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date: 10 December 2019

The Nature of Organizational Psychology

Abstract and Keywords

Organizational psychology is the science of psychology applied to work and organizations. This field of inquiry spans more than a century and covers an increasingly diverse range of topics as the nature of work and organizations continue to evolve. The purpose of this chapter is to provide a concise overview of organizational psychology as a field of inquiry and the topics covered in this handbook, which endeavors to encapsulate key topics of research and application, summarize important research findings, and identify innovative directions for research and practice. The chapter is organized around four sections. First, it begins with a brief overview of the evolution of the concept of work and the changing career model to provide a backdrop to our examination of the psychology of organizations. Second, it describes several dialectic tensions—industrial and organizational psychology, employee well-being and organizational effectiveness, basic and applied science, science and practice activities, and individual and organizational levels—that characterize organizational psychology as an applied, translational science. The tensions are a source of challenges that require a dynamic balance, but they also create important synergies for the field. Third, I highlight important trends over the last 35 years in the evolution of the field—it is increasingly multilevel, encompassing teams, studying dynamic phenomena, and expanding its breadth of coverage—that are shaping the field, as well as its future. Finally, I close with a tour of the structure of the volume and the topics that illustrate the breadth and diversity of this field that studies the science of psychology applied to work and organizations.

Keywords: introduction to organizational psychology, the evolution of work, dialectic tensions, evolutionary themes

“Work is the inescapable starting point for all social inquiry.”

—(Heilbroner, 1985, p. 9)

The Centrality of Work and Organizations

Organizations Are Ubiquitous

People working together in organizations are the primary means by which contemporary societies accomplish the ordinary, mundane, but very important basics of everyday life which include providing food, water, clothing, shelter, and safety; managing the engines of economics, commerce, and trade; linking us via media for communication, entertainment, and enrichment; moving us by far-flung air transportation systems; and pushing the boundaries of the extraordinary by cracking the atom, putting men on the moon, and planning missions to more distal heavenly bodies. Work is central to (p. 4) modern culture, to the societies in which we live, and to the well-being of the people who comprise global cultures and societies. Those of you reading this chapter spent a substantial portion of your lives preparing for a career and have spent or will spend an even greater portion of your life building that career. Most people develop their careers by filling a series of roles in a single organization or across a set of different organizations. As they gain experience and enhanced competence, they seek to progress to roles with greater responsibility and concomitant material rewards. Other people depart from this typical pattern and define their own roles, and even their own organizations, as entrepreneurs. However, whether we work in an organization or create our own, we will interact with and accomplish many of our life goals in and through organized institutions. Organizations are ubiquitous in our world and in our lives.

Work Is Central to Life

Aside from the many material benefits provided by work and organizations, work is also an important source of identity and psychological well-being. Work structures time and activity, it provides opportunities for social interaction and exchange, and it is a foundation for self-identity and self-esteem (Jahoda, 1988). We invest on the order of 20 to 25 years in educational preparation in elementary school and high school, and occupational pre-socialization in college and post-graduate study. Work is a vehicle for career striving for the pursuit of achievement, power, and material rewards as well as a means to satisfy psychological needs. In contemporary society, a career trajectory will span roughly 40 or more years. By retirement, nearly half of one's waking life will have been spent preparing for and engaging in work, career, and organizational life. When work and careers are satisfying, they enhance our sense of well-being and are a major source of fulfillment. When our work life is troubled, or when it conflicts with other important life roles, it becomes a major source of tension, stress, and psychological and even physical dysfunction. Thus, the effects of work extend well beyond the bounds of the organizations in which work is embedded; work is central to adult fulfillment and well-being in most societies.


This chapter is designed to provide a broad overview of the field of organizational psychology—the psychology of human cognition, affect, behavior, and performance applied to work and organizations. Understanding the nature of organizational psychology necessitates an understanding of work as a fact of life, its cultural juxtaposition, and its evolution from ancient to modern times. An important aspect of this evolution is the shift from work as basic subsistence for maintaining existence to modern forms of work in organizations where the meaning of work is more abstract and where the outcomes—money, power, status—go beyond mere subsistence. Another purpose for tracing the evolution of work is to make salient the fact that work and organizations are not fixed “givens”; rather, they are socially constructed concepts, and they change and evolve as the societies and cultures around them advance. Hence, factors that are important research foci in different historical epochs change as society changes and the nature of work and organizations evolve (Koppes-Bryan & Vinchur, chapter 2 of this handbook).

This introductory chapter is structured into four sections. First, I begin with a concise tracing of the evolution of work. Work has been a central fact of human history, but its existential meaning has changed over time, and our modern conceptions, which are also in flux, are no more fixed or “real” than were ancient views of work. With continued advances in technology and culture, our conceptions of work and organizations will continue to evolve. Second, I consider several core dialectic tensions that underlie industrial and organizational (I/O)1 psychology: industrial and organizational psychology, employee well-being and organizational effectiveness, basic and applied science, science and practice activities, and individual and organizational levels. I discuss how a dynamic balance among the contrasting poles of these tensions creates positive synergies for the field. Third, I describe what I view as four important evolutionary trends in organizational psychology over the last 35 years: (1) the rise of multilevel theory and research that encompass the individual, group, and organizational levels; (2) the surge of interest in team effectiveness, with teams at the juncture of the individual and organizational levels; (3) the nascent interest in dynamic processes; and (4) the expanding breadth of topics covered by the field. The fourth section, which provides an overview of the organization, structure, and coverage of the handbook, illustrates this latter trend.

In designing the structure of this handbook, I was careful to represent the foundation and the core of the field, but I also attended to areas that are expanding and to areas where organizational psychology needs to build stronger linkages. Authors (p. 5) of the chapters in this handbook are top scholars in each of their respective topic areas. You will find each of their contributions to provide a solid overview of the topic, a deep summary of key findings, and insightful directions for future research progress.

The Evolution of Work

Work, Ancient and Modern

Any effort to briefly sketch the etiology of work over the course of human history is doomed to oversimplify and gloss over complexities in a rich and varied tapestry. However, this risk is offset by the value in realizing that conceptions of work have evolved considerably and, hence, future conceptions of work are likely to be quite different from the current views we take for granted. For those interested in a deeper treatment of this evolution, Applebaum's Concept of Work (1992)—on which this brief sketch is based—is highly recommended.

“Work is basic to the human condition, to the creation of the human environment, and to the context of human relationships” (Applebaum, 1992, p. ix). Although one can certainly trace back further in time, work in ancient Greece and Rome was woven into the fabric of life and community. In Greece, the aristocratic oikos was a household that comprised an extended family group, with a landed estate and considerable accumulated wealth (primarily from plunder and gifts). These large estates needed “workers” in the form of slaves, hired help, and craftsmen. Even with the strong class distinctions of that time, based on wealth, power, and one's type of work, everyone engaged in different forms of productive activity.

Of course, those differences could be pretty big. As Applebaum (1992) noted, Aristotle distinguished praxis, activity that has no purpose other than its intrinsic enjoyment, and poiesis, activity for a specific end state or product. The latter was viewed as a form of dependence that was not fit for a free man, who should not be burdened with labor in order to engage in a more contemplative and rewarding intellectual life. The nature of work conferred social status. Does this sound familiar? This distinction is still viewed as important in motivational terms. Heckhausen & Kuhl (1985) describe activity for its own sake as action goals that are intrinsically motivating, whereas activity in the service of outcomes is described as consequence goals that motivate extrinsically.

