Industrial and organizational psychology

Industrial and organizational psychology

Industrial and organizational psychology (also known as I/O psychology, work psychology, or personnel psychology) is the scientific study of employees, workplaces, and organizations. Industrial and organizational psychologists contribute to an organization's success by improving the performance and well-being of its people. An I/O psychologist researches and identifies how behaviors and attitudes can be improved through hiring practices, training programs, and feedback systems.[1] I/O psychologists also help organizations transition among periods of change and development. Industrial and organizational psychology is related to the concepts of organizational behavior and human capital.

An applied science, I–O psychology is represented by Division 14 of the American Psychological Association, known formally as the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP).



Guion (1965) defines I–O psychology as "the scientific study of the relationship between man and the world of work: ... in the process of making a living" (p. 817). Blum & Naylor (1968) define it as "simply the application or extension of psychological facts and principles to the problems concerning human beings operating within the context of business and industry" (p. 4). I–O psychology has historically subsumed two broad areas of study, as evident by its name, although this distinction is largely artificial and many topics cut across both areas. It has roots in social psychology; organizational psychologists examine the role of the work environment in performance and other outcomes including job satisfaction and health. Sometimes, I–O psychology is considered a sister field or branch of organizational studies, organizational science, organizational behavior, human resources, and/or management, but there is no universally accepted classification system for these related fields.

Common research and practice areas for I–O psychologists include:

I–O psychologists are trained in the "scientist-practitioner" model. The training enables I–O psychologists to employ scientific principles and research-based designs to generate knowledge. They use what they have learned in applied settings to help clients address workplace needs. I–O psychologists are employed as professors, researchers, and consultants. They also work within organizations, often as part of a human resources department where they coordinate hiring and organizational development initiatives from an evidence-based perspective.


The "industrial" side of I–O psychology has its historical origins in research on individual differences, assessment, and the prediction of performance. This branch of the field crystallized during World War I, in response to the need to rapidly assign new troops to duty stations. After the War, the growing industrial base in the US added impetus to I–O psychology. Walter Dill Scott, who was elected President of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1919, was arguably the most prominent I–O psychologist of his time, although James McKeen Cattell (elected APA President in 1895) and Hugo Münsterberg (1898) were influential in the early development of the field.[2] Organizational psychology gained prominence after World War II, influenced by the Hawthorne studies and the work of researchers such as Kurt Lewin and Muzafer Sherif.

Research methods

As described above, I–O psychologists are trained in the scientist–practitioner model. I–O psychologists rely on a variety of methods to conduct organizational research. Study designs employed by I–O psychologists include surveys, experiments, quasi-experiments, and observational studies. I–O psychologists rely on diverse data sources including human judgments, historical databases, objective measures of work performance (e.g., sales volume), and questionnaires and surveys.

I–O researchers employ both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Quantitative methods used in I–O psychology include both descriptive statistics and inferential statistics (e.g., correlation, multiple regression, and analysis of variance). More advanced statistical methods employed by some I–O psychologists include logistic regression, multivariate analysis of variance, structural equation modeling,[3] and hierarchical linear modeling (HLM; also known as multilevel modeling).[4] HLM is particularly applicable to research on team- and organization-level effects on individuals. I–O psychologists also employ psychometric methods including methods associated with classical test theory (CTT),[5] generalizability theory, and item response theory (IRT).[6] In the 1990s, a growing body of empirical research in I–O psychology was influential in the application of meta-analysis, particularly in the area of the stability of research findings across contexts. The most well-known meta-analytic approaches are those associated with Hunter & Schmidt,[7][8][9] Rosenthal,[10][11] and Hedges & Olkin.[12] With the help of meta-analysis, Hunter & Schmidt[13][14] advanced the idea of validity generalization, which suggests that some performance predictors, specifically cognitive ability tests (see especially Hunter [1986][15] and Hunter & Schmidt [1996][16]) have a relatively stable and positive relation to job performance across all jobs. Although not unchallenged, validity generalization has broad acceptance with regard to many selection instruments (e.g. cognitive ability tests, job knowledge tests, work samples, and structured interviews) across a broad range of jobs.

Qualitative methods employed in I–O psychology include content analysis, focus groups, interviews, case studies, and several other observational techniques. I–O research on organizational culture research has employed ethnographic techniques and participant observation to collect data. One well-known qualitative technique employed in I–O psychology is John Flanagan's Critical Incident Technique,[17] which requires "qualified observers" (e.g., pilots in studies of aviation, construction workers in studies of construction projects) to describe a work situation that resulted in a good or bad outcome. Objectivity is ensured when multiple observers identify the same incidents. The observers are also asked to provide information about what the actor in the situation could have done differently to influence the outcome. This technique is then used to describe the critical elements of performance in certain jobs and how worker behavior relates to outcomes. Most notably, this technique has been employed to improve performance among aircraft crews and surgical teams, literally saving thousands of lives since its introduction. An application of the technique in research on coping with job stress comes from O'Driscoll & Cooper.[18]

I–O psychologists sometimes use quantitative and qualitative methods in concert. For example, when constructing behaviorally-anchored rating scales (BARS), a job analyst may use qualitative methods, such as critical incidents interviews and focus groups to collect data bearing on performance. Then the analyst would have SMEs rate those examples on a Likert scale and compute inter-rater agreement statistics to judge the adequacy of each item. Each potential item would additionally be correlated with an external criterion in order to evaluate its usefulness if it were to be selected to be included in a BARS metric.


Job analysis

Job analysis is often described as the cornerstone of successful employee selection efforts and performance management initiatives. A job analysis involves the systematic collection of information about a job. Job-analytic methods are often described as belonging to one of two approaches. One approach, the task-oriented job analysis, involves an examination of the duties, tasks, and/or competencies required by a job. The second approach, a worker-oriented job analysis, involves an examination of the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) required to successfully perform the work. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Various adaptations of job-analytic methods include competency modeling, which examines large groups of duties and tasks related to a common goal or process, and practice analysis, which examines the way work is performed in an occupation across jobs.

Job-analytic data are often collected using a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods. The information obtained from a job analysis is then used to create job-relevant selection procedures, performance appraisals and criteria, or training programs. Additional uses of job-analytic information include job evaluations for the purpose of determining compensation levels and job redesign.

Personnel recruitment and selection

I–O psychologists typically work with HR specialists to design (a) recruitment processes and (b) personnel selection systems. Personnel recruitment is the process of identifying qualified candidates in the workforce and getting them to apply for jobs within an organization. Personnel recruitment processes include developing job announcements, placing ads, defining key qualifications for applicants, and screening out unqualified applicants.

Personnel selection is the systematic process of hiring and promoting personnel. Personnel selection systems employ evidence-based practices to determine the most qualified candidates. Personnel selection involves both new hires and individuals who can be promoted from within the organization. Common selection tools include ability tests (e.g., cognitive, physical, or psychomotor), knowledge tests, personality tests, structured interviews, the systematic collection of biographical data, and work samples. I–O psychologists must evaluate evidence regarding the extent to which selection tools predict job performance, evidence that bears on the validity of selection tools.

Personnel selection procedures are usually validated, i.e., shown to be job relevant, using one or more of the following types of validity: content validity, construct validity, and/or criterion-related validity. I–O psychologists adhere to professional standards, such as the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology's (SIOP) Principles for Validation and Use of Personnel Selection Procedures[19] and the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.[20] The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Uniform Guidelines[21] are also influential in guiding personnel selection although they have been criticized as outdated when compared to the current state of knowledge in I–O psychology.

I–O psychologists not only help in the selection and assessment of personnel for jobs, but also assist in the selection of students for admission to colleges, universities, and graduate and professional schools as well as the assessment of student achievement, student aptitude, and the performance of teachers and K–12 schools. Increasingly, I–O psychologists are working for educational assessment and testing organizations and divisions.

A meta-analysis of selection methods in personnel psychology found that general mental ability was the best overall predictor of job performance and training performance.[22]

Performance appraisal/management

Performance appraisal or performance evaluation is the process of measuring an individual's work behaviors and outcomes against the expectations of the job. Performance appraisal is frequently used in promotion and compensation decisions, to help design and validate personnel selection procedures, and for performance management. Performance management is the process of providing performance feedback relative to expectations and improvement information (e.g., coaching, mentoring). Performance management may also include documenting and tracking performance information for organization-level evaluation purposes.

