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What Is the Difference Between Industrial-Organizational Psychology & Human Resources Management?

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Although both industrial-organizational psychologists and human resources managers need an understanding of human behavior, their focus is different. Industrial-organizational psychologists are interested in understanding and explaining why people do what they do, specifically as the behavior relates to the workplace. HR managers focus on recruitment, staff selections, mediating disputes and handling disciplinary actions.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

Industrial-organizational psychologists are trained in human mental processes and the observation and interpretation of human behavior, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They use these skills to solve problems related to work-life quality and study productivity, management, employee working styles, morale and other workplace-related issues by applying the principles of psychology to the workplace. An industrial-organizational psychologist may also work with organizational leaders to develop policies or employee screening and training. A master’s degree is the minimum educational qualification for an industrial-organizational psychologist.

Human Resources Managers

HR managers are administrators whose focus is on the selection, training and management of employees and related issues, such as harassment policies, pay, benefits, employee relations or employee services. The HR manager may be an employee's first contact with an organization. A bachelor’s degree is usually the minimum acceptable education for HR management. In some cases, the degree is in another field, such as labor or industrial relations, organizational development or even industrial psychology. A master’s degree may be required in some organizations.


Industrial-organizational psychologists and HR managers both need strong interpersonal and communication skills. Both HR managers and industrial-organizational psychologists may be concerned with productivity. In contrast to other types of psychologists, industrial-organizational psychologists are not required to be licensed or certified, while certification for HR managers is voluntary but may be preferred or required by some employers. Industrial-organizational psychology is a specialty field, and HR professionals may also specialize in areas such as labor relations, payroll and recruiting.


Industrial-organizational psychologists are a small group in comparison to all psychologists, but the growth rate for this specialty is expected to be 19 percent between 2014 and 2024, more than twice the average for all occupations, according to the BLS. These jobs are highly competitive due to the numbers of qualified graduates. The HR management field is expected to grow 9 percent between 2014 and 2024, which according to the BLS is as fast as the average for most other occupations. Those HR managers with a master’s degree and certification will probably have the best job prospects. Wages are considerably different for these occupations. HR managers earned an average of $106, 910 in 2016, while industrial-organizational psychologists earned $104, 570.

Making the Choice

Industrial-organizational psychologists are more likely to work in a research-oriented, consultant or advisory role, while HR managers are directly involved in the day-to-day activities and decision-making processes of their organizations. HR managers are also more likely to have direct interactions with employees. Both occupations need some similar qualities and abilities, such as interpersonal skills and the ability to analyze problems. Wages are considerably higher for industrial-organizational psychologists. Your personal preferences and abilities are likely to be the deciding factor in choosing between these two occupations.


Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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