The human necessity to work was part of the religious myths and philosophies of the ancient world. Just as in the Old Testament, Adam and Eve were thrust out of the garden of bliss for the sin of eating the apple, so in the Greek myths, Zeus punished mankind for the sins of Prometheus.2 In both cases, the result was that mankind had to earn its living through work. He could no longer attain the wherewithal for life for free or without cost. The products of nature would henceforth yield themselves up to humankind only in pure form. They would be unusable unless welded to the fire of work, unformed unless molded into new shapes through the use of tools, and unconsumable unless they were cooked with fire. (Applebaum, 1992, p. 168)

During the Middle Ages, more than 90% of the European population lived in small villages and worked the land. Before the relentless invasions began, peasants owned or rented the land. Later, they needed protection, which was exchanged for social obligations. They were obliged to work the land for the king or lord and to exchange labor or products. Work was communal and, although entailing more complex social structures, was still closely connected to the rhythm of daily life. In addition, craft guilds and the apprenticeship system developed, serving as a source of both social organization and social mobility.

And, essentially, so it went for hundreds of years. The rise of market-based economies and the use of currency begin to separate work from its intimacy with the fabric of life. The basic activities of growing food, raising animals for food and clothing, potting, and so on, are all related to agricultural-based economies. Separating work from direct sustenance made it more of an abstraction: the exchange of effort in return for compensation.

The Protestant attitude toward work is the beginning of the modern concept of work, and it is convenient to locate this great change with the ideas of Luther. This new attitude toward work has also been merged with the notion that Protestantism and its perspectives on work were also the ideological precursors for capitalism and its work ethic. This latter notion was created by Max Weber in his seminal essay on the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1950). (Applebaum, 1992, p. 321)

This view was, and remains, controversial.

The revolutionary aspect of Luther (he did not support commerce, since it was not real work, or profit, since the purpose of work was just (p. 6) maintenance) was the notion that one should work within one's social niche (the trade, profession, or station into which one was born) doing best that which one was “called” to do, with no desire to advance in the social hierarchy. The revolutionary part was that it rejected the “three orders” and the notion that the lower orders had to “work for the benefit of the higher orders, nobles, and clerics who were to have leisure to pursue the contemplative and spiritual life” (Applebaum, 1992, p. 322). (The roots of this notion go back to Aristotle, as noted previously.) It rejected the “… double standard of the higher and lower callings and it also shifted the concept of calling or work—from the… emphasis on the penal quality of work, especially in its manual aspects, to the positive and creatively enjoyable aspects of work” (Applebaum, 1992, p. 323).

With Calvinism came a new view toward work. All must work, even the rich. Hard work stems from religious conviction. Idleness, luxury, anything soft is to be shunned. Hard work to cleanse the soul is taken as a religious duty. “Puritanism—which developed from Calvinism—goes further, teaching that it is one's duty to extract the greatest possible gain from work. Success, which is proven by profit, is the certain indication that the chosen profession is pleasing to God” (Applebaum, 1992, p. 325). Calvin also taught that it was one's duty to strive for social advancement. The view of work was one as “mobile, fluid, man-made rather than God-given, and rationalized… If this sounds very modern, it is. It is also possibly the first ideological wind of the modern spirit of entrepreneurship and profit-seeking” (Applebaum, 1992, p. 325). Subsequent reformation efforts by the Puritans coupled their ethics with the principles of modern capitalism. And so we marry up with more contemporary views of work prevalent in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Recent Views of Work and Careers

In many ways, contemporary views of work and careers and their relationship to organizations are bound within this historical perspective. The evolution of work provides the base, but our conception is largely rooted in recent history that has unfolded over the last half century or so. Following the destruction wrought by World War II, developed societies, including those devastated by the conflict, embarked on a period of economic expansion unparalleled in human history. In exchange for their effort, loyalty, and hard work, people were rewarded with material benefits and career opportunities as companies grew. This has contributed to a “traditional” view of work in which work roles, career progression, and the nature of organizations have conformed to a set of assumptions that were largely taken for granted for many years: A person prepared for a single job or career (the person here was typically a white male—this was the normative model), worked for a single company (or at least very few companies), and got ahead by working hard in his chosen specialty (people were rewarded for their individual merit). There have been, to be sure, some incremental changes in this traditional perspective as historically disenfranchised groups of people sought, and continue to seek, more inclusion in this model. The basic nature of the exchange relationship between individuals and organizations, however, remained intact from post–World War II up to the mid-1980s and 1990s. That traditional model, if it ever was truly descriptive of career development, is now in the midst of dramatic revision.

A revolution is taking place in the world of work in which this traditional model is unlikely to survive. There are a multitude of environmental forces operating to change organizations in ways that will upend the traditional views of work as well. Organizations are increasingly multinational, cutting across what used to be impenetrable cultural, political, and economic system barriers. Indeed, the political and economic barriers between capitalism and Marxism erected in the aftermath of World War II have mostly fallen by the wayside. Competition is increasingly global, creating pressures for firms to meet higher standards of efficiency, quality, and flexibility. Technological innovation in both product (what is made) and process (how it is made) continues to accelerate rapidly, contributing to the obsolescence of work skills, technical knowledge, and jobs, and even to the decline of companies and entire industries.

Organizations attempt to respond to these forces in a number of different ways. They merge or acquire other organizations in an effort to eliminate competitors or to purchase specific kinds of expertise that they need to compete effectively. They reorganize their structure in an effort to enhance responsiveness, flexibility, and efficiency. They shut down obsolete manufacturing plants and invest in advanced manufacturing technologies to improve product quality and consistency. They may even move jobs to other parts of the world where labor costs are low. These efforts to respond oftentimes result in workforce reductions as organizations close manufacturing plants, reduce (p. 7) layers of management, and lay off surplus personnel. Many companies reduce their workforces as part of a general retrenchment process in response to poor economic performance. As a consequence of these different organizational responses, organizational downsizing became a common phenomenon, beginning in the 1980s, accelerating in the 1990s, and continuing into the new millennium (Cascio & Wynn, 2004). These economic disruptions, as growth in the developed world has slowed and expansion in the developing world has gained momentum, continue in the present day. The recent economic dislocation has exacerbated these effects.

These organizational changes have begun to affect the traditional career and work model. First, the career model is changing. It is less and less likely that individuals will be able to develop satisfying careers in a single organization. Not only will advancement opportunities be more restricted as organizations reduce layers of management, but the continuing threat of downsizing will tend to undercut loyalty to any one organization. People will tend to exhibit more mobility as they move from company to company to enhance or protect their careers. Moreover, it is less and less likely that individuals will be able to pursue a single career path. Technological obsolescence may require people to prepare for significant career shifts throughout their productive work lives. At the very least, most people will have to continually update their knowledge and skills through continuing, lifelong education and training just to keep up with advances in knowledge (London, chapter 35 of this handbook; Molloy & Noe, 2010). People will need to be increasingly flexible in career management.

Second, the model of work is also changing. As organizations streamline to enhance innovation and agility, job responsibilities expand. With fewer levels of management, decision making moves lower in the organization to put decisions closer to the work. In addition, broad-based skills become more important because jobs have to be more dynamic and flexible; they are likely to be revised and redesigned more frequently. Emphasis on product quality and customer service fosters attention to continuous improvement in product and process. This requires continuous improvements in worker skills and knowledge (London, chapter 35 of this handbook). It also places a premium on teamwork as organizations worldwide have shifted their work designs from individual to team-based systems over the last two decades (Devine, Clayton, Phillips, Dunford, & Melner, 1999).

Finally, workers are changing as well. The traditional models of work and careers are also a product of the culture, societal values, and the people that comprise the society. The traditional models are linked to a time when work and careers were predominantly the province of men, and family lifestyles were more uniform. As the culture changes, however, so does the view of work. In our culture, lifestyles have become far more diverse than they were in the immediate postwar era. In addition, over the next several decades, our society will experience a variety of demographic changes that will affect the nature of the workforce. There will be more women in the workforce, particularly at the higher decision-making levels of corporations ( There will be more “minorities” and fewer white males as a percentage of the workforce. Indeed, white males will constitute a “minority” group in the latter half of the twenty-first century (Lee & Mather, 2008).3 And there will be greater distinctions between well-educated and highly skilled workers and those who are lacking education, work skills, or basic literacy. This diversity of the workforce, combined with the changes in organizations and careers, will revolutionize the nature of work and how we think about it.