An I–O psychologist would typically use information from the job analysis to determine a job's performance dimensions, and then construct a rating scale to describe each level of performance for the job. Often, the I–O psychologist would be responsible for training organizational personnel how to use the performance appraisal instrument, including ways to minimize bias when using the rating scale, and how to provide effective performance feedback. Additionally, the I–O psychologist may consult with the organization on ways to use the performance appraisal information for broader performance management initiatives.

Individual assessment and psychometrics

Individual assessment involves the measurement of individual differences. I–O psychologists perform individual assessments in order to evaluate differences among candidates for employment as well as differences among employees. The constructs measured pertain to job performance. With candidates for employment, individual assessment is often part of the personnel selection process. These assessments can include written tests, physical tests, psychomotor tests, personality tests, work samples, and assessment centers.

Psychometrics is the science of measuring psychological variables, such as knowledge, skills, and abilities. I–O psychologists are generally well-trained in psychometric psychology.

Remuneration and compensation

Compensation includes wages or salary, bonuses, pension/retirement contributions, and perquisites that can be converted to cash or replace living expenses. I–O psychologists may be asked to conduct a job evaluation for the purpose of determining compensation levels and ranges. I–O psychologists may also serve as expert witnesses in pay discrimination cases when disparities in pay for similar work are alleged.

Training and training evaluation

Most people hired for a job are not already versed in all the tasks required to perform the job effectively. Similar to performance management (see above), an I–O psychologist would employ a job analysis in concert with principles of instructional design to create an effective training program. A training program is likely to include a summative evaluation at its conclusion in order to ensure that trainees have met the training objectives and can perform the target work tasks at an acceptable level. Training programs often include formative evaluations to assess the impact of the training as the training proceeds. Formative evaluations can be used to locate problems in training procedures and help I–O psychologists make corrective adjustments while the training is ongoing.

Motivation in the workplace

Understanding what motivates an organization's employees is central to the study of I–O psychology. Motivation, at its core, can be defined as the energy a person puts toward work-related behaviors. While motivation can often be used as a tool to help predict behavior, it varies greatly among individuals and must often be combined with ability and environmental factors to actually influence behavior and performance. Because of motivation's role in influencing workplace behavior and performance, it is key for organizations to understand and to structure the work environment to encourage productive behaviors and discourage those that are unproductive.[23][24]

There is general consensus that motivation involves three psychological processes: arousal, direction, and intensity. Arousal is what initiates action. It is fueled by a person's need or desire for something that is missing from their lives at a given moment, either totally or partially. Direction refers to the path employees take in accomplishing the goals they set for themselves. Finally, intensity is the vigor and amount of energy employees put into this goal-directed work performance. The level of intensity is based on the importance and difficulty of the goal. These psychological processes result in four outcomes. First, motivation serves to direct attention, focusing on particular issues, people, tasks, etc. It also serves to stimulate an employee to put forth effort. Next, motivation results in persistence, preventing one from deviating from the goal-seeking behavior. Finally, motivation results in task strategies, which as defined by Mitchell & Daniels, are "patterns of behavior produced to reach a particular goal."[24]

A number of various theories attempt to describe employee motivation within the discipline of I–O psychology. Most of these theories can be divided into the four broad categories of need-based, cognitive process, behavioral, and job-based.[23]

Need-based theories

Need-based theories of motivation focus on an employee's drive to satisfy a variety of needs through their work. These needs range from basic physiological needs for survival to higher psychoemotional needs like belonging and self-actualization.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (1943) was applied to offer an explanation of how the work environment motivates employees. In accordance with Maslow's theory, which was not specifically developed to explain behavior in the workplace, employees strive to satisfy their needs in a hierarchal order.[23]

At the most basic level, and employee is motivated to work in order to satisfy basic physiological needs for survival, such as having enough money to purchase food. The next level of need in the hierarchy is safety, which could be interpreted to mean adequate housing or living in a safe neighborhood. The next three levels in Maslow's theory relate to intellectual and psycho-emotional needs: love and belonging, esteem (which refers to competence and mastery), and finally the highest order need, self-actualization.

Although Maslow's theory is widely known, in the workplace it has proven to be a poor predictor of employee behavior.[23] Maslow theorized that people will not seek to satisfy a higher level need until their lower level needs are met. There has been little empirical support for the idea that employees in the workplace strive to meet their needs only in the hierarchical order prescribed by Maslow.

Building on Maslow's theory, Alderfer (1959) collapsed the levels in Maslow's theory from five to three: existence, relatedness and growth. This theory, called the ERG theory, does not propose that employees attempt to satisfy these needs in a strictly hierarchal manner. Empirical support for this theory has been mixed.[23]

Need for Achievement

Atkinson & McClelland's Need for Achievement Theory is the most relevant and applicable need-based theory in the I–O psychologist's arsenal. Unlike other need-based theories, which try to interpret every need, Need for Achievement allows the I–O psychologist to concentrate research into a tighter focus. Studies show those who have a high need for achievement prefer moderate levels of risk, seek feedback, and are likely to immerse themselves in their work. Achievement motivation can be broken down into three types:

  • Achievement - seeks position advancement, feedback, and sense of accomplishment
  • Authority - need to lead, make an impact and be heard by others
  • Affiliation - need for friendly social interactions and to be liked.

Because most individuals have a combination of these three types (in various proportions), an understanding of these achievement motivation characteristics can be a useful assistance to management in job placement, recruitment, etc.[25]

The theory is referred to as Need for Achievement because these individuals are theorized to be the most effective employees and leaders in the workplace. These individuals strive to achieve their goals and advance in the organization. They tend to be dedicated to their work and strive hard to succeed. Such individuals also demonstrate a strong desire for increasing their knowledge and for feedback on their performance.[23]

The Need for Achievement is in many ways similar to the need for mastery and self-actualization in Maslow's hierarchy of needs and growth in the ERG theory. The achievement orientation has garnered more research interest as compared to the need for affiliation or power.

Cognitive process theories

Equity Theory

Equity Theory is derived from social exchange theory. It explains motivation in the workplace as a cognitive process of evaluation, whereby the employee seeks to achieve a balance between inputs or efforts in the workplace and the outcomes or rewards received or anticipated.

In particular, Equity Theory research has tested employee sentiments regarding equitable compensation. Employee inputs take the form of work volume and quality, performance, knowledge, skills, attributes and behaviors. The company-generated outcomes include rewards such as compensation, praise and advancement opportunities. The employee compares his inputs relative to outcomes; and, then, extrapolating to the social context, the employee compares his input/outcome ratio with the perceived ratios of others. If the employee perceives an inequity, the theory posits that the employee will adjust his behavior to bring things into balance.

Equity Theory has proven relevance in situations where an employee is undercompensated. If an employee perceives that he is undercompensated, he can adjust his behavior to achieve equilibrium in several different ways:

  • reduce input to a level he believes better matches his level of compensation
  • change or adjust the comparative standard to which he is comparing his situation
  • cognitively adjust his perception of his inputs or the outcomes received
  • withdraw
  • address the situation with his employer by asking for a raise

If the employee is able to achieve a ratio of inputs to outputs that he perceives to be equitable, then the employee will be satisfied. The employee's evaluation of input-to-output ratios and subsequent striving to achieve equilibrium is an ongoing process.

While it has been established that Equity Theory provides insight into scenarios of under-compensation, the theory has generally failed to demonstrate its usefulness in understanding scenarios of overcompensation.[26] In this way, it could be said Equity Theory is more useful in describing factors that contribute to a lack of motivation rather than increasing motivation in the workplace. Concepts of organizational justice later expanded upon the fundamentals of Equity Theory and pointed to the importance of fairness perceptions in the workplace.

