The Role of Psychology in the Workplace

what is workplace psychology

“Workplace psychology” refers to the practice of applying psychological principles and practices to a work environment in order to solve problems and make improvements. It’s commonly known as work psychology, organizational psychology, and industrial organizational psychology, among other terms.

Industrial organizational psychology jobs touch on many different areas of the workplace. Work psychology commonly focuses on areas such as talent acquisition, management, and retention, leadership, and workplace productivity.


Workplace psychology principles can help employers identify the key skills, educational requirements, and work experience their employees must possess. Knowing these enables the employer to draft appropriate job descriptions and advertisements, and to orient the interview process towards assessing for these qualities. Workplace psychology principles can also help employers understand how to select for particular traits without being discriminatory.


Workplace psychology also helps employers to pinpoint their staff’s training needs, and guides them in delivering the relevant training in an engaging fashion. Workplace training customarily consist of state or federally mandated training (such as Title IX training), training that are crucial for employees due to their being employed at a particular type of workplace (such as safety procedures), and training that are intellectually enriching for a particular work setting.

Performance Appraisal

Performance appraisals are standard workplace psychology tools. They are designed to provide employees with feedback about their performance, which in turn should lead to increased productivity. In theory, they also facilitate clear communication between management and employees. They also may act as forums for establishing goal setting, as well as serving as starting points for performance improvement plans, if necessary. Finally, they can help Human Resources identify training needs.


Compensation is an important part of employee satisfaction and psychology in the workplace. Workplace psychology strategies take this into consideration when developing compensation strategies such as pay-for-performance plans.

Motivation & Productivity

Increased motivation leads to increased productivity, and the reverse may be true also. Work psychology holds that tactics like contests, performance appraisals, sales quotas and commission pay can all improve motivation, ultimately leading to greater productivity.

Organizational Psychology Courses

Prospective work psychology graduate students should be comfortable with both quantitative research and qualitative psychology. Each organizational psychology graduate program differs somewhat in terms of focus and content. However, certain core courses are common to most, if not all, master’s and doctoral programs. Note that if you are considering an online organizational psychology program, it is important to research and fully understand the accreditation status of the school, before applying and taking any courses.

Common courses include:

  • Statistics
  • Research
  • Survey or intro course on industrial organizational psychology

Beyond these classes, other core classes and electives might include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Psychology of small groups
  • Organizational assessment
  • Organizational change and development
  • Organizational learning
  • Training and development
  • Personnel selection
  • Performance measurement and rewards
  • Training in organizations
  • Work motivation and attitudes
  • Leadership and strategic change

search for graduate programs in organizational psychology

Find Schools