Although it is easy to be pessimistic about change—and, indeed, change is often resisted—I am optimistic about the future. The changes in careers, work, and cultural values create challenges for government, for organizations, and for all of us. At the same time, they provide an opportunity to redefine work and careers so that they are more fulfilling for more people. This is the province and the challenge of organizational psychology: to understand the psychology of organizations and people, and to apply that basic psychological science to help people become more fulfilled and to help organizations become more effective.

Foci of Organizational Psychology

Dialectic Tensions

 The Nature of Organizational Psychology

Figure 1.1 Dialectical Tensions of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Note: Orientation of the axes is arbitrary and not intended to be meaningful.

The abbreviated definition of organizational psychology highlighted above is characterized by an underlying set of core dialectic tensions illustrated in Figure 1.1: industrial and organizational psychology, employee well-being and organizational effectiveness, basic and applied science, science and practice activities, and individual and organizational levels. I do not mean to describe these foci as forces in strong opposition or conflict, but they do tug the field in different directions, creating tension and (p. 8) flux between the poles, and necessitating a dynamic balance among the tugs and pulls. The tensions are sometimes, perhaps often, viewed as problems that are bifurcating I/O psychology and that have the potential to cleave it at its joints. However, I think that is an extreme and pessimistic viewpoint. Rather, I think that the tensions are endemic in the origin, nature, and evolution of the field, and that the dialectic flux is healthy so long as we actively endeavor to maintain a dynamic balance between the poles and among the collective tensions. In the sections that follow, I will briefly highlight the nature of these tensions and the value that the field of organizational psychology gains by maintaining a dynamic balance.

Industrial and Organizational

The industrial and organizational foci represent domains of research and application that have evolved historically and that together span the richness of human characteristics, behavior, and performance in organizations. The earliest principles and tools of psychology applied to work and organizations centered on individual differences, assessments and tests that captured them, and applied that technology to selecting employees. In addition, there were applications to job design, employee performance assessment, and training. For example, Galton and Cattell contributed to the development of differential psychology and the assessment of individual differences in abilities; Münsterberg used work samples and early forms of work simulations for selection and training; and World War I stimulated the application of ability testing to large-scale selection and classification by the army. Testing, selection, and training were obviously also applicable to industry, and the techniques quickly diffused for application in organizations. These applications were primarily focused on enabling basic human resource management (HRM) functions and, consistent with terminology of the era, characterized an “industrial” psychology. Subsequent development of research interest on worker attitudes and productivity from the Hawthorne Studies in the 1920s and 1930s; the post–World War II focus on leadership and motivation; and the rise of organizational systems theory with its focus on organizational development, change, and effectiveness led to a characterization of an “organizational” psychology, which was added to the industrial psychology label in 1973 (Koppes-Bryan & Vinchur, chapter 2 of this handbook).

Although the distinction between the “I” “slash” “O” is sometimes viewed as a fracture, the field firmly remains I and O. It is not bifurcated, it is connected. This is noteworthy because in management, human resources management (HRM; a.k.a. industrial psychology) and organizational behavior (OB; a.k.a. organizational psychology) are treated as distinct sub-specialties. Contemporary interest in strategic HRM necessitates spanning I and O psychology, HRM and OB, and leveraging synergies across the micro-macro divide to understand how organizational strategy shapes worker requirements and how the emergence of human capital shapes organizational strategy, capabilities, and effectiveness (Ployhart, chapter 8 of this handbook; Snow & Snell, chapter 30 of this handbook).

Employee Well-being and Organizational Effectiveness

From its earliest inception, organizational psychology has been concerned with the application of psychological principles to improving the experience and well-being of workers and the effectiveness of organizations. There is a tension between these two foci such that improving organizational effectiveness could come at the expense of employee well-being, or that improvements in employee well-being are costly to the organization. For example, an organizational restructuring and streamlining that also downsized the workforce could prompt feelings of guilt and increased work stress for surviving employees (Kozlowski, Chao, Smith, & Hedlund, 1993). Conversely, a lavish organizational benefits package might be viewed as detrimental to the bottom line or the creation of shareholder value by (p. 9) some observers. Google, for example, offers a very favorable employee benefits package:

The goal is to strip away everything that gets in our employees’ way. We provide a standard package of fringe benefits, but on top of that are first-class dining facilities, gyms, laundry rooms, massage rooms, haircuts, carwashes, dry cleaning, commuting buses—just about anything a hardworking employee might want. Let's face it: programmers want to program, they don't want to do their laundry. So we make it easy for them to do both. (Eric Schmidt, CEO Google)4

As inherent in the Google example, the goal is to manage the tension so as to achieve mutual benefit to all parties. Indeed, the mission statement for the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) states in part: “The Society's mission is to enhance human well-being and performance in organizational and work settings by promoting the science, practice, and teaching of industrial-organizational psychology.”5

Basic and Applied Science

Psychological science studies a wide range of basic phenomena. For example, cognitive neuroscience maps brain function to psychological phenomena such as decision making, mood, and disorders. Developmental psychology examines psychological functioning across the life span—child, adolescent, and adult development. Social psychologists study basic personality, attitudes, values, and interpersonal interactions. Basic psychological science seeks to discover generalizable principles of human behavior that cut across a wide range of situations.

What makes organizational psychology somewhat unique is that it is focused on psychological functioning in a particular context, the workplace—a context that entails some very potent motivators, including achievement, power, and money. “Work is like the spine which structures the way people live, how they make contact with material and social reality, and how they achieve status and self-esteem” (Applebaum, 1992, p. ix). The work context grounds organizational psychology and the phenomena of interest. The context constrains the range of behavior to focus primarily on the functioning of normal adults. The context also limits the range of potential situational or environmental influences that are of interest to factors such as organizational features, leadership, and group processes and behavioral outcomes such as job performance, attitudes, and other reactions. The context allows organizational psychologists to examine psychological phenomena within a more tightly focused range, with better grounding, and greater precision. The intent is to apply basic science to the work setting.

Basic and applied sciences are often depicted as opposite poles conceptually similar to Aristotle's praxis (basic) and poiesis (applied): basic discovery of knowledge for its own sake versus application of knowledge to achieve a specific purpose. However, basic and applied sciences are not necessarily opposite ends of a continuum. In his seminal book, Pasteur's Quadrant, Donald Stokes (1997) juxtaposes the quest for fundamental understanding and considerations of use as orthogonal dimensions that create four quadrants characterizing three meaningful classes of research. A quest for fundamental understanding with no consideration of use is pure basic research, as exemplified by the physics of Niels Bohr or Albert Einstein. A focus on use with no consideration for fundamental understanding is pure applied research, as exemplified by the inventions of Thomas Edison. The quest for fundamental understanding and consideration is use-inspired basic research: Pasteur's Quadrant. The remaining quadrant – no consideration for understanding or use—is null. Rigorous and relevant organizational psychological research targets Pasteur's Quadrant: it seeks to generate basic scientific knowledge that can be applied to solve important problems in organizations.

Science and Practice

As in the previous discussion of Pasteur's Quadrant, I/O psychological science is targeted on fundamental understanding that has implications for solving applied problems. The tools of our science include the development of meta-theories that help explain important phenomena; systematic research to investigate more specific models drawn from these theories; research summaries and meta-analyses that help to codify knowledge and provide a basis for validated principles for understanding important classes of work behavior; and the development of “tools” to influence, shape, and enhance human performance.