There are three fairness perceptions applied to organizational settings:

  1. Distributive justice, or the perception of equality of an individual's outcomes
  2. Procedural justice, or the fairness of the procedures used to determine one's outcomes
  3. Interactional justice, or the perception that one has been treated fairly with dignity and respect[24]

When workplace processes are perceived as fair, the benefits to an organization can be high. In such environments, employees are more likely to comply with policies even if their personal outcome is less than optimal. When workplace policies are perceived as unfair, risks for retaliation and related behaviors such as sabotage and workplace violence can increase.[24]

Leventhal (1980) described six criteria for creating fair procedures in an organization. He proposed that procedures and policies should be[24]:

  1. consistently applied to everyone in the organization
  2. free from bias
  3. accurate
  4. correctable
  5. representative of all concerns
  6. based on prevailing ethics
Expectancy Theory

According to Vroom's Expectancy Theory, an employee will work smarter and/or harder if he believes his additional efforts will lead to valued rewards. Expectancy Theory explains this increased output of effort by means of the equation

F = EI × V)

whereas: F (Effort or Motivational Force) = Effort the employee will expend to achieve the desired performance;
E (Expectancy) = Belief that effort will result in desired level of performance;
I (Instrumentality) = Belief that desired level of performance will result in desired outcome;
V (Valence) = Value of the outcome to the employee[23]

Expectancy Theory has been shown to have useful applications in designing rewards systems. If policies are consistently, clearly and fairly implemented, then the instrumentality would be high. If the rewards are substantial enough to be meaningful to an employee, then the valence would be also considered high. A precursor to motivation is that the employee finds the reward(s) attractive. In some instances, the reward or outcome might inadvertently be unattractive, such as increased workload or demanding travel that may come with a promotion. In such an instance, the valence might be lower for individuals who feel work–life balance is important, for example.

Expectancy Theory posits employee satisfaction to be an outcome of performance rather than the cause of performance. However, if a pattern is established whereas an employee understands his performance will lead to certain desired rewards, an employee's motivation can be strengthened based on anticipation.[27] If the employee foresees a high probability that the can successfully carry out a desired behavior, and that their behavior will lead to a valued outcome, then they will direct their efforts toward that end.

Expectancy Theory has been show to have greater validity in research in within-subject designs rather than between-subjects designs. That is, it is more useful in predicting how an employee might choose among competing choices for their time and energy, rather than predicting the choices two different employees might make.[23]


An I–O psychologist can assist an employer in designing task-related goals for their employees that are (1) attainable, (2) specific, (3) appropriately difficult, and (4) feedback providing, in hopes of rousing tunnel vision focus in the employees.[28] Studies have shown both feedback from the employer and self-efficacy (belief in one's capabilities to achieve a goal) within the employee must be present for goal-setting to be effective.[29] However, because of the tunnel vision focus created by goal-setting theory, several studies have shown this motivational theory may not be applicable in all situations. In fact, in tasks that require creative on-the-spot improvising, goal-setting can even be counterproductive.[30] Furthermore, because clear goal specificity is essential to a properly designed goal-setting task, multiple goals can create confusion for the employee and the end result is a muted overall drive.[31] Despite its flaws, Goal-setting Theory is arguably the most dominant theory in the field of I–O psychology; over one thousand articles and reviews published in just over thirty years.[24][32]

Locke suggested several reasons why goals are motivating: they direct attention, lead to task persistence and the development of task strategies for accomplishing the goal. In order for a goal to be motivating, the employee or work group must first accept the goal. While difficult goals can be more motivating, a goal still needs to appear achievable, which in turn will lead to greater goal acceptance. The person or group should have the necessary skills and resources to achieve the goal, or goal acceptance could be negatively impacted. Specific goals that set a performance expectation are more motivating than those that are vague. Similarly, more proximal goals have greater motivation impact than those that are very long range or distal goals.[23]

Feedback while the employee or group is striving for the goal is seen as crucial. Feedback keeps employees on track and reinforces the importance of the goal as well as supporting the employees in adjusting their task strategies.

Goal-setting Theory has strong empirical support dating back thirty years. However, there are some boundary conditions that indicate in some situations, goal-setting can be detrimental to performance on certain types of tasks. Goals require a narrowing of one's focus, so for more complex or creative tasks, goals can actually inhibit performance because they demand cognitive resources. Similarly, when someone is learning a new task, performance-related goals can distract from the learning process. During the learning process, it may be better to focus on mastering the task than achieving a particular result.[24] Finally, too many goals can become distracting and counterproductive, especially if they conflict with one another.

Social Cognitive Theory

Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory is another cognitive process theory that offers the important concept of self-efficacy for explaining employee's level of motivation relative to workplace tasks or goals. Self-efficacy is an individual's belief in his or her ability to achieve results in a given scenario. Empirically, studies have shown a strong correlation between self-efficacy and performance. The concept has been extended to group efficacy, which is a group's belief that it can achieve success with a given task or project.[24]

Self-efficacy is seen to mediate important aspects of how an employee undertakes a given task, such as the level of effort and persistence.[23] An employee with high self-efficacy is confident that effort he or she puts forth has a high likelihood of resulting in success. In anticipation of success, an employee is willing to put forth more effort, persist longer, remain focused on the task, seek feedback and choose more effective task strategies.

The antecedents of self-efficacy may be influenced by expectations, training or past experience and requires further research. It has been shown that setting high expectations can lead to improved performance, known as the Pygmalian effect. Low expectations can lower self-efficacy and is referred to as the golem effect.[24]

Relative to training, a mastery-oriented approach has been shown to be an effective way to bolster self-efficacy. In such an approach, the goal of training is to focus on mastering skills or tasks rather than focusing on an immediate performance-related outcome. Individuals who believe that mastery can be achieved through training and practice are more likely to develop greater self-efficacy than those who see mastery as a product of inherent talent than is largely immutable.[24]

Behavioral approach to motivation

The behavioral approach to workplace motivation is known as Organizational Behavioral Modification. This approach applies the tenets of behaviorism developed by B.F. Skinner to promote employee behaviors that an employer deems beneficial and discourage those that are not.

Any stimulus that increases the likelihood of a behavior increasing is a reinforcer. An effective use of positive reinforcement would be frequent praise while an employee is learning a new task. An employee's behavior can also be shaped during the learning process if approximations of the ideal behavior are praised or rewarded. The frequency of reinforcement is an important consideration. While frequent praise during the learning process can be beneficial, it can be hard to sustain indefinitely.[23]

A variable-ratio schedule of reinforcement, where the frequency of reinforcement varies unpredictably, can be also be highly effective if used in instances where it is ethical to do so. Providing praise on a variable-ratio schedule would be appropriate, whereas paying an employee on an unpredictable variable-ratio schedule would not be.

Compensation and other reward programs provide behavioral reinforcement, and if carefully crafted, can provide powerful incentives to employees. Behavioral principals can also be used to address undesirable behaviors in the workplace, but punishment should be used judiciously. If overused, punishment can negatively impact employee's perception of fairness in the workplace.[23]

In general, the less time that elapses between a behavior and its consequence, the more impactful a consequence is likely to be.

Job-based theories

The job-based theories hold that the key to motivation is within an employee's job itself. Generally, these theories say that jobs can be motivating by their very design. This is a particularly useful view for organizations, because the practices set out in the theories can be implemented more practically in an organization. Ultimately, according to the job-based theories, the key to finding motivation through one's job is being able to derive satisfaction from the job content.[23]

Motivation–Hygiene Theory

It is impossible to discuss motivation and job attributes in I–O psychology without crediting Herzberg's Motivation–Hygiene Theory (also referred to as Herzberg's 2-Factor Model). Published in 1968, Herzberg's Motivation–Hygiene Theory holds that the content of a person's job is the primary source of motivation. In other words, he argued against the commonly-held belief that money and other compensation is the most effective form of motivation to an employee. Instead, Herzberg posed that high levels of what he dubbed hygiene factors (pay, job security, status, working conditions, fringe benefits, job policies, and relations with co-workers) could only reduce employee dissatisfaction (not create satisfaction). Motivation factors (level of challenge, the work itself, responsibility, recognition, advancement, intrinsic interest, autonomy, and opportunities for creativity) however, could stimulate satisfaction within the employee, provided that minimum levels of the hygiene factors were reached. For an organization to take full advantage of Herzberg's theory, they must design jobs in such a way that motivators are built in, and thus are intrinsically rewarding. While the Motivation–Hygiene Theory was the first to focus on job content, it has not been strongly supported through empirical studies.[23]

Job Characteristics Theory

Shortly after Herzberg's 2-Factor Model, Hackman and Oldham contributed their own, more refined, job-based theory; Job Characteristics Theory. JCT attempts to define the association between core job dimensions, the critical psychological states that occur as a result of these dimensions, the personal and work outcomes, and growth-need strength. Core job dimensions are the characteristics of a person's job. The core job dimensions are linked directly to the critical psychological states. According to JCT, an organization that provides sufficient levels of skill variety, task identity, and task significance to its employees will, in turn, provide experienced meaningfulness. That is, employees will feel that the work they do has meaning and value. Sufficient levels of autonomy will inspire felt responsibility for the employee, and proper feedback will provide the employee with knowledge of results. The combined effect of these psychological states results in desired personal and work outcomes: internal motivation, job satisfaction, performance quality, low absenteeism, and low turnover rate.[23] Lastly, the glue of this theory is the "growth-need strength" factor which ultimately determines the effectiveness of the core job dimensions on the psychological states, and likewise the effectiveness of the critical psychological states on the affective outcomes.[29] Further analysis of Job Characteristics Theory can be found in the Work Design section below.

