Organizational psychology is an applied science that studies the world of work.
Believe it or not, “work” actually has its own science. It’s called “organizational psychology,” (OP) with “organization” usually referring to “the workplace” but also to other entities that could be considered organizations – for example, clubs, churches or even a local scrapbooking group.
OP is actually rooted in an older, related field known as industrial-organizational psychology (I/O), which dates back to the World War I era. It was applied in the U.S. to fill specific military jobs with recruits most likely to perform well in them. In the U.K., it was applied to the problem of fatigue among munitions workers.
Organizations consist of stakeholders with conflicting goals
Over the past 40 years or so, OP has been trying to evolve into a field that looks at organizations as complex social systems that are part of their environments. As complex social systems, today’s organizations – and their issues – should be considered from a pluralist rather than a unitarist perspective. That is, the people and groups that comprise an organization and its constituencies should be thought of as stakeholders with competing goals and objectives.
Stakeholders include but are not necessarily limited to employees, customers, vendors, stockholders, regulatory agencies -- and society members, in general, who depend upon the environmental resources (e.g. natural, human and otherwise) that organizations also require.
The implications for this are substantial, starting with how we view organizational changes and interventions designed to prevent or correct problems. The traditional (unitarist) approach has been to assume that the organization's goals are everyone's goals, but a more realistic (pluralist) perspective reveals that is not necessarily the case. (Corporate downsizing is a prime example). Only by considering the perspectives of all the relevant stakeholders can an organization adopt a sensible and informed approach to achieving its goals and its survival.
How organizational psychology can be used in organizations
Organizational psychology can be applied in a multitude of ways, for example:
Unfortunately, the fast-paced, competitive world of corporate life and the very research-focused view of academia are separated by a chasmic barrier known as the "academic-practitioner" divide. On one side are researchers who research; on the other, practitioners (managers) who act and decide.
Large corporations have relied upon organizational scientists for decades, but in terms of general awareness, OP (in my experience) is just not a field that most organizations are familiar with. Yet OP's potential benefits hold great promise for organizations that are willing to drill down to the details in order to pursue their own sustainability.
Jan is the author of The Cultural Psyche of India: Guidance for the U.S. Marketer. She is a member of the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology and an associate member of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She holds a master's in organizational psychology from the University of London and has written as a consultant for the life sciences industry since 1993.