In the science-practice model, practitioners draw on scientific theories, principles, and tools, but tailor them with sensitivity to the local context and conditions of the organization. Theory and research-based principles at a higher level of generality cannot (p. 10) encompass every important contingency that operates in a given organizational setting. The art and experience of seasoned practitioners are necessary components of the translation of applied science to effective application.

The science-practice model is important because it merges the content areas of OB and HR, and distinguishes the practice of I/O psychology from related disciplines in management. Anyone with any disciplinary background whatsoever can be a consultant to organizations. What distinguishes the practice of I/O psychology from other disciplines is that it is fundamentally based in the science of psychology applied to organizations. Maintaining a tight coupling between science and practice is increasingly a challenge as the unique aspects of each role tug science and practice in different directions (Rynes, chapter 13 of this handbook). However, in I/O psychology, the linkage between science and evidence-based practice is critical if we are to remain rigorous and relevant.

Individual and Organizational

The roots of organizational psychology go to the role of individual differences in ability, personality, and other characteristics in predicting human behavior in the workplace. The formative history of the field was firmly focused on individuals as the level of primary interest and the appropriate level of explanation. The primary focus on the individual characterized the field for much of its development, although the Hawthorne studies conducted in the 1920s and 1930s began to spark nascent interest in characteristics of groups and settings in the workplace (Koppes-Bryan & Vinochur, chapter 2 of this handbook). Post–World War II interests in the nature and effects of leadership, the role of organizational climate as a representation of organization contextual factors like technology and structure, and systems theory which viewed elements of the organization as linked together in complex and dynamic patterns of ongoing influence brought more attention to the characteristics of the context—the organization—and their effects on individuals (Katz & Kahn, 1978). Subsequent development of multilevel theory (MLT) pushed the level of explanation beyond the individual to encompass the group and organizational levels, to consider the interplay across levels, and to appreciate the ways in which higher level—group and organizational—phenomena emerge from individuals interacting over time in a work setting (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000; Rousseau, 1985). The levels of explanation are individual, group, and organizational; micro, meso, and macro; I and O.

Evolutionary Trends in Organizational Psychology

Complexities and Challenges

The dialectics undergirding organizational psychology are merely reflective of the complexities and challenges of studying organizations and the behavior that occurs within them. Complexities, and the theoretical and research challenges that they create, force a field of study to evolve as it seeks to better capture and explain complex phenomena. Some of the evolution of the field since its inception is inherent in the dialectics described previously. The evolution of organizational psychology, more generally, is captured in its history and development (Koppes Bryan & Vinochur, chapter 2 of this handbook). However, there are, I think, some key developments that have occurred during the last 35 years that are having a substantial influence on the evolution of the field. These trends include: (a) the rise of multilevel theory, research, and methods; (b) the related surge of theory and research focused on team effectiveness; (c) nascent interest in developmental processes and the dynamics of behavior; and (d) increased breadth of research encompassed by organizational psychology as represented in the topics covered by this handbook (wider, deeper, more multidisciplinary).

This is, not coincidentally, a strongly personal perspective. I began graduate studies in I/O psychology shortly after publication of the first Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (Dunnette, 1976). As a graduate student, I was exposed to that Handbook and it serves as my point of entry to the field and my benchmark for new developments and the evolution of I/O psychology. I do not mean to imply that these are the only important trends in the field. It is simply that I see their influence as pervasive and growing. I will highlight the first three related trends—multilevel theory, the rise of work teams, and dynamics—in this section. Breadth of the field is addressed in the next section, which lays out the organization, structure, and topics covered in this handbook.

Organizations Are Multilevel Systems

Organizations are socially constructed systems. They are abstract, rather than concrete, systems in that their strategy, design, structure, and processes are enacted by the people who compose them (Katz & Kahn, 1978). They are embedded (p. 11) in a shifting and often unpredictable environment. Organizations are in exchange with the external environment, importing resources, transforming them, and exporting something “value added” that enables continued energy importation. As environments shift, organizations change, evolve, and adapt—or die. This view of organizations as systems of interacting elements, in exchange with a changing external environment, and adapting dynamically to maintain homeostasis, has been a dominant theoretical framework for understanding organizational behavior for over 70 years; it is traceable back to the Hawthorne Studies (Roethlisburger & Dickson, 1939). It is a very useful perspective, but it has limitations.

The problem has been that it is more of a metaphor than a theory, it has not been useful for developing testable propositions, and it has not advanced research. To accomplish those aims, one needs a set of theoretical principles that can be used to meaningfully decompose “holistic” systems phenomena, measurement principles to specify constructs that can represent different levels of phenomena, and analytical tools that can deal with phenomena that unfold over time and at multiple levels (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000). The advent of multilevel theory, coupled with the development of multilevel analytical systems, has provided the means to resolve these issues.

For much of its history, I/O psychology was primarily focused on individuals. Even during the 1950s and 1960s, when systems theory was taking hold and there was growing interest in the effects of organizational factors on human behavior, the level of explanation stayed fixed on the individual. This individual-centric focus began to change in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Although there are many formative influences, the publication of a book entitled Building an Interdisciplinary Science of Organizations (Roberts, Hulin, & Rousseau, 1978) signaled the beginning of a shift in the field that would ultimately result in a more balanced theoretical, research, and application focus on individuals, groups, and organizations as integrated—rather than distinct—levels of explanation. A key observation made by Roberts and colleagues (1978) is that the disciplines comprising organizational science had sliced the organizational system into distinct layers. They selected four exemplar paradigms, or four worlds of organizational science: I/O psychology (the individual), human factors (tasks), social psychology (groups), and sociology (organization)—to make their point.

In the years that followed, many scholars highlighted the ways in which a more integrated perspective that encompassed the multiple, nested levels of the organizational system could push the field forward (Klein, Dansereau, & Hall, 1994; Mossholder & Bedeian, 1983; Rousseau, 1985). However, the challenges were many. Researchers routinely misunderstood the implications of data aggregation (Robinson, 1950; Thorndike, 1939). Researchers routinely evoked theoretical explanations that spanned levels, but failed to measure, appropriately represent, or analyze them at commensurate levels (Klein et al., 1994). There were controversies surrounding the justification for aggregating data (James, Demaree, & Wolf, 1984, 1993; Kozlowski & Hattrup, 1992; Schmidt & Hunter, 1989) and conducting multilevel analyses (George, 1990; George & James, 1993; Yammarino & Markham, 1992). There was interest in multilevel research, but the complexities were many and the persistent controversies over theory and method sowed confusion and wariness. Multilevel and cross-level research was rare.

In 2000, Klein and Kozlowski produced an edited book for the SIOP Frontiers Series, Multilevel Theory, Research, and Methods in Organizations: Foundations, Extensions, and New Directions, that was intended to bring order to this chaos and to advance multilevel theory and research. The opening chapter (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000) synthesized a set of theoretical principles for developing multilevel models;6 formulated methodological principles and a measurement framework for aligning the levels of constructs and data; and developed a theoretically based typology of emergence to help researchers appropriately represent higher level phenomena that emerge from individual cognition, affect, behavior, and other person characteristics. Chapters were commissioned to apply multilevel theory to topics that had traditionally been rooted solely at the individual level—selection, performance appraisal, and training—or largely at more macro levels—culture, HRM strategy, and inter-organizational relations. Finally, there were thorough treatments of the issues of aggregation and non-independence, analytic systems (i.e., cross-level operator approaches, within and between analysis [WABA], and hierarchical linear modeling [HLM]), and—importantly—a direct comparison among the analytic techniques analyzing a common data set. The book was largely successful in its goals of providing a solid theoretical foundation for multilevel research, clarifying measurement and analytic issues, and pointing toward (p. 12) the many potential areas where multilevel theory could extend research effectiveness.

