Organizational Psychology

Organizational psychology is the psychology applied to work and organizations. This field of study spans more than a century and covers an increasingly diverse range of topics as the nature of work and organizations continue to evolve.

Broadly speaking, Organizational Psychology is a field of study and research in which scientific principles of psychology and methods are developed, applied, and practiced in the workplace.

It deals with various aspects of people’s behavior and attitudes and connects them to functions and productivity in an organizational setting. In a more basic terms:

Organizational Psychology is about how employees experience their environment and how they think, feel, behave, act, and interact in the organizational environment.

This literature discusses organizational psychology’s origins and examines its applications to the workplace.

The Field of Organizational Psychology

Organizational psychology focuses on the influence that organizations have on individuals’ functioning.

It seeks to explore and understand the insights of individual employees in its connection to issues of well-being at the individual and organizational levels. By and large, organizational psychology aims to improve people’s efficiency and increase organizational effectiveness and performance.

Organizational psychology has a scientific and research agenda as well as practitioner concerns. For example, research in the field seeks to gain a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the employee factors that may contribute to positive or negative behavior and attitudes at the workplace.

Practitioners apply that knowledge to improve employees’ behavior and attitude as well as introduce changes in the work environment in view of reinforcing motivation and aligning employees’ behavior to enhance organizational effectiveness.

One may conclude that the interaction, the mutual collaboration and communication between the scientists and the practitioners, is essential in experimenting and in forming new concepts and ideas to make an impact in and add new knowledge and practices to the field.

Relatively speaking, organizational psychology is a new field; it is considered to be a subdiscipline within psychology Opens in new window often connected and related to industrial psychology Opens in new window. Often, the two go hand in hand, and the acronym I-O is frequently used: I-O psychology.

In the American Psychological Association, a division was created (Division 14) many years ago, and research and practice are shared on an annual basis at conferences.

Actually, organizational psychology was added to the original term industrial psychology in the 1970s. Other subdisciplines in the connected fields may include:

  • occupational psychology,
  • the psychology of work and organizations, (and more specific areas such as:)
  • vocational psychology,
  • managerial psychology, and
  • personnel psychology.

The main differences between these terms reflect basically the individual or the organization’s orientations for which the expertise is being emphasized.

Bear in mind that industrial psychology Opens in new window concentrates on individual differences oriented toward human resource matters and concerned with maximizing efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness, while organizational psychology targets issues of human relations processes, individual attitudes and behavior, and other relevant management practices that contribute to feelings of fulfillment and meaningfulness in the organization.

However, it should be noted that although this section focuses on organizational psychology, the two areas do overlap to a great extent, and the borders between them are not always clear: Some topics, such as motivation, leadership, stress Opens in new window, and decision making, are a focal point in both areas.

As such, contemporary trends tend to integrate both focuses, and this explains why the acronym I-O psychology has become so popular.

The Scientific Roots and the Context of Organizational Psychology

The origin and development of organizational psychology are based on two main psychological forces.

  1. First, at the end of the 19th century, the interest in investigatingthe human mind and behavior, and the concept of functionalism, began, where psychologists studied how people’s minds adapt to their environments.
  2. The second psychological force took place at the turn of the 20th century with the birthof applied psychology versus basic psychology.

The latter refers to scientific study and research that seek to find practical solutions for everyday problems. The main five perspectives of basic psychology— (1) physiological, (2) developmental, (3) personality,(4) social, and (5) cognitive—influenced the emergence of organizational psychology.

  • Physiological or biological psychology studies how the brain, neurotransmitters, andother biological processes affect how we think, feel, and behave. In the workplace, this perspective may be associated with physiological changes as a reaction to work setting situations such as job stress  Opens in new window.
  • Developmental psychology  Opens in new window explores the emotional, physical, and psychological growth of people across their lifespan and at a particular age, ranging from childhood to adulthood, to old age.
  • Personality psychology focuses on characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, andbehaviors that make each person unique as well as individual differences. In theworkplace context, this discipline acknowledges the influence of personality traits on people’s behavior in certain situations.
  • Social psychology  Opens in new window is concerned with how people feel and think about others and behave toward others and how this affects the individual. Research topics include socialsituations in which attitudes and behaviors such as prejudice or aggression are present,and also prosocial and group interaction and effectiveness.
  • Cognitive psychology  Opens in new window focuses on the internal states of the functional process of thinking and includes issues such as motivation, problem solving, decision making, thinking, andattention.

In addition, organizational psychology is connected to some broad schools of thought in clinical and other subfields of psychology such as behaviorism, Gestalt psychology, and humanistic psychology.

