July 1st, 2014

Organizational psychology cited as ‘fast growing’ job

Tina D. Forrister, MA, was enrolled in a clinical psychology master’s degree program when she decided on a different path.

“I realized two years in that it wasn’t the right fit for me,” says Forrister, who had an undergraduate degree in psychology and was working in the pharmaceutical industry while pursuing her master’s. Forrister continued working in pharmaceuticals, in learning and development and change management. In 2011, she found a way to combine that work with psychology – enrolling in the Organizational Psychology master’s degree program at Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP).

Forrister may be a trendsetter. The National Bureau of Labor reports that in the next decade, the field of Industrial-Organizational Psychology  will increase by 53 percent. It topped Business Insider’s “fastest-growing jobs in America” list.

MSPP established its organizational psychology master’s program about seven years ago and enrollment has increased about 400 percent since, says Erik Gregory, Ph.D., who directs the MSPP Organizational and Leadership Psychology program.

Those trained in organizational psychology apply psychological principles and research methods to improve workplace productivity and the quality of work life. “In today’s world, we are finding through research that most employees in the United States report that they exist between boredom and anxiety at their work site,” Gregory says.

Gregory says the technology industry has been a leader in reconstructing the work setting to make it healthier, offering benefits such as  workplace daycare, which can help increase productivity and well-being. Many organizations, however, still cling to old models that are no longer productive in an increasingly competitive marketplace and employees are pushing back.

“People want to have some ownership of their lives,” Gregory says. Gregory says employees often tell him stories about their parents, who labored in jobs for many years, only to be laid off.

“People today are saying – unless there’s a commitment to me as an employee, why should I be giving a commitment back to the organization?” he says. “If organizations want to hang on to talent, they need to know how to nurture it.”

Gregory says those trained in organizational psychology diagnose an organization by taking both a bird’s-eye, and ground-level, view. They distinguish technical challenges from adaptive ones and look at a company’s internal culture, with the goal of maximizing workforce well-being, improving business outcomes and helping organizations adapt to industry changes. “Our students are really change agents for organizations,” he says.They often work in leadership development, teambuilding, strategic planning or human resources.

Forrister now works for a boutique consulting firm focusing on life science companies. Recently, she worked on an organizational diagnosis of a global company’s training services. Employees answered a structured questionnaire about the training they received and how it supports them in their jobs.

Forrister says there’s a benefit to having a someone with organizational psychology training deliver employee feedback to an organization. “I can present it in such a way that it’s not just that people are frustrated or are happy and you just drop it there – but I can put it into context and tell them how it affects the business.”

In another project, she helped employees channel anxiety over an audit into a roadmap of how they could move forward in a positive way.

“I think what I like the most is the fact that we are not ignoring the fact that there is a psychological impact to the work we do in our businesses,” Forrister says. “People spend a lot of time at work, and with the people they work with. Companies are dependent on people to function and thrive in the business.

“There is a very tangible benefit that can be seen when you care for the psychological health of the people in the business,” Forrister says. “In an organizational psychology role, you have the ability to be that little ripple, that one little thing that ripples through teams and then organizations and can make a really big difference in a short period of time.”

By Pamela Berard

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