In addition, during the 1990s and especially since the turn of the century, there have been substantial developments in multilevel modeling techniques. Multilevel random coefficient modeling has clearly established superiority over alternative analysis methods (i.e., analysis of variance and covariance [ANOVA, ANCOVA], ordinary least squares regression, and within and between analysis [WABA]), and it has become widely available in a variety of statistical software analysis packages. Publication of multilevel research—better integrating across levels in the organizational system—has increased significantly in volume in the major organizational psychology, HRM, and OB journals. Multilevel research has moved from the periphery of organizational research to its center. Since the turn of the century, multilevel research has flourished.

The Rise of Work Teams

One area of scholarly activity that well illustrates this ongoing evolution of multilevel research is the growth of work on team effectiveness in organizational psychology. As I noted previously, for much of its history I/O psychology has been centered on the individual as its focal level. However, competitive pressures on organizations to be more adaptive, to push decision making closer to the source of problems, and to harness diverse expertise sparked a worldwide shift from individual-based work structures to team-based work systems in organizations during the late 1980s and 1990s (Devine et al., 1999). Since at least the 1930s, research on small group behavior has been the province of social psychology, but the evolution in work structure prompted a change in the locus of research focused on small groups and work teams. As Kozlowski and Bell (2003, p. 333) noted:

Over the last 15 years… group and team research has become increasingly centered in the fields of organizational psychology and organizational behavior. Indeed, Levine and Moreland (1990) in their extensive review of small group research concluded that, “Groups are alive and well, but living elsewhere… The torch has been passed to (or, more accurately, picked up by) colleagues in other disciplines, particularly organizational psychology.”

(p. 620)

As go organizations, so goes I/O psychology. The increasing interest in teams, teamwork, and team effectiveness was concurrent with the evolving interest in multilevel theory, methods, and analyses. Teams are at the juncture of the person and the broader organizational system. The person is micro. The organizational system is macro. Work teams are meso. They provide the most proximal social context for the experiences that impinge on employees—experiences that are frustrating, fulfilling, or enervating. They are also the unit that most proximally captures the synergies of good teamwork, collaboration, and coordination that emerge to influence higher level performance. Teams are the juncture that links layers of the organization—top-down and bottom-up—together into an integrated system. Teams increasingly represent an important focus for organizational psychology theory and research (Bell, Kozlowski, & Blawath, chapter 26 of this handbook; Chen & Tesluk, chapter 24 of this handbook; Hollenbeck & Spitzmuller, chapter 23 of this handbook; Kirkman, Gibson, & Kim, chapter 25 of this handbook; Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006; Mathieu & Gilson, chapter 27 of this handbook).


Whether increasing interest in the dynamics of human cognition, affect, and behavior in organizations is a clear trend is debatable, but—whether it is a trend or not—it should be represented in our theory, research, and practice. In the 100+ year history of the field, we have learned much about work and behavior in organizations; much of that knowledge is captured in this handbook. However, it is also the case that the vast majority of our evidence and knowledge are based on relationships observed in static correlational designs—results from cross-sectional data collections in the field—or in lab studies that can establish causal relations, but within limited time frames and often with little or no attention to process dynamics. We need to do better.

There are, nonetheless, several areas of inquiry where the influence of dynamic processes unfolding over time as developmental progression, growth, or the persistence of a phenomenon; processes characterized by cycles or episodes; or phenomena that exhibit intra- or inter-individual (or higher level units) variance are receiving theoretical and research attention. This is an important nascent trend since virtually every phenomenon of interest has at its core a psychological process which, by definition, is dynamic. This list is by no means intended to be a comprehensive sampling, but just a simple illustration to demonstrate that there is a lot more research that entails temporal dynamics than you might (p. 13) think at first blush. For example, socialization researchers began conducting longitudinal studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which led to major advances in that topic area (Chao, chapter 18 of this handbook). In the 1990s, researchers in the area of learning and skill acquisition began examining cycles of learning and self-regulation processes and their linkages to knowledge, performance, and adaptation outcomes (Salas, Weaver, & Shuffler, chapter 11 of this handbook). During the early part of the twenty-first century, researchers stimulated by affective events theory (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996) began using experience sampling methods to examine variability in mood, emotions, and affect over days and weeks (Judge, Hulin, & Dalal, chapter 15 of this handbook).

Moreover, more complex dynamics are explicitly addressed in several chapters in this handbook. For example, Hanges and Wang (chapter 3 of this handbook) discuss how treating organizations as complex adaptive systems necessitates a focus on dynamics in research design. DeShon (chapter 4 of this handbook) characterizes the increasing interest in dynamic phenomena, the complex longitudinal data structures needed to represent these processes, and the sophisticated analytical techniques required to model them. Ryan and Sackett (chapter 5 of this handbook) consider intra- and interindividual variability on individual difference characteristics and their implications for making predictive inferences. Sonnentag and Frese (chapter 17 of this handbook) review the research on job performance as a dynamic process and develop a taxonomy to advance understanding of performance dynamics. Bell, Kozlowski, and Blawath (chapter 26 of this handbook) examine theory and research on team learning, specifically treating team learning as a process that is distinct from team knowledge outcomes. They describe several models of team learning that incorporate cyclical process dynamics. Mathieu and Gilson (chapter 27 of this handbook) close their chapter with a discussion of four temporal phenomena that can be harnessed to advance research on team effectiveness. There are other examples as well, sprinkled throughout the handbook. Serious interest in the dynamics of phenomena is beginning to emerge in organizational psychology theory and research.

Organization, Structure, and Coverage of the Handbook


This handbook joins several others that have characterized and summarized I/O psychology. Dunnette (1976) produced the first such handbook, a single volume with 37 chapters covering basic topics to emerging trends—many that are still relevant today. Dunnette and Hough (1990) updated that first effort with a comprehensive four-volume revision that is characterized by its greatly expanded coverage. Borman, Ilgen, and Klimoski (2003) developed the next iteration of an I/O handbook as volume 12 of a compendium designed to capture of the entire domain of psychology. Their topic coverage was more in line with Dunnette (1976), although it included updates to capture the evolution of the field. That iteration is currently under revision with new editors (Schmitt and Highhouse). The American Psychological Association is also producing a multivolume handbook edited by Zedeck (2010). This handbook is a volume of the Library of Psychology series published by Oxford University Press. It is at the top level of an organizational psychology handbook hierarchy; more narrowly focused second- and third-tier handbooks, designed to expand topic areas in more depth, are under development.

It is challenging to represent the field of organizational psychology in a handbook. A single volume cannot be as expansive as a multivolume work and thus must be more selective about the topics that are covered. There is a need to represent the foundation and core of the field, but to also capture the breadth of the field and those topic areas that are ascendant. Ultimately, the handbook is organized around my perspective of the field of organizational psychology and where it is heading; my sincere apologies for those topics that I was not able to incorporate.

Part I: An Introduction to Organizational Psychology

The handbook begins with, well, this chapter, “The Nature of Organizational Psychology”, which provides an overview of the field. My intent is to convey a sense of the evolution of the concept of work to provide a backdrop for our study of the psychology of the workplace, characterize key dialectic tensions that permeate I/O psychology as an applied science, and highlight trends in its evolution and breadth of its coverage.

The next chapter in this part, “A History of Organizational Psychology,” by Koppes-Bryan and Vinchur, provides sweeping coverage of the history of the field's development. Beginning with its inception in the late nineteenth century to its current breadth and diversity, Koppes-Bryan and Vinchur interweave the context of the historical era with (p. 14) developments in the field. The chapter illustrates well how the evolution of the nature of organizations and the human problems they encounter in different epochs has shaped the development of I/O psychology.

Part II: The Foundation

With the background in place, the next part focuses on what I regard as foundational aspects of the field: strong grounding in rigorous research methods, use of sophisticated data analytic systems, central focus on individual differences, and concerted and systematic efforts to characterize important job behaviors and job performance. This is the core of organizational psychology.