Applications of motivation

Organizational reward systems

Organizational reward systems have a significant impact on employees' level of motivation. Rewards can be either tangible or intangible. Various forms of pay, such as salary, commissions, bonuses, employee ownership programs and various types of profit or gain sharing programs, are all important tangible rewards. While fringe benefits have a positive impact on attraction and retention, their direct impact on motivation and performance is not well-defined.[23]

Salaries play a crucial role in the tangible reward system. They are an important factor in attracting new talent to an organization as well as retaining talent. Compensating employees well is one way for an organization to reinforce an employee's value to the organization. If an organization is known for paying their employees top dollar, then they may develop a positive reputation in the job market as a result.

Through incentive compensation structures, employees can be guided to focus their attention and efforts on certain organizational goals. The goals that are reinforced through incentive pay should be carefully considered to make sure they are in alignment with the organizational objectives. If there are multiple rewards programs, it is important to consider if there might be any conflicting goals. For example, individual and team-based rewards can sometime work at cross-purposes.

Important forms of intangible rewards include praise, recognition and rewards. Intangible rewards are ones from which an employee does not derive any material gain.[23] Such rewards have the greatest impact when they soon follow the desired behavior and are closely tied to the performance. If an organization wants to use praise or other intangible rewards effectively, praise should be offered for a high level of performance and for things that they employee has control over. Some studies have shown that praise can be as effective as tangible rewards.[23]

Other forms of intangible performance include status symbols, such as a corner office, and increased autonomy and freedom. Increased autonomy demonstrates trust in an employee, may decrease stress and improve job satisfaction. Since it may be hard for an employee to achieve a similar level of trust in a new organization, increased autonomy may also help improve retention.[23]

Motivation through design of work

Reward-based systems are certainly the more common practice for attempting to influence motivation within an organization, but some employers strive to design the work itself to be more conducive. There are multiple ways an organization can leverage job design principles to increase motivation. Three of the predominant approaches will be discussed here: the Humanistic Approach, the Job Characteristics Approach, and the Interdisciplinary Approach.[23]

Humanistic Approach

The Humanistic Approach to job design was a reaction to "worker dissatisfaction over Scientific Management" and focused on providing employees with more input and an opportunity to maximize their personal achievement as referenced by Jex and Britt. Jobs should also provide intellectual stimulation, opportunities for creativity, and greater discretion over work-related activities. Two approaches used in the Humanistic Approach to job design are job rotation and job enrichment. Job rotation allows employees to switch to different jobs which allows them to learn new skills and provides them with greater variety. According to Jex and Britt, this would be most effective for simple jobs that can become mundane and boring over time. Job enrichment is focused on leveraging those aspects of jobs that are labeled motivators, such as control, intellectual challenge, and creativity. The most common form of job enrichment is vertical loading where additional tasks or discretion enhances the initial job design. While there is some evidence to support that job enrichment improves motivation, it is important to note that it is not effective for all people. Some employees are not more motivated by enriched jobs.[23]

Job Characteristics Approach

The Job Characteristics Approach to job design is based on how core dimensions affect motivation. These dimensions include autonomy, variety, significance, feedback, and identity. The goal of JCT job design is to utilize specific interventions in an effort to enhance these core dimensions.

  1. Vertical Loading – Like the tactic used in the Humanistic Job Enrichment approach, this intervention is designed to enhance autonomy, task identity, task significance, and skill variety by increasing the number of tasks and providing greater levels of control over how those tasks are completed.
  2. Task Combination – By combining tasks into larger units of work and responsibility, task identity may be improved.
  3. Natural Work Units – A form of task combination that represents a logical body of work and responsibility that may enhance both task significance and task identity.
  4. Establishing Client Relationships – Designs interactions between employees and customers, both internal and external, to enhance task identity, feedback, and task significance. This is accomplished by improving the visibility of beneficial effects on customers.
  5. Feedback – By designing open feedback channels, this intervention attempts to increase the amount and value of feedback received.

While the JCT approach to job design has a significant impact on job satisfaction, the effects on performance are more mixed. Much of the success of implementation of JCT practices is dependent on the organization carefully planning interventions and changes to ensure impact throughout the organization is anticipated. Many companies may have difficulty implementing JCT changes throughout the organization due to its high cost and complexity.[23]

Interdisciplinary Approach

One of the most recent approaches to work design, the Interdisciplinary Approach is based on the use of careful assessment of current job design, followed by a cost/benefit analysis, and finally changes based on the area in which a job is lacking. The assessment is conducted using the Multi-method Job Design Questionnaire, which is used to determine if the job is deficient in the areas of motivational, mechanistic, biological, or perceptual motor support. Motivational improvements are aligned with the Job Characteristics theory dimensions. Mechanistic improvements are focused on improving the efficiency of the job design. Biological improvements focus on improvements to ergonomics, health conditions, and employee comfort. Finally, perceptual motor improvements focus on the nature and presentation of the information an employee must work with. If improvements are identified using the questionnaire, the company then evaluates the cost of making the improvements and determines if the potential gains in motivation and performance justify those costs. Because of the analysis and cost/benefit components of the Interdisciplinary Approach, it is often less costly for organizations and implementations can be more effective. Only changes deemed to be appropriate investments are made, thus improving motivation, productivity, and job satisfaction while controlling costs.[23]

Other factors affecting motivation


On the cutting edge of research pertaining to motivation in the workplace is the integration of motivation and creativity. Essentially, according to Ambrose and Kulik,[26] the same variables that predict intrinsic motivation are associated with creativity. This is a helpful conclusion in that organizations can measure and influence both creativity and motivation simultaneously. Further, allowing employees to choose creative and challenging jobs/tasks has been shown to improve motivation.[32] In order to increase creativity, setting "creativity goals" can positively influence the process, along with allowing more autonomy (i.e., giving employees freedom to feel/be creative). Other studies have found that team support may enable more creativity in a group setting,[33] also increasing motivation.

Groups and teams

As the workplace is changing to include more group-based systems, researching motivation within these groups is of growing importance. To date, a great amount of research has focused on the Job Characteristics Theory and the Goal-setting Theory. While more research is needed that draws on a broader range of motivation theories, research thus far has concluded several things: (a) semi-autonomous groups report higher levels of job scope (related to intrinsic job satisfaction), extrinsic satisfaction, and organizational commitment; and (b) developmentally mature teams have higher job motivation and innovation. Further, voluntarily formed work teams report high work motivation.[26] Though research shows that appropriate goal-setting influences group motivation and performance, more research is needed in this area (group goals, individual goals, cohesiveness, etc.). There are inseparable mediating variables consisting of group cohesiveness, commitment, and performance. As the workplace environment calls for more and more teams to be formed, research into motivation of teams is ever-pressing. Thus far, overarching research merely suggests that individual-level and team-level sources of motivation are congruent with each other.[34] Consequently, research should be expanded to apply more theories of motivation; look at group dynamics; and essentially conclude how groups can be most impacted to increase motivation and, consequently, performance.


Kotter & Heskett[35] categorize organizational cultures into three groups: Strong, Strategically Appropriate, and Adaptive. Each has been identified with high performing organizations and has particular implications on motivation in the workplace.


According to Kotter & Heskett,[35] the most widely-reported effect of culture on performance is that strong cultures result in high performance. The three reasons for this are goal alignment, motivation, and the resulting structure provided. Goal alignment is driven by the proposed unified voice that drives employees in the same direction. Motivation comes from the strength of values and principles in such a culture. And structure is provided by these same attributes which obviate the need for formal controls that could stifle employees. There are questions that concern researchers about causality and the veracity of the driving voice of a strong culture.