For example, the behavioral approach (or behaviorism) was acatalyst for conducting objective research in studying observable behavior and external factors—the study of observable events.

Currently, this approach not only stresses the importance of the environment on behavior but also allows for the inclusion of cognitive processes and feelings. In the workplace setting, this perspective seeks to develop practical applications that include the environmental or situational variables in theories of work behavior.

Although there is no single dominant basic theoretical or psychology paradigm inorganizational psychology, there is an eclectic convergence of many other schoolsof thought and paradigms in psychology in general. This presence of multipledisciplines and perspectives in the applied branch of organizational psychology is a clear demonstration of the complexity of the nature of human beings at work and in organizational settings.

Current Challenges for Research and Practices

The rapid changes in the organizational environment, and the increased level of complexity and chaos in the workplace and in organizational settings, have brought about new challenges.

We witnessed the birth of the technological age (information technology), which has resulted in the transformation of the nature of employee work patterns, such as virtual spaces and job sharing.

Globalization, patterns of mobility, and the cyber age have added new concerns such as the work role (“job for life or life for job”), the relationship of power between the employee and the employer, the psychological contract, the balance between home and work, and so on.

Contemporary Topics in Organizational Psychology

Contemporary trends in research and practices in the field of organizational psychology seek to predict how organizations may be able to attract and retain the best employees and provide greater opportunity for personal development and growth, which eventually may lead to sustainable increases in employee well-being, satisfaction, and effectiveness.

Other contemporary topics are the functioning of virtual teams, aspects of cross-cultural leadership, emotional intelligence, happiness and passion at work, and a flexible work arrangement, to name a few. These issues will continue to affect the field of organizational psychology.

Principal Research Methods

The field of organizational psychology relies extensively on both quantitative and qualitative techniques in gathering information on human behavior in the workplace. The application of each of the methods and techniques depends on the nature of the problem at hand and the purpose of the application.

A factor that helps differentiate organizational psychology from other fields of psychology is the reliance on the scientist-practitioner orientation—that is, the application of scientific instruments for enhancing decision making and practices in the workplace.

Some of the principal methods used in organizational psychology include the following:

  • Questionnaires/surveys are used to evaluate an individual’s perceptions,beliefs, experiences, attitudes, and values, such as job satisfaction  Opens in new window and commitment  Opens in new window.
  • Psychometric tests are applied to assess and measure a person’s abilities and traits, such as intelligence  Opens in new window and personality.
  • Interviews are conducted for different purposes, such as selection or career development.
  • Interviews might be structured, semistructured, or unstructuredand can be carried out by a single interviewer or multiple interviewers.
  • Psychophysiological assessment relates to an individual’s psychological functioning and involves the measurement of a person’s neurological or physiological state.
  • Observation allows for the examination of an individual’s behavior and its consequences in different settings in the workplace. It may be structured or unstructured.
  • Archival sources provide information and data in the particular contextsetting.


Leaders in organizations depend on accurate and reliable information to help them make intelligent decisions for their organizations on issues related to individual behavior and organizational processes, all in view of enhancing effectiveness in a sustainable manner.

Organizational psychologists may be instrumental in anticipating important and useful information and providing it to leaders in describing, predicting, and providing relevant knowledge and data.

You Might Also Like:
  1. ResearchGate: “Organizational Psychology” Opens in new window
  2. Aamodt, M. G. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (7thed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  3. Arnold, J., Randal, R., Patterson, F., Silvester, J., Robertson, I., . . . Hartog, D. D.(2010). Work psychology: Understanding human behaviour in the workplace (5th ed.).London, UK: Pearson Education.
  4. Bergh, Z. C. (2009). Fields of study and practice areas in industrial and organisationalpsychology. In Z. C. Bergh & A. L. Theron (Eds.), Psychology in the work context (pp.16–29). Cape Town, South Africa: Oxford University Press.
  5. Cascio, W. F., & Aguinis, H. (2005). Applied psychology in human resourcemanagement (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  6. Cascio, W. F., & Aguinis, H. (2008). Research in industrial and organizationalpsychology from 1963 to 2007: Changes, choices, and trends. Journal of AppliedPsychology, 93(5), 1062–1081.
  7. Jex, S., & Britt, T. (2008). Organizational psychology: A scientist-practitioner approach(2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
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  9. Van Dick, R. (2001). Identification in organizational contexts: Linking theory andresearch from social and organizational psychology. International Journal ofManagement Reviews, 3(4), 265–354.