Psychologist in the Office

Most people find it hard to reconcile the idea of psychologists lurking in an office. Are they around to counsel insane or over-stressed workers? Or are they spies for the upper staff, seeking out dissent among the employees by baiting them through “psychological” talk? Well, I’m not saying flat-out that they can’t have such roles (so do be careful when you talk to Psychology-based colleagues!) but the study of industrial & organisational psychology goes much further than that, into areas such as recruitment & selection, performance appraisal and training. In fact, it covers many areas of Management and Human Resources, which means Psychology students can go out into the business world as well!

The cool bit about I-O Psychology is that they’re the ones making all those personality and competence assessments you find in your psychometric job screenings. The exams that you take to secure your job, and to get a promotion, were all made up by psychologists with a mind towards the best way to screen out certain kinds of people, and also the kinds of people the company will need. Some have complained that such screening does little to determine a person’s true job performance and can even be considered a form of discrimination, but they’re also favoured because people can’t prepare for them. Interviews, after all, are just a facade, and sometimes say nothing about an interviewee’s true job performance. Then again, are you sure interviewees can’t prepare for assessments? If they know the kind of personality to portray, they’ll know the “correct” options to tick on the questionnaires. It’ll therefore take an expert psychologist to make assessments that’re not immediately transparent to the person taking them.

Of course, ticking on choices is just one of the many kinds of assessments. There’re written and physical exams and also assessment centres, which simulate a mock work environment for candidates to perform their decisions. I’m sure I’d have tons of fun watching them negotiate the scenarios we give them. In fact, I’ve always enjoyed being on the other side of the interview panel. I’m sure everyone does.

The thing about Business is that seemingly common-sense things can be very important. Things like motivation and satisfaction in a job, managing organisational cultures and forming teams and assigning team duties sound like things you can do intuitively, but attention must be paid to them to manage them right. You have to know how group dynamics work together to be able to coordinate effective work groups, and to do so you’ve got to know personality and individual differences to define the kinds of people your colleagues are. You have to know human performance to know how to motivate workers to achieve their fullest potential. You may even want to go into occupational health psychology, which is a mix between I-O Psychology and Health Psychology, to ensure the emotional, mental and physical well-being of your co-workers.

Lots of names that sound fancy. Lots of theory that may not even hold in the real world. This charge is sometimes levied against the social sciences, or even university academicians in general. They float around with pompous theories and cause-effect relationships that’re “sure to happen” given “certain conditions”. These conditions never perfectly take place, and the applications of the theories don’t work out most times. All these studies are only believable when a psychologist has been on the field, observing true phenomena and adapting his work to what he sees. Often such psychologists do the academic world a favour as well by publishing these findings in academic papers, forming new theories for others to use and rectify according to their own situations. Perhaps that’s the use of theories. They offer a baseline for you to work on. Editing something that’s wrong is after all easier than trying to do something out of nothing to begin with.

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