium, LLC, a global management consulting firm, and Adjunct Professor at Hass School of Business, University of California Berkeley

What is the most challenging part of your job? One challenging part of my job is getting organizations, organizational leaders and employees ready for change. I work on many projects that include change management and organizational effectiveness. Oftentimes, people resist change no matter how complex or simple the change may be.

What current initiative or past project are you most excited about? I worked with a major global corporation to develop three employee development programs, which continue to provide current and future employees the opportunity to learn new skills by learning from persons functioning at two and three levels above them. The return on investment for these programs is a win-win for the organization and its employees through employee engagement, retention and continued motivation.

What is your best piece of advice for companies looking to utilize I-O psychology in the workplace? To effectively address psychological underpinnings of human dynamics within the field of leadership one must explore emotional, social, spiritual and internal dynamics driving human performance, decision-making and stressors.

Jen Lacewell

Title: I-O Psychologist for Seasons Center for Behavioral Health, a non-profit mental health agency

What is the most challenging part of your job? Scope creep has to be one of the most challenging parts of my position. The work I do can be very ambiguous, and small projects that I think will only take a few days can easily turn into large projects that take weeks if I'm not careful.

How has the growth of workforce analytics played into your role as an I-O psychologist? Specifically, working for a non-profit, a lot of what we do is funded by grants. Workforce analytics are great for demonstrating evidence, by way of data, that a program or initiative is working.

What is your best piece of advice for companies looking to utilize I-O psychology in the workplace? If you're looking to spend the money to hire an I-O, do it right. Listen to what the I-O has to say with an open mind, and don't expect results if you withhold resources or override their advice during projects. It will be the best decision you make! I-O psychologists can help you leverage human capital through selection, assessment, training and employee development.

Header photo: Twenty20

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