Strategic Appropriateness

A strategically appropriate culture motivates due to the direct support for performance in the market and industry: "The better the fit, the better the performance; the poorer the fit, the poorer the performance," state Kotter & Heskett.[35] There is an appeal to the idea that cultures are designed around the operations conditions a firm encounters although an outstanding issue is the question of adapting culture to changes in the environment.


Another perspective in culture literature asserts that in order for an organization to perform at a high level over a long period of time, it must be able to adapt to changes in the environment. According to Ralph Kilmann, in such a culture "there is a shared feeling of confidence: the members believe, without a doubt, that they can effectively manage whatever new problems and opportunities will come their way." In effect, the culture is infused with a high degree of self-efficacy and confidence. As with the strong culture, critics point to the fact that the theory provides nothing in the way of appropriate direction of adaptation that leads to high performance.

Competing Values Framework

Another perspective on culture and motivation comes from the work of Cameron & Quinn[36] and the Competing Values Framework. They divide cultures into four quadrants: Clan, Adhocracy, Market, Hierarchy, with particular characteristics that directly affect employee motivation.

  • Clan cultures are collaborative and driven by values such as commitment, communication, and individual development. Motivation results from human development, employee engagement, and a high degree of open communication.
  • Adhocracy cultures are creative and innovative. Motivation in such cultures arises from finding creative solutions to problems, continually improving, and empowering agility.
  • Market cultures focus on value to the customer and are typically competitive and aggressive. Motivation in the market culture results from winning in the marketplace and creating external partnerships.
  • And finally, Hierarchy cultures value control, efficiency, and predictability. Motivation in such a culture relies on effectiveness, capability, and consistency. Effective hierarchy cultures have developed mature and capable processes which support smooth operations.

Culture has been shown to directly affect organizational performance. When viewed through the lens of accepted behaviors and ingrained values, culture also profoundly affects motivation. Whether one looks at the type of culture—strong, strategically appropriate, or adaptive—as Kotter & Heskett do,[35] or at the style of culture—Clan, Adhocracy, Market, or Hierarchy—as Cameron & Quinn do,[36] the connection between culture and motivation becomes clear and provides insights into how to hire, task, and motivate employees.

Organizational culture

Organizational culture can be described as a set of assumptions shared by the individuals in an organization that directs interpretation and action by defining appropriate behavior for various situations. There are three levels of organizational culture: artifacts, shared values, and basic beliefs and assumptions. Artifacts comprise the physical components of the organization that relay cultural meaning. Shared values are individuals' preferences regarding certain aspects of the organization's culture (e.g., loyalty, customer service). Basic beliefs and assumptions include individuals' impressions about the trustworthiness and supportiveness of an organization, and are often deeply ingrained within the organization's culture.

In addition to an overall culture, organizations also have subcultures. Examples of subcultures include corporate culture, departmental culture, local culture, and issue-related culture. While there is no single "type" of organizational culture, some researchers have developed models to describe different organizational cultures.

Organizational culture has been shown to have an impact on important organizational outcomes such as performance, attraction, recruitment, retention, employee satisfaction, and employee well-being. Also, organizations with an adaptive culture tend to perform better than organizations with an unadaptive culture.

Group behavior

Group behavior is the interaction between individuals of a collective and the processes such as opinions, attitudes, growth, feedback loops, and adaptations that occur and change as a result of this interaction.[37] The interactions serve to fulfill some need satisfaction of an individual who is part of the collective and helps to provide a basis for his interaction with specific members of the group.[23]

A specific area of research in group behavior is the dynamics of teams. Team effectiveness refers to the system of getting people in a company or institution to work together effectively. The idea behind team effectiveness is that a group of people working together can achieve much more than if the individuals of the team were working on their own.

Team effectiveness

Organizations support the use of teams, because teams can accomplish a much greater amount of work in a short period of time than can be accomplished by an individual contributor, and because the collective results of a group of contributors can produce higher quality deliverables.[23] Five elements that are contributors to team effectiveness include: (1) team composition, (2) task design, (3) organizational resources, (4) team rewards, and (5) team goals.[23]

Team composition

The composition of teams is initially decided during the selection of individual contributors that are to be assigned to specific teams and has a direct bearing on the resulting effectiveness of those teams. Aspects of team composition that should be considered during the team selection process include team member: knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs), personalities, and attitudes.[23]

As previously stated, one of the reasons organizations support the use of teams is the expectation of the delivery of higher quality results. To achieve these types of results, highly skilled members are more effective than teams built around those with lesser skills, and teams that include a diversity of skills have improved team performance (Guzzo & Shea, 1992). Additionally, increased average cognitive ability of team members has been shown to consistently correlate to increased work group effectiveness (Sundstrom et al., 2000). Therefore, organizations should seek to assign teams with team members that have a mix of KSAs. Teams that are composed of members that have the same KSAs may prove to be ineffective in meeting the team goals, no matter how talented the individual members are.

The personalities and attitudes of the individuals that are selected as team members are other aspects that should be taken into consideration when composing teams, since these individual traits have been found to be good indicators of team effectiveness. For example, a positive relationship between the team-level traits of agreeableness and conscientiousness and the team performance has been shown to exist (Van Vianen & De Dreu, 2001). Differing personalities of individual team members can affect the team climate in a negative way as members may clash and reduce team performance (Barrick, et al., 1998).

Task design

A fundamental question in team task design is whether or not a task is even appropriate for a team. Those tasks that require predominantly independent work are best left to individuals, and team tasks should include those tasks that consist primarily of interdependent work.[23] When a given task is appropriate for a team, task design can play a key role in team effectiveness (Sundstrom, et al., 2000).

The Job Characteristics Theory of motivation identifies core job dimensions that provide motivation for individuals and include: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback (Hackman & Oldham, 1980). These dimensions map well to the team environment. Individual contributors that perform team tasks that are challenging, interesting, and engaging are more likely to be motivated to exert greater effort and perform better than those team members that are working on those tasks that do not have these characteristics.[23]

Interrelated to the design of various tasks is the implementation method for the tasks themselves. For example, certain team members may find it challenging to cross train with other team members that have subject matter expertise in areas in which they are not familiar. In utilizing this approach, greater motivation is likely to result for both parties as the expert becomes the mentor and trainer and the cross-training team member finds learning new tasks to be an interesting change of pace. Such expansions of team task assignments can make teams more effective and require teams to spend greater amounts of time discussing and planning strategies and approaches for completing assigned tasks (Hackman, et al., 1976).

Organizational resources

Organizational support systems impact the effectiveness of teams (Sundstrum, et al., 1990) and provide resources for teams operating in the multi-team environment. In this case, the provided resources include various resource types that teams require to be effective. During the chartering of new teams, organizational enabling resources are first identified. Examples of enabling resources include facilities, equipment, information, training and leadership.[23] Also identified during team chartering are team-specific resources (e.g., budgetary resources, human resources). Team-specific human resources represent the individual contributors that are selected for each team as team members. Intra-team processes (e.g., task design, task assignment) are sufficient for effective utilization of these team-specific resources.

Teams also function in multi-team environments that are dynamic in nature and require teams to respond to shifting organizational contingencies (Salas, et al., 2004). In regards to resources, such contingencies include the constraints imposed by organizational resources that are not specifically earmarked for the exclusive use of certain teams. These types of resources are scarce in nature and must be shared by multiple teams. Examples of these scarce resources include subject matter experts, simulation and testing facilities, and limited amounts of time for the completion of multi-team goals. For these types of shared resources inter-team management processes (e.g.: constraint resource scheduling) must be provided to enable effective multi-team utilization.

Team rewards

Organizational reward systems are a driver for strengthening and enhancing individual team member efforts that contribute towards reaching collective team goals (Luthans & Kreitner, 1985). In other words, rewards that are given to individual team members should be contingent upon the performance of the entire team (Sundstrom, et al., 1990).

Several design elements of organizational reward systems are needed to meet this objective. The first element for reward systems design is the concept that for a collective assessment to be appropriate for individual team members, the group's tasks must be highly interdependent. If this is not the case, individual assessment is more appropriate than team assessment (Wageman & Baker, 1997). A second design element is the compatibility between individual-level reward systems and team-level reward systems (DeMatteo, Eby, & Sundstrom, 1998). For example, it would be an unfair situation to reward the entire team for a job well done if only one team member did the great majority of the work. That team member would most likely view teams and team work in a negative fashion and not want to participate in a team setting in the future. A final design element is the creation of an organizational culture that supports and rewards employees who believe in the value of teamwork and who maintain a positive mental attitude towards team-based rewards (Haines and Taggar, 2006).