The first chapter in this part, “Seeking the Holy Grail in Organizational Science: Establishing Causality Through Research Design,” by Hanges and Wang, surveys the research design challenges that have to be resolved to establish causal relations. As a science that has a strong field research component, organizational psychology faces many impediments in its effort to go beyond descriptive, correlational relations and to build a scientific foundation based on causal relations. Hanges and Wang consider different perspectives for establishing causality (i.e., Campbell Causal Model, Rubin Causal Model) and, in particular, several quasi-experimental designs (e.g., regression discontinuity, longitudinal designs) that can be used to help map causal linkages in organizational psychology research.

The second chapter in this part, “Multivariate Dynamics in Organizational Science,” by DeShon, highlights the increased research interest in dynamic phenomena, complex multivariate data structures needed to capture the dynamics, and sophisticated data analytic techniques necessary to model the dynamics of behavior. He describes data structures, techniques, and examples appropriate for linear dynamic systems (e.g., leadership, dynamic mediation, loosely coupled systems, and motivational feedback) and stochastic linear dynamic systems (e.g., self-efficacy and performance).

The next chapter, “Individual Differences: Challenging Our Assumptions,” by Ryan and Sackett, shifts to a core content focus in organizational psychology. Differential psychology makes strong assumptions about the stability of individual difference characteristics (e.g., abilities, personality traits, and interests)—assumptions that are critical to measurement, prediction, and explanation. Ryan and Sackett examine evidence for variability between and within individuals on these characteristics in the work setting, challenge some of the assumptions, and highlight important implications for science and practice.

The primary “criterion” in I/O psychology is typically a set of job behaviors that underlie job performance that is of value to the organization. The last chapter in this part, “Behavior, Performance, and Effectiveness in the Twenty-first Century,” by Campbell, examines the conceptual convergence in the latent structure of job performance that has developed in the field over the last quarter century. He concludes that the structure of the job performance construct is invariant across occupations, organizational levels, contexts, and time. Given the overarching concern with the “criterion problem” (James, 1973) in the 1960s, this is an important achievement for the field.

Part III: Aligning Person and Job Characteristics

Whereas the prior part focused on the core of our methods, analytics, and substantive focus, the next part of the handbook focuses on core applications concerned with aligning person characteristics and the job setting. At a broad conceptual level it is useful to recognize that some person characteristics are fixed and others are malleable and, by the same token, some job setting characteristics are essentially fixed while others can be adapted to the person. The core logic of most I/O and HRM applications is achieving a good “fit” between person characteristics and job requirements, and the range of techniques available provide several options for achieving a good fit. Topics covered in this part are functional in the HRM sense, addressing recruitment, selection, work design, performance management, training, and conceptions of “fit,” as well as some challenging gaps between science and practice in the use of these applications.

The first chapter in this part, “Recruitment and Competitive Advantage: A Brand Equity Perspective,” by Yu and Cable, applies a strategic perspective to recruitment practices in organizations. Applying a resource-based view, their premise is that carefully designed recruitment practices can differentially attract a workforce that can build sustained competitive advantage for a firm.

Once desirable applicants are attracted, hiring decisions have to be made that maximize the talent pool for the organization. The next chapter by Ployhart, “Personnel Selection: Ensuring Sustainable Organizational Effectiveness Through the Acquisition of Human Capital,” also adopts an (p. 15) RBV to craft a vision regarding the future of personnel selection. From his perspective, selection has to re-orient from an emphasis on individually focused person-job fit to acquiring human capital to ensure sustained organizational effectiveness. Realizing this vision necessitates shifts in the focal level—from the individual to higher units—and consideration of time—from single point estimates to longitudinal—in personnel selection theory and research.

Once workers are hired, it is important to have jobs and roles that are designed to engage employee motivation and commitment. In the next chapter, “Work Design: Creating Jobs and Roles That Promote Individual Effectiveness,” Cordery and Parker consider recent evolution in the nature of job tasks and work roles. They address the ways in which this evolution is broadening perspectives on work design, going beyond the traditional focus on task features to encompass social considerations, to enlarge the traditional focus on individual jobs to teamwork, and to consider a broader set of relevant psychological processes that engage employee motivation and engagement.

Once employees are fit to a position that is motivating, the focus shifts to managing their performance so as to continually improve their effectiveness. The next chapter, “Performance Management,” by Smither, focuses on the core elements of this process: setting goals, providing feedback, developing employee skills, evaluating performance, and providing rewards. Performance management as an active process is distinguished from the more traditional and narrow focus of performance appraisal, which focuses primarily on the measurement and evaluation of job performance.

Learning and development, both formal and informal, are a critical aspect of building an effective workforce, and continuous knowledge and skill improvement is an important part of maintaining good employee fit. In their chapter on “Learning, Training, and Development in Organizations,” Salas, Weaver, and Shuffler take a broad perspective on classic, formal training techniques, but also review the many forms of informal development that help maintain a continuously improving workforce.

All these prior chapters, albeit indirectly, are concerned with applications that address the broad concept of fit—fitting employees to the job and context. The next chapter, “Person-Environment Fit in Organizational Settings,” by Ostroff, addresses notions of fit directly. Although the concept of fit is simple, pervasive, and intuitively appealing, it is actually quite diverse (i.e., there are many different perspectives of fit), conceptually complex (i.e., different levels of fit, different reference points), and in some areas it is ambiguous and muddled (i.e., misfit). Ostroff provides a comprehensive review, framework, and points the way forward.

Finally, in “The Research-Practice Gap in I/O Psychology and Related Fields: Challenges and Potential Solutions,” Rynes examines the gap between the applied science and practice of I/O psychology, HRM, and OB on the one side and the consumers of our science—HRM professionals and practicing managers—on the other. This is different from the dialectic tension between science and practice within the discipline. Rather, it is about the failure to apply the science because of lack of awareness, disbelief, or faith in intuitive knowledge. A strong case is made for the importance of promoting and facilitating evidence-based practice in management and organizational behavior.

Part IV: Motivation, Job Attitudes and Affect, and Performance

The prior part of the handbook explicated core applications for fitting people to the workplace. This part shifts focus to the core processes of work motivation, job attitudes and affect, and performance that underlie behavior at work. Motivation sets the direction and magnitude of effort invested at work, job attitudes and affect are appraisals of different work foci and support (or detract from) motivation, and performance is a desired outcome of motivation and supportive appraisals. I describe these psychological processes as core because they underlie virtually all other topics to some extent or another. Motivation, attitudes and affect, and performance thread through nearly everything!

In “Work Motivation: Theory, Practice, and Future Directions,” Kanfer characterizes the broad sweep and substantial progress in this basic line of inquiry. Her chapter is organized into four sections. The first section examines basic constructs, processes, and content underlying the study of work motivation. The second section describes the substantial research progress that has been accomplished and highlights new conceptualizations that have the potential to enhance our understanding of behavior and performance at work. The third section considers key determinants of motivation structured around content (person), context (situation), and change (time); and the final section closes with knowledge gaps, practical issues, and promising research directions.

(p. 16) The next chapter, “Job Satisfaction and Job Affect,” by Judge, Hulin, and Dalal, reviews the broad sweep of research on job satisfaction, considers its affective nature, and develops an integrative theoretical model of job attitudes. Their review places particular emphasis on distinguishing research on job satisfaction, which has tended to focus on cognitive appraisals, from research on social attitudes that entail cognitive, affective, and behavioral foci. The emerging emphasis on affect in organizational psychology necessitates changes to the treatment of job satisfaction. Newer approaches that touch on engagement, affective events, personality, and satisfaction as a unit-level construct are considered. In addition, the authors present a multilevel model of core self-evaluations.

