Organizational Psychology

Organizational Psychology

Organizational psychology is a “field that utilizes scientific methodology to better understand the behavior of individuals working in organizational settings” and to create organizations that are more effective (Jex & Britt, 2008). It is concerned with the study of individuals and groups in formal organizations such as businesses, government agencies, academic institutions and non-profit social service agencies. Effective organizations are beneficial because they more productive, offer services that are of a higher quality, perform better financially

The study of individual behavior in organizations is an ancient practice that has developed over the years. Organizational psychology is part of the industrial/organizational psychology, which began in the early twentieth century. Those who studied I/O psychology during that time concentrated on the factors that directly affected the industry such as skill acquisition and personnel selection. Scientific theories developed by Taylor in the 1900s and organizational design by Weber were instrumental and they viewed the organization in a scientific way. Scientific management recognized the importance of separating work tasks, motivation through financial incentives and studying problems in the work place. Although the theory of scientific management was instrumental in understanding organizations, it offered differing views from organizational psychology. It however made major contributions to the subject of empirical study, which is used to this day by organizational psychologists.

Weber’s contribution to the field of psychology was realized with his desire to study topics such as leadership and power among others, which are considered important in the field of psychology. Hawthorne studies were perhaps the greatest contributions to organizational psychology. They were concerned with the effect of the environment on employee’s productivity, the effect of work groups, employee’s response to different styles of leadership and the effect of social factors on employee’s behavior. Unionization was also instrumental in the development of organizational psychology. Unionization brought to light factors that were previously neglected such as employee’s involvement in decision-making and their quality of life when they were at work.

Another milestone in the field of organizational psychology came about with the work of Kurt Lewin, who expounded on issues such as motivation and leadership, and brought to light the importance of group dynamics. The greatest contribution made by Lewin was the use of research in solving problems. Herzberg contributed to organizational psychology through his studies on job enrichment, job design, job satisfaction and leadership. The life conditions and living standards of people were improving and there were many opportunities. Offering financial incentives was not enough and employers started looking for other ways to motivate their employees.

Vietnam War changed the way people saw authority, as they started questioning and defying authority during this time. This attitude was reflected in the workplace and a new culture was formed in the work setting. It was during this time that the American Psychological Association recognized the need to change the industrial psychology to industrial/organizational psychology, to reflect the changing face in organizations. More theories were developed and most of them focused on developing older topics such as job satisfaction. Many economies changed from communists and they embraced a free market economy. With these changes, employers realized that a change in organizational management and working was needed and as they sought different ways to motivate employees, they contributed to the change and development in organizational psychology. Topics such as stress, retirement, work and family issues began to be discussed (Jex & Britt, 2008).

One of the common similarities between clinical psychology and organizational psychology is that they are keen on using research. Organizational psychology is keen on surveys while clinical psychologists use questionnaires, laboratory experiments, and data from existing records for their research. Clinical psychology is aimed at understanding human behavior in a better way. Organizational psychology and clinical psychology aim at understanding individuals in a group context. Clinical psychology however aims to understand human behavior in a social context such as the family while the primary concern of organizational psychologists is working with groups and individuals in the organization. Organizational psychology looks at the factors that may negatively affect the productivity of the organization and the welfare of the employees. Clinical psychologists on the other hand aim at improving behavioral problems and psychological disorders. Professionals who work in both fields can work in different institutions and organizations (Plante, 2010).

Another related discipline to organizational psychology is social psychology. Like organizational psychology, social psychology is also a scientific study. However, it is aimed at finding out how people’s thoughts, behaviors and attitudes are affected by their environment. Both fields are involved in studying groups. They observe how different people relate to each other when they are in these groups. Social psychology is concerned with how individuals can be influenced by others. This usually happens through conformity, compliance, obedience and social norms (Sanderson, 2009). It is not necessarily concerned with studying individuals under a confined context such as the organization but it exposes the individual to other situations.

Social psychology is aimed at understanding human behavior in a social context while organizational psychology studies human behavior in an organization. Some of the topics discussed in both fields are the same. For instance, they both discuss group processes and discrimination. However, organizational psychology seeks to understand how these topics affect organizations while social psychology intends to find out why people choose to engage in such practices, and what leads them to do so.

As noted above, organizational psychology uses scientific methods to develop different psychological principles. The use of science ensures that the results obtained can be verified and that they are reliable. Research methodologies and statistical analysis are important in organizational psychology. By researching on different topics, organizational psychologists are able to know how organizations can be made more effective. Research and statistical analysis enables psychologists to question and research the validity of previous research methodologies. This ensures that the methods used today are applicable and beneficial to the organization. Research leads to the development of new knowledge. As people conduct research they are able to find out new areas of study that they can develop. Through research methods employed in organizational psychology, people are able to understand organizations better (Cascio & Aguinis, 2008).

Statistical analysis enables the management of an organization to identify areas, which can increase the satisfaction of employees. Organizations are able to know the problematic areas such as those that cause low productivity. By using different research methodologies and statistics, organizations have been able to identify areas which affect employees and which were disregarded earlier. Organizations have been able to identify the effect of absenteeism on productivity, how sexual harassment occurs at the work place and how it affects people, how organizations can be caught up in racism and how the personality of different people affect their work and relationship with others among other topics.



Brutus, S., Gill, H., & Duniewicz, K. (2010). State of science in industrial and organizational psychology: A review of self-reported limitations. Personnel Psychology 63, (4) 907-936

Cascio, F. W., & Aguinis, H. (2008). Research in industrial and organizational psychology from 1963 to 2007: Changes, choices, and trends. Journal of Applied Psychology 93, (5) 1062-1081

Jex, M. S., & Britt, W. T. (2008). Organizational psychology. A scientific-practitioner approach, second edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons

Plante, G. T. Contemporary clinical psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons

Sanderson, A. C. (2009). Social psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons


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