Team goals

Goals for individual contributors have been shown to be motivating when they contain three elements: (1) difficulty, (2) acceptance, and (3) specificity (Lock & Latham, 1990). In the team setting, goal difficulty is related to group belief that the team can accomplish the tasks required to meet the assigned goal (Whitney, 1994). This belief (collective efficacy) is somewhat counterintuitive, but rests on team member perception that they now view themselves as more competent than others in the organization who were not chosen to complete such difficult goals. This in turn, can lead to higher levels of performance. Goal acceptance and specificity is also applicable to the team setting. When team members individually and collectively commit to team goals, team effectiveness is increased and is a function of increased supportive team behaviors (Aube & Rousseau, 2005).

As related to the team setting, it is also important be aware of the interplay between the goals of individual contributors that participate on teams and the goals of the teams themselves. The selection of team goals must be done in coordination with the selection of goals for individuals. Individual goals must be in line with team goals (or not exist at all) to be effective (Mitchell & Silver, 1990). For example, a professional ball player that does well in their sport is rewarded individually for excellent performance. This individual performance generally contributes to improved team performance which can, in turn, lead to team recognition, such as a league championship.

Job satisfaction and commitment

Job satisfaction reflects an employee's overall assessment of their job, particularly their emotions, behaviors, and attitudes about their work experience. It is one of the most heavily researched topics in industrial–organizational psychology with several thousand published studies. Job satisfaction has theoretical and practical utility for the field of psychology and has been linked to important job outcomes including attitudinal variables, absenteeism, employee turnover, and job performance. For instance, job satisfaction is strongly correlated with attitudinal variables such as job involvement, organizational commitment, job tensions, frustration, and feelings of anxiety. Job satisfaction also has a weak correlation with employee's absentee behaviors and turnover from an organization with employees more likely to miss work or find other jobs if they are not satisfied. Finally, research has found that although a positive relationship exists between job satisfaction and performance, it is moderated by the use of rewards at an organization and the strength of employee's attitudes about their job.

Productive behavior

Productive behavior is defined as employee behavior that contributes positively to the goals and objectives of an organization.[23] When an employee begins a new job, there is a transition period during which he or she is not contributing positively to the organization. To successfully transition from being an outsider to a full-fledged member of an organization, an employee typically needs job-related training as well as more general information about the culture of the organization. In financial terms, productive behavior represents the point at which an organization begins to achieve some return on the investment it has made in a new employee.[23] Industrial–organizational psychologists are typically more focused on productive behavior rather than simple job or task performance because of the ability to account for extra-role performance in addition to in-role performance. While in-role performance tells managers or researchers how well the employee performs the required technical aspects of the job, extra-role performance includes behaviors not necessarily required as part of the job but still contribute to organizational effectiveness. By taking both in-role and extra-role performance into account, industrial–organizational psychologists are able to assess employees' effectiveness (how well they do what they were hired to do), efficiency (their relative outputs to relative inputs), and their productivity (how much they help the organization reach its goals). Jex & Britt outline three different forms of productive behavior that industrial–organizational psychologists frequently evaluate in organizations: job performance; organizational citizenship behavior; and innovation.[23]

Job performance

Job performance represents behaviors employees engage in while at work which contribute to organizational goals.[38] These behaviors are formally evaluated by an organization as part of an employee's responsibilities.[38] In order to understand and ultimately predict job performance, it is important to be precise when defining the term. Job performance is about behaviors that are within the control of the employee and not about results (effectiveness), the costs involved in achieving results (productivity), the results that can be achieved in a period of time (efficiency), or the value an organization places on a given level of performance, effectiveness, productivity or efficiency (utility).[23]

To model job performance, researchers have attempted to define a set of dimensions that are common to all jobs. Using a common set of dimensions provides a consistent basis for assessing performance and enables the comparison of performance across jobs. Performance is commonly broken into two major categories: in-role (technical aspects of a job) and extra-role (non-technical abilities such as communication skills and being a good team member). While this distinction in behavior has been challenged[39] it is commonly made by both employees and management.[40] A model of performance by Campbell breaks performance into in-role and extra-role categories.[38][41] Campbell labeled job-specific task proficiency and non-job-specific task proficiency as in-role dimensions and written and oral communication, demonstrating effort, maintaining personal discipline, facilitating peer and team performance, supervision and leadership and management and administration as extra-role dimensions.[23] Murphy's model of job performance also broke job performance into in-role and extra-role categories.[42] However, task-orientated behaviors composed the in-role category and the extra-role category included interpersonally-oriented behaviors, down-time behaviors and destructive and hazardous behaviors.[23] However, it has been challenged as to whether the measurement of job performance is usually done through pencil/paper tests, job skills tests, on-site hands-on tests, off-site hands-on tests, high-fidelity simulations, symbolic simulations, task ratings and global ratings.[43] These various tools are often used to evaluate performance on specific tasks and overall job performance.[23] Van Dyne and LePine developed a measurement model in which overall job performance was evaluated using Campbell's in-role and extra-role categories.[40] Here, in-role performance was reflected through how well "employees met their performance expectations and performed well at the tasks that made up the employees' job."[44] Dimensions regarding how well the employee assists others with their work for the benefit of the group, if the employee voices new ideas for projects or changes to procedure and whether the employee attends functions that help the group composed the extra-role category.

To assess job performance, reliable and valid measures must be established. While there are many sources of error with performance ratings, error can be reduced through rater training[45] and through the use of behaviorally-anchored rating scales. Such scales can be used to clearly define the behaviors that constitute poor, average, and superior performance.[38] Additional factors that complicate the measurement of job performance include the instability of job performance over time due to forces such as changing performance criteria, the structure of the job itself [42] and the restriction of variation in individual performance by organizational forces. These factors include errors in job measurement techniques, acceptance and the justification of poor performance and lack of importance of individual performance.

The determinants of job performance consist of factors having to do with the individual worker as well as environmental factors in the workplace. According to Campbell's Model of The Determinants of Job Performance,[38][41] job performance is a result of the interaction between declarative knowledge (knowledge of facts or things), procedural knowledge (knowledge of what needs to be done and how to do it), and motivation (reflective of an employee's choices regarding whether to expend effort, the level of effort to expend, and whether to persist with the level of effort chosen).[23] The interplay between these factors show that an employee may, for example, have a low level of declarative knowledge, but may still have a high level of performance if the employee has high levels of procedural knowledge and motivation.

Regardless of the job, three determinants stand out as predictors of performance: (1) general mental ability (especially for jobs higher in complexity); (2) job experience (although there is a law of diminishing returns); and (3) the personality trait of conscientiousness (people who are dependable and achievement-oriented, who plan well).[23] These determinants appear to influence performance largely through the acquisition and usage of job knowledge and the motivation to do well. Further, an expanding area of research in job performance determinants includes emotional intelligence.[46][47]

Organizational citizenship behavior

Organizational citizenship behaviors ("OCBs") are another form of productive behavior, having been shown to be beneficial to both organization and team effectiveness. Dennis Organ is often though of as the father of OCB research and defines OCBs as "individual behavior that is discretionary, not directly or explicitly recognized by the formal reward system, and that in the aggregate promotes the effective functioning of the organization."[48] Behaviors that qualify as OCBs can fall into one of the following five categories: altruism, courtesy, sportsmanship, conscientiousness, and civic virtue.[48][49][50]

Researchers have adapted, elaborated, or otherwise changed Organ's (1988) five OCB categories, but they remain popular today. The categories and descriptions of each include:

  • Altruism
    Sometimes referred to as "prosocial behavior" altruistic OCBs include helping behaviors in the workplace such as volunteering to assist a coworker on a project.
  • Courtesy
    These behaviors can be seen when an employee exhibits basic consideration for others. Examples of courteous OCBs include "checking up" on coworkers to see how they are doing and notifying coworkers of commitments that may cause you to be absent from work.
  • Sportsmanship
    Unlike other forms of OCBs, sportsmanship involves not engaging in certain behaviors, such as whining and complaining about minor issues or tough work assignments.
  • Conscientiousness
    Conscientiousness is basically defined as self-discipline and performing tasks beyond the minimum requirements. Conscientious OCBs involve planning ahead, cleanliness, not "slacking off," adhering to the rules, punctuality, and being an overall good citizen in the workplace.
  • Civic virtue
    Civic virtue differs from other OCBs because the target of the behavior is the group or organization as a whole, rather than an individual coworker. Civic virtue OCBs include being a good representative of the organization and supporting the organization, especially in its efforts outside of its major business objectives. Examples of civic virtue OCBs are participating in charitable functions held by the organization and defending or otherwise speaking well of the organization.[48]

OCBs have also been categorized using other methods. For example, Williams and Anderson categorize OCBs by their intended target, separating them into those targeted at individuals ("OCBIs"), supervisors ("OCBSs"), and those targeted at the organization as a whole ("OCBOs").[51] Additionally, Vigoda-Gadot uses a sub-category of OCBs called CCBs, or "compulsory OCBs" which is used to describe OCBs that are done under the influence of coercive persuasion or peer pressure rather than out of good will.[52] This theory stems from debates concerning the reasons for conducting OCBs and whether or not they are truly voluntary in nature.