We then shift focus a bit to consider research on “Organizational Justice” by Colquitt. This topic, which can be regarded as a specific type of motivation, has emerged to become an active and pervasive area of research activity over the last quarter century. Colquitt organizes his review around three themes—differentiation (justice dimensions), cognition (justice calculations), and exogeneity (justice as an antecedent)—and argues that future progress can be gained by relaxing or reversing these themes to focus on combining justice concepts, incorporating affects, and surfacing antecedents of justice perceptions.

Finally, the last chapter in this part focuses on job performance. Unlike most traditional treatments that focus on the dimensionality underlying job performance, in “Dynamic Performance,” Sonnentag and Frese consider theory and research that are focused on performance change and variability over time. This is consistent with the more process-oriented perspectives emerging in the motivation arena, and is one of the evolutionary themes in the field. The authors develop a taxonomy of dynamic performance processes and map a research agenda for future progress.

Part V: Informal Learning, Meaning Creation, and Social Influence

With core processes in place, the next part of the handbook addresses several phenomena that informally assimilate, shape, and develop employees (socialization and mentoring); influence sense-making and meaning creation (culture and climate); and capture the ways in which social interconnections, key contextual factors, and leaders (networks and leadership) shape behavior in organizations.

In the first chapter of this part, “Organizational Socialization: Background, Basics, and a Blueprint for Adjustment at Work,” Chao examines socialization as a learning and adjustment process that helps to align the individual and the organization in a mutual process of fit. Chao takes a broad perspective, first reviewing basic theoretical foundations for socialization (i.e., uncertainty reduction theory, the need to belong, social exchange theory, and social identity theory), then examining the basic components of organizational socialization (i.e., processes, content, and outcomes), and finally closing with a “blueprint” for future research that calls for a more balanced perspective that integrates organizational and individual orientations.

Whereas socialization assimilates newcomers and role changers, mentoring considers the longer term, career-enhancing effects of having a seasoned, well-placed insider guide a younger protégé on the path to career success. In “Workplace Mentoring: Past, Present, and Future Perspectives,” Eby examines factors that influence this special relationship, its positive and negative aspects, and the role of the organizational context in shaping the relationship. The chapter closes with attention to methodological challenges and important directions for research.

Next, in “Organizational Culture and Climate,” Zohar and Hofmann reconcile and integrate two distinctive constructs and literatures used to understand how employees “make sense” of the organization. They provide a state-of-the-art review, dissect the similarities and differences, and develop an integration of culture and climate that has the potential to substantially influence research that will pull these central, important, yet distinctive construct domains together.

Shifting to processes of social influence, Brass applies “A Social Network Perspective on Organizational Psychology.” Unlike the individual differences perspective that is at the core of I/O psychology, social networks focus on relationships that link actors together in a social structure that provides both opportunities and constraints on action. The chapter introduces network concepts, reviews antecedents and consequences of networks, and applies the framework to topics of recruitment and selection, performance, power, and leadership.

Finally, this part closes with a chapter by Day on “Leadership.” Leaders are arguably at the core of social influence processes in organizations, responsible for shaping and harnessing individual efforts to accomplish goals at multiple levels of the system. Leadership as a topic is broad, diverse, and (p. 17) multifaceted. It encompasses multiple levels, sources of origin, and distinctive outcomes such as leader emergence and leader effectiveness. Day organizes the diverse array of theories and research findings and identifies promising directions for future work to expand our understanding of this important topic.

Part VI: Work Teams in Organizations

As I described previously in this chapter, teams have emerged as an important theoretical and research focus in organizational psychology over the last couple of decades, supplementing the field's primary focus on the individual level. This shift has largely been driven by the push from organizations to restructure work around team workflows rather than individual jobs. With the explosion of research on work teams, this part is designed to highlight key factors including team structure, participation and empowerment, distributed or “virtual teams,” team learning, and team effectiveness.

One of the key challenges in studying teams is addressing the duality of individuals as meaningful psychological entities and the team as a collective unit with its own distinct identity. Hollenbeck and Spitzmuller characterize this as a figure-ground paradox, which they examine in “Team Structure: Tight Versus Loose Coupling in Task-Oriented Groups.” They develop a four-dimensional framework of structural interdependence to help unravel this paradox. Whereas structural interdependence is a “hard” mechanism for linking team members, they are also linked by more psychological and behavioral attributes.

The next chapter, “Team Participation and Empowerment: A Multilevel Perspective,” by Chen and Tesluk, develops a multilevel model that integrates participation—a concept long examined in the literature—with the more recent concept of work engagement. Their conceptualization treats engagement as an overarching concept, with participation oriented toward its psychological aspects and empowerment oriented toward its behavioral aspects. Their model incorporates individual-, team-, and organizational-level antecedents and outcomes and provides a road map for extending our knowledge of how to engage teams and their members.

One key reason that organizations use teams is that it gives them the ability to leverage diverse expertise. Increasingly, those experts are distributed in space and time, making their teams virtual rather than face-to-face social entities. Kirkman, Gibson, and Kim, in “Across Borders and Technologies: Advancements in Virtual Teams Research,” review the voluminous research on this emerging form of global teamwork. Their detailed review captures eleven meaningful areas of research and they highlight five themes—virtuality, team development, leadership, levels of analysis, and multidisciplinarity—as overarching themes for future research on virtual teams.

Teams are often used to perform complex, cognitively demanding tasks that individuals cannot perform on their own. An important aspect of team effectiveness is how teams—not just individual members—learn, create knowledge, and apply their capabilities to accomplish goals, make decisions, and solve complex problems. In “Team Learning: A Theoretical Integration and Review,” Bell, Kozlowski, and Blawath examine this large but diverse and messy literature with the goal of developing an integrated conceptualization. They emphasize three theoretical foci for their examination of team learning, treating it as multilevel (individual and team, not individual or team), dynamic (iterative and progressive; a process, not an outcome), and emergent (outcomes of team learning can manifest in different ways over time). Their review framework distinguishes team learning process theories, supporting emergent states, team knowledge representations, and respective influences on team performance and effectiveness.

Finally, this part on teams closes with “Criteria Issues and Team Effectiveness,” by Mathieu and Gilson. Team effectiveness is what theory and research seek to understand, but as the authors note, the conceptualization and measurement of team effectiveness has received relatively little attention. They distinguish two general classes of effectiveness criteria: tangible outputs (i.e., productivity, efficiency, and quality) and member reactions (i.e., individual attitudes, reactions, behaviors, and person development; team emergent states). Importantly, they consider assessment approaches for the different criteria and close with a focus on how an understanding of temporal factors applied to these criteria can enhance our understanding of team effectiveness.

Part VII: Organizational Learning, Development, and Adaptation

In this part, we continue our move upward across levels of the organizational system to consider learning, development, and strategic adaptation as macro-level phenomena. In “Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management,” Argote examines the (p. 18) research in these topic areas that has accumulated over the last two decades and summarizes primary findings about the creation, retention, and transfer of organizational knowledge. She highlights gaps in our research knowledge and identifies directions for future research to advance theory and practice.

The next chapter, “Organizational Development and Change: Linking Research from the Profit, Nonprofit, and Public Sectors,” by Ford and Foster-Fishman, examines factors that influence the success or failure of organizational change interventions. Drawing from organizational psychology, community psychology, and organizational behavior literatures, they review the history of the field, key change theories, and empirical findings. The chapter highlights conceptual and methodological advances and concludes with targets for future research.

Finally, Snow and Snell conclude this part with their chapter on “Strategic Human Resource Management” (SHRM), which forms the underpinnings for organizational adaptation. They distinguish two perspectives on SHRM. The systemic fit perspective focuses on ensuring an adaptive fit of the organization to its external environment, aligning the system internally, and fitting human resources to accomplish organizational strategy; strategy drives SHRM. The strategic resources and capability perspective is future oriented, with the goal of harnessing unique human resource capabilities to achieve competitive advantage through organizational learning and innovation; SHRM “propels” strategy formulation and gives the organization a range of adaptive options.