Jex & Britt offer three different explanations for why employees engage in organizational citizenship behavior.[23] The first has to do with positive affect; an overall positive mood increases the frequency of helping behavior. This theory stems from a history of numerous studies indicating that positive mood increases the frequency of helping and prosocial behaviors.[53] The second explanation, which stems from the equity theory, is that employees reciprocate fair treatment that they have received from the organization. In regards to equity theory, researchers have found that certain forms of fairness or justice are able to better predict OCBs than others. For example, Jex & Britt mention research that indicates that interactional justice is a better predictor than procedural justice, which is in turn a better predictor than distributive justice. The third explanation offered by Jex & Britt says that some employees have personality traits that predispose them to participate in organizational citizenship behavior. There are also employees who will perform organizational citizenship behavior to influence how they are viewed within the organization. While these behaviors are not formally part of the job description, performing them can certainly influence performance appraisals.[23] In contrast to this view, some I–O psychologists believe that employees engage in OCBs as a form of "impression management," a term coined by Erving Goffman in his 1959 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Goffman defines impression management as "the way in which the individual ... presents himself and his activity to others, the ways in which he guides and controls the impression they form of him, and the kinds of things he may and may not do while sustaining his performance before them."[54] Researchers such as Bolino have hypothesized that the act of performing OCBs is not done out of goodwill, positive affect, etc., but instead as a way of being noticed by superiors and looking good in the eyes of others.[55] The key difference between this view and those mentioned by Jex & Britt is that the intended beneficiary of the behavior is the individual who engages in it, rather than another individual, the organization, or the supervisor.[23]

With this research on why employees engage in OCBs comes the debate among I–O psychologists about the voluntary or involuntary nature of engaging in OCBs. Many researchers, including the "father of OCB research," Dennis Organ have consistently portrayed OCBs as voluntary behaviors done at the discretion of the individual.[48] However, more recently researchers have brought attention to potential underlying causes of OCBs, including social pressure, coercion, and other external forces. For example, Eran Vigoda-Gadot suggests that not some, but not all, OCBs may be performed voluntarily out of goodwill, but many may be more involuntary in nature and "may arise from coercive managerial strategies or coercive social pressure by powerful peers."[52] As mentioned previously, Vigoda-Gadot categorizes these behaviors in a separate category of OCBs as "compulsory OCBs" or CCBs, which he suggests are a form of "abusive supervision" and will result in poorer organizational performance, similar to what has seen in other research on abusive supervision and coercive persuasion.[52]


Innovation is considered by I–O psychologists as a sub-topic of job performance. Innovation is a form of productive behavior that employees exhibit when they come up with novel ideas that further the goals of the organization.[23] Innovation is a form of productive behavior that employees exhibit when they come up with novel ideas that further the goals of the organization. This section will discuss three topics of interest: research on innovation; characteristics of an individual that may predict innovation; and how organizations may be structured to promote innovation. According to Jex & Britt, individual and organization research can be divided into four unique research focuses.[23]

  • Focus One: The examination of the process by which an employee develops innovations and the unique characteristics of an individuals which enables them to be highly innovative.[23] This stream of thought focuses primarily on the employee or the individual contributor.
  • Focus Two: The macro perspective which focuses upon the process that innovation is diffused within a specific organization. In short, this is the process of communicating an innovation to members of an organization.[56]
  • Focus Three: The process by which an organization adopts an innovation.[23]
  • Focus Four: A shared perspective of the role of the individual and the organization's culture which contribute to innovation.[23]

As indicated above, the first focus looks specifically to find certain attributes of an individual that may lead to innovation, therefore, one must ask, "Are there quantifiable predictors that an individual will be innovative?" Research indicates if various skills, knowledge, and abilities are present then an individual will be more apt to innovation. These qualities are generally linked to creativity.[23] A brief overview of these characteristics are listed below.

  • Task-relevant skills (general mental ability and job specific knowledge). Task specific and subject specific knowledge is most often gained through higher education; however, it may also be gained by mentoring and experience in a given field.[23]
  • Creativity-relevant skills (ability to concentrate on a problem for long periods of time, to abandon unproductive searches, and to temporarily put aside stubborn problems). The ability to put aside stubborn problems is referred to by Jex & Britt as productive forgetting.[23] Creativity-relevant skills also require the individual contributor to evaluate a problem from multiple vantage points. One must be able to take on the perspective of various users. For example, an Operation Manager analyzing a reporting issue and developing an innovative solution would consider the perspective of a sales person, assistant, finance, compensation, and compliance officer.
  • Task motivation (internal desire to perform task and level of enjoyment).[23]

In addition to the role and characteristics of the individual one must also consider what can be done on an organizational level to develop and reward innovation. An interesting study by Damanpour identified four specific characteristics that may predict innovation within an organization.[57] These are:

  1. A population with high levels of technical knowledge;
  2. The organization's level of specialization;
  3. The level an organization communicates externally; and
  4. Functional Differentiation.[23]

Additionally, there are basic things that organizations can do in order to breed innovation in the workplace. Some of these items include providing creativity training, having leaders encourage and model innovation, allowing employees to question current procedures and rules, seeing that the implementation of innovations had real consequences, documenting innovations in a professional manner, allowing employees to have autonomy and freedom in their job roles, reducing the number of obstacles that may be in the way of innovation, and giving employees access to resources (whether these are monetary, informational, or access to key people inside or outside of the organization).[23]

According to the American Productivity & Quality Center ("APQC") there are basic principles an organization can develop to encourage and reward innovation.

  • The creation of a design team.
  • Acknowledging those who contribute time, effort, and ideas. This recognition may come from senior leaders or through peer recognition.
  • Provide special recognition to innovators while keeping names associated with contributors.
  • Disseminate success stories concerning invention.
  • Make innovation self-rewarding, such as the perception of being a subject matter expert.
  • Linking innovation to the cultural values of the organization.
  • Creating a committee of business leaders from various lines of business and human resources focused on developing guidelines and suggestions to encourage innovation.[58]

In discussing innovation for a Best-Practice report, APQC Knowledge Management expert, Kimberly Lopez, stated, "It requires a blending of creativity within business processes to ensure good ideas become of value to the company ... Supporting a creative environment requires innovation to be recognized, nurtured, and rewarded."[58]

Counterproductive work behavior

Counterproductive work behavior can be defined as employee behavior that goes against the goals of an organization. These behaviors can be intentional or unintentional and result from a wide range of underlying causes and motivations. It has been proposed that a person-by-environment interaction can be utilized to explain a variety of counterproductive behaviors (Fox and Spector, 1999). For instance, an employee who steals from the company may do so because of lax supervision (environment) and underlying psychopathology (person) that work in concert to result in the counterproductive behavior.

The forms of counterproductive behavior with the most empirical examination are ineffective job performance, absenteeism, job turnover, and accidents. Less common but potentially more detrimental forms of counterproductive behavior have also been investigated including theft, violence, substance use, and sexual harassment.