Part VIII: Managing Differences Within and Across Organizations

The next part of the handbook shifts perspective to examine the challenges of managing differences within and across organizations, covering the topics of diversity, discrimination, and cross-cultural psychology. In the previous section of this chapter that reviewed the evolution of work and organizations, I observed that the dominant career model for much of the twentieth century was one dominated by white males in Western societies. That model has changed as workforces have become more diverse and global.

This part begins with a chapter by Roberson on “Managing Diversity,” which, while seemingly straightforward, is actually a complex and complicated research literature. Her review encompasses conceptualizations of diversity, theoretical views on its effects examined across levels of analysis, and the evolution of diversity management. Research gaps are identified, and profitable directions for research are highlighted.

The next chapter, by Colella, McKay, Daniels, and Signal, examines the voluminous literature on “Employment Discrimination,” which has been an important aspect of HRM research and practice across the latter half of the twentieth century and into the new millennium. Their review is truly comprehensive and focuses on targets, causes, forms, and the impact of employment discrimination. The chapter identifies future research that cuts across levels of analysis, disciplines, and science/practice.

Finally, this part concludes with a chapter on “Cross-Cultural Organizational Psychology.” As the history chapter documents, the development of organizational psychology was largely based on North American and, to some extent, European interests in work psychology. However, with the globalization of organizations, interest in cross-cultural organizational psychology burgeoned in the latter part of the twentieth century. Aycan and Gelfand provide a comprehensive review on the key substantive topics (i.e., recruitment and selection, performance criteria, motivation, attitudes, teamwork, leadership, and conflict and negotiation), discuss methodological challenges, and map future research directions based on a “historical projection” of the evolution of this field of inquiry. Since work is global and cross-cultural, so too should be I/O psychology research.

Part IX: The Interface of Work and Life

The opening to this introductory chapter highlighted the centrality of work to identity, esteem, and well-being in modern society, and the extraordinary amount of time and effort devoted toward preparation, socialization, and striving across a career or series of careers. Work is quite simply an important part of modern life—so much so that work spills over to influence the quality and nature of our non-work lives. Allen, in “The Work and Family Interface,” takes a broad perspective to consider the intersection of work and family life, examining research from individual, family, organization, and global perspectives. An agenda for future research is presented.

In addition to work being central, it is also the case that contemporary careers necessitate continuous learning and updating of skills. In “Lifelong Learning,” London examines the workplace trends that push the importance of continuous learning across the span of a career, considering theories of (p. 19) learning, factors that influence it, organizational supports, and technological advances. He concludes with an agenda for advancing research and practices for lifelong learning.

Work can be an important source of well-being. The other side of this, of course, is that work can be a source of stress, accidents, and injuries that undermine health and well-being. Tetrick and Peiró, in “Occupational Safety and Health,” review research on workplace safety, focusing on safety training, regulatory focus, safety climate, leadership, and job design. They also examine occupational health, with a strong focus on stress, and consider the implications of psychological contracts, climate for sexual harassment, collective burnout, recovery, and programs for organizational wellness. Finally, they document interventions designed to enhance employee safety, health, and well-being.

One occupational trend in the twenty-first century is that we live longer and work longer. In addition, older workers often have developed valuable knowledge and skills that are difficult for organizations to easily replicate, making it desirable to retain, maintain, or attract older workers. On the other hand, there are well-documented cognitive declines with aging, so there are also challenges for managing and accommodating older workers. In “Work and Aging,” Hedge and Borman adopt individual, organizational, and societal perspectives to examine aging and the workforce. They conduct a comprehensive review and develop an ambitious agenda for research and practice on this topic of emerging importance. We are all getting older!

Part X: Technology, System Design, and Human Performance

The Industrial Revolution was driven by machines, and one could argue that technology is at the core of work psychology. The increasing penetration of technology systems into all aspects of work, the powerful influence of technology on the nature of work and work processes, and the way that technology systems can transcend organizational boundaries to create large-scale, complex, and critical systems (e.g., NextGen Air Traffic Control, digitized medicine, home health care) make the intersection of disciplines that study the interface of technology and human cognition, behavior, and performance—human factors (HF) psychology, cognitive engineering, human-systems integration (HSI), computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW), and naturalistic decision making (NDM)—with organizational psychology much more important that it has been in the past. The perspectives and methods of these disciplines focused on technology in the workplace provide opportunities for complementarities and synergies with organizational psychology.

In the opening chapter, “An Overview of Human Factors Psychology,” Kirlik presents the origins, core research foci, methodologies, and cutting-edge research on three technology-driven topics that intersect with I/O psychology, including human-automation interaction; situation awareness; and distraction, multitasking, and interruption. He closes the chapter by highlighting the forces pushing HF and I/O together and discussing the potential for a stronger symbiotic relationship between our fields.

The next chapter, “Cognition and Technology: Interdisciplinarity and the Impact of Cognitive Engineering Research on Organizational Productivity,” by Fiore, examines the development and evolution of cognitive engineering, a field of inquiry at the intersection of cognition and human-technology interaction. He defines cognitive engineering as a holistic approach that combines concepts and methodologies drawn from cognitive psychology, computer science, and engineering. The chapter closes with a vision for the future that stresses the importance of harmonizing basic and applied science to advance organizational performance.

Another interdisciplinary area of inquiry, CSCW, has focused specifically on computer-based technology and its influence on facilitating human interaction and collaboration. In “Taxonomy and Theory in Computer-Supported Cooperative Work” (CSCW), Grudin and Poltrock trace the development and evolution of this area of inquiry, which blends social scientists and technologists. One of the challenges of CSCW is that the technology has been, and continues to be, a moving target, making it somewhat difficult for the science to flourish. Grudin and Poltrock survey the applications of theory and taxonomies drawn from social science that have been used to facilitate an understanding of this important topic.

Finally, this part closes with “Decision Making in Naturalistic Environments,” by Salas, Rosen, and DiazGranados. NDM is about decision making in real-world settings. It often involves critical tasks and high stakes, time pressure, uncertainty, individuals and teams, and is usually technology enabled. Research on NDM encompasses the topics covered in this part. Salas and his colleagues define the domain, highlight key theories, sketch methodologies, summarize findings, discuss (p. 20) applications to improve NDM, and map future research opportunities.

Postscript: On the Horizon

Having toured the breadth, depth, and diversity of organizational psychology—and related disciplines with shared interests—the handbook closes with some of my parting thoughts about emerging challenges and opportunities for organizational psychology in the twenty-first century. I advocate four desirable evolutionary trends that I believe will enhance the potential, relevance, and impact of the field: it should strengthen its scientific foundation, increase its multi- and interdisciplinary linkages, focus on multilevel system dynamics as core capabilities, and improve the translation of I/O psychological science into evidence-based practice.

And, now, without further ado—delve into the handbook! I think you will find it informative, intellectually stimulating, and valuable for outlining the future directions of the field of organizational psychology—the science of psychology applied to work and organizations.


I would like to express my appreciation to Bradford S. Bell, Chu-Hsiang (Daisy) Chang, and Georgia T. Chao for their helpful comments on drafts of this chapter. I also gratefully acknowledge the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Command Decision Making Program (N00014-09-1-0519, S. W. J. Kozlowski and G. T. Chao, Principal Investigators) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, NNX09AK47G, S. W. J. Kozlowski, Principal Investigator) for support that, in part, assisted the composition of this chapter. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of ONR or NASA.


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(1.) It is important to acknowledge that the historical label for the field is “industrial and organizational” psychology. However, I am among many who think “organizational psychology” is shorter, sweeter, and superior. I will use the labels interchangeably, but with a decided preference for “organizational psychology” as the name for our field.

(2.) Prometheus stole fire from the gods.

(6.) I use the label “multilevel” generically to refer variously to homologous multilevel models, cross-level models, and models of emergence.