In I-O psychology, leadership can be defined as a process of influencing others to agree on a shared purpose, and to work towards shared objectives.[59] A distinction should be made between leadership and management. Managers process administrative tasks and organize work environments. Although leaders may be required to undertake managerial duties as well, leaders typically focus on inspiring followers and creating a shared organizational culture and values. Managers deal with complexity, while leaders deal with initiating and adapting to change. Managers undertake the tasks of planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling and problem solving. In contrast, leaders undertake the tasks of setting a direction or vision, aligning people to shared goals, communicating, and motivating.[60]

Approaches to studying leadership in I-O psychology can be broadly classified into three categories: Leader-focused approaches, Contingency-focused approaches, and Follower-focused approaches.

Leader-focused approaches

Leader-focused approaches look to organizational leaders to determine the characteristics of effective leadership. According to the trait approach, more effective leaders possess certain traits that less effective leaders lack. More recently, this approach is being used to predict leader emergence. The following traits have been identified as those that predict leader emergence when there is no formal leader: high intelligence, high needs for dominance, high self-motivation, and socially perceptive.[61] Another leader-focused approached is the behavioral approach which focuses on the behaviors that distinguish effective from ineffective leaders. There are two categories of leadership behaviors: (1) consideration; and (2) initiating structure. Behaviors associated with the category of consideration include showing subordinates they are valued and that the leader cares about them. An example of a consideration behavior is showing compassion when problems arise in or out of the office. Behaviors associated with the category of initiating structure include facilitating the task performance of groups. One example of an initiating structure behavior is meeting one-on-one with subordinates to explain expectations and goals. The final leader-focused approach is power and influence. To be most effective a leader should be able to influence others to behave in ways that are in line with the organization's mission and goals. How influential a leader can be depends on their social power or their potential to influence their subordinates. There are six bases of power: coercive power, reward power, legitimate power, expert power, referent power, and informational power. A leader can use several different tactics to influence others within an organization. These common tactics include: rational persuasion, inspirational appeal, consultation, ingratiation, exchange, personal appeal, coalition, legitimating, and pressure.[62]

Contingency-focused approaches

Of the three approaches to leadership, contingency-focused approaches have been the most prevalent over the past 30 years. Contingency-focused theories base a leader's effectiveness on their ability to assess a situation and adapt their behavior accordingly.[62] These theories assume that an effective leader can accurately "read" a situation and skillfully employ a leadership style that meets the needs of the individuals involved and the task at hand. A brief introduction to the most prominent contingency-focused theories will follow.

Fiedler's Contingency Theory holds that a leader's effectiveness depends on the interaction between their characteristics and the characteristics of the situation. Path–Goal Theory asserts that the role of the leader is to help his or her subordinates achieve their goals. To effectively do this, leaders must skillfully select from four different leadership styles to meet the situational factors. The situational factors, are a product of the characteristics of subordinates and the characteristics of the environment. The Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Model focuses on how leader–subordinate relationships develop. Generally speaking, when a subordinate performs well or when there are positive exchanges between a leader and a subordinate, their relationship is strengthened, performance and job satisfaction are enhanced, and the subordinate will feel more commitment to the leader and the organization as a whole.[63] Vroom-Yetton-Jago Model focuses on decision making with respect to a feasibility set[62] which is composed of the situational attributes.

In addition to the contingency-focused approaches mentioned, there has been a high degree of interest paid to three novel approaches that have recently emerged. The first is transformational leadership, which posits that there are certain leadership traits that inspire subordinates to perform beyond their capabilities. The second is transactional leadership, which is most concerned with keeping subordinates in-line with deadlines and organizational policy. This type of leader fills more of a managerial role and lacks qualities necessary to inspire subordinates and induce meaningful change. And the third is authentic leadership which is centered around empathy and a leader's values or character. If the leader understands their followers, they can inspire subordinates by cultivating a personal connection and leading them to share in the vision and goals of the team. Although there has been a limited amount of research conducted on these theories, they are sure to receive continued attention as the field of I–O psychology matures.

Follower-focused approaches

Follower-focused approaches look at the processes by which leaders motivate followers, and lead teams to achieve shared goals. Understandably, the area of leadership motivation draws heavily from the abundant research literature in the domain of motivation in I–O psychology. Because leaders are held responsible for their followers' ability to achieve the organization's goals, their ability to motivate their followers is a critical factor of leadership effectiveness. Similarly, the area of team leadership draws heavily from the research in teams and team effectiveness in I–O psychology. Because organizational employees are frequently structured in the form of teams, leaders need to be aware of the potential benefits and pitfalls of working in teams, how teams develop, how to satisfy team members' needs, and ultimately how to bring about team effectiveness and performance. An emerging area of research in the area of team leadership is in leading virtual teams, where people in the team are geographically-distributed across various distances and sometimes even countries. While technological advances have enabled the leadership process to take place in such virtual contexts, they present new challenges for leaders as well, such as the need to use technology to build relationships with followers, and influencing followers when faced with limited (or no) face-to-face interaction.

Organizational change/development

Relationship to occupational health psychology

A separate but related discipline, occupational health psychology (OHP) is a relatively new field that combines elements of industrial–organizational psychology, health psychology, and occupational health.[64] Unlike I–O psychology, the primary emphasis in OHP is on the physical and mental health and psychological well-being of the person. For more detail on OHP, see the section on occupational health psychology.

Training and outlook

Graduate programs

A comprehensive list of US and Canadian master's and doctoral programs can be found at the web site of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP).[65] Some helpful ways to learn about graduate programs include visiting the web sites on the SIOP list and speaking to I–O faculty at the institutions listed. Admission into I–O psychology PhD programs is highly competitive given that many programs accept a small number of applicants every year.

There are graduate degree programs in I–O psychology outside of the US and Canada. The SIOP web site[65] also provides a comprehensive list of I–O programs in many other countries.

Job outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2007), the job outlook for industrial–organizational psychologists is promising. Businesses enlist the services of these psychologists in order to retain employees and maintain a good work ethic. I–O psychologists specializing in research often conduct studies within companies to aid in marketing research.

In 2006, the median annual salary for industrial–organizational psychologists was US$86,420.[66]

See also


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Further reading

  • Anderson, N.; Ones, D.S.; Sinangil, H.K. & Viswesvaran, C. (Eds.). (2002). Handbook of industrial, work and organizational psychology, Volume 1: Personnel psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Ltd.
  • Anderson, N.; Ones, D.S.; Sinangil, H.K. & Viswesvaran, C. (Eds.). (2002). Handbook of industrial, work and organizational psychology, Volume 2: Organizational psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Ltd.
  • Borman, W.C.; Ilgen, D.R. & Klimoski, R.J. (Eds.). (2003). Handbook of psychology: Vol 12 Industrial and organizational psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Borman, W.C. & Motowidlo, S.J. (1993). Expanding the criterion domain to include elements of contextual performance. Chapter in N. Schmitt and W.C. Borman (Eds.), Personnel Selection. San Francisco: Josey-Bass (pp. 71–98).
  • Campbell, J.P.; Gasser, M.B. & Oswald, F.L. (1996). The substantive nature of job performance variability. In K.R. Murphy (Ed.), Individual differences and behavior in organizations (pp. 258–99). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Copley, F.B. (1923). Frederick W. Taylor father of scientific management, Vols. I and II. New York: Taylor Society.
  • Dunnette, M.D. (Ed.). (1976). Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology. Chicago: Rand McNally.
  • Dunnette, M.D. & Hough, L.M. (Eds.). (1991). Handbook of industrial/organizational psychology (4 Volumes). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
  • Guion, R.M. (1998). Assessment, measurement and prediction for personnel decisions. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Hunter, J.E. & Schmidt, F.L. (1990). Methods of meta-analysis: Correcting error and bias in research findings. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  • Jones, Ishmael (2008). The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture. New York: Encounter Books.
  • Koppes, L.L. (Ed.). (2007). Historical perspectives in industrial and organizational psychology. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Lant, T.K. "Organizational Cognition and Interpretation," in Baum, (Ed)., The Blackwell Companion to Organizations. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
  • Lowman, R.L. (Ed.). (2002). The California School of Organizational Studies handbook of organizational consulting psychology: A comprehensive guide to theory, skills and techniques. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Rogelberg, S.G. (Ed.). (2002). Handbook of research methods in industrial and organizational psychology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Sackett, P.R. & Wilk, S.L. (1994). Within group norming and other forms of score adjustment in pre-employment testing. American Psychologist, 49, 929–54.
  • Schmidt, F.L. & Hunter, J.E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 262–74.

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