Robert Tett - The University of Tulsa

Robert Tett

Industrial-organizational psychology at TU

For decades, companies overlooked the advantages of taking the science of human nature into consideration when hiring new employees. It was not until the 1980s and ’90s that organizations realized the benefits of quantitative and analytical approaches to help corporations and workplaces make better decisions about hiring and placing employees in positions that best fit their capabilities and personalities.

But who are the brains behind the science of the workplace, or more aptly described, the science of human resources? That would be industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists. Considering workplace motivation, attitude, personality, analysis, job fit and performance appraisal development systems, these psychologists are the architects of successful and thriving work environments and are equipped with a wide knowledge of psychology from all fields.

I-O at TU

Research in the I-O psychology lab

Robert Hogan, professor emeritus of psychology at The University of Tulsa and founder of Hogan Assessment Systems, established the Industrial-Organizational Psychology Graduate Program at TU in the 1980s. The program rigorously trains graduate students to become highly valued I-O psychologists. TU’s I-O psychology program sets itself apart by integrating the master’s and doctoral students in the classrooms. “Although Ph.D. students are required to take more classes, master’s students still receive the same level of training. We don’t distinguish in the classroom, and we know that if our master’s students can meet Ph.D. standards, then they are much better off upon graduation,” said Professor Robert Tett, chair of the Department of Psychology.

Aided by various funding opportunities, program graduates often matriculate to highly successful HR management positions and consulting companies that help organizations develop personnel training, development systems and leadership programs. The academic program also sees alumni move on to large firms like Walmart, Amazon and Home Depot, or even on to executive coaching positions. More than 95% of I-O psychology graduates establish prosperous careers or further their academic journey.

Relevant research

Students and researchers in I-O psychology are deeply invested in the rapid advancement of technology. In just a handful of years, the way companies and employees conduct business interactions and transactions has changed dramatically. Additionally, I-O psychologists are examining the possibilities of virtual reality workplace simulations as well as the use of artificial intelligence for job interviews (the responses of which can be scored by computer algorithm, allowing employers to examine not only what interviewees said but how they said it).

Left to right: Students Margaret Toich, Seth Osborn and Allison Stone

In terms of gaining field experience for I-O students, the program has implemented an internship requirement that could be research-oriented. Most students find local internships at corporations such as Hogan Assessment Systems and Williams or other businesses and consulting firms. In one instance, a student developed a performance appraisal for a taxicab company. Another student fulfilled the requirement by working for the family business and helping with HR-related matters. For their internships to count, students must be engaging directly with real I-O-related issues. Additionally, students must have their internship performance evaluated by their boss and a coworker, both at the mid-point and at the end of the internship.

Third-year Ph.D. student Seth Osborn said that his experience working in the various I-O labs has exposed him to a range of research styles and methods. Brad Brummel, professor of psychology, professor of cyber studies and director of the I-O psychology program, is Osborn’s adviser. “(Brummel’s) perspectives have strongly influenced how I think about topics such as measurement, ethics in research and philosophy of science more broadly. I am grateful to have him as a mentor,” said Osborn.

As for doctoral student Margaret Toich, she is most drawn to research around personality in the workplace and thoughtful survey responses. “My current research investigates the importance of personality-based job, group and organization fit on workplace attraction for job seekers.”

The TU standard

(L-R) Professor Tett with Stone, Toich and Osborn

“We make sure that students are knowledgeable when they leave,” Tett said of the rigorous course requirements. Even master’s students must take a comprehensive exam typically reserved for doctoral students. If they struggle, students are required to do remediation in the areas where they struggled so they are confident in their knowledge when they graduate.

TU’s I-O psychology program’s high success rate is due to the high standards that professors set for their students as well as the environment fostered by caring professors. First-year Ph.D. student Allison Stone relayed why she chose TU over other schools: “I thrive when I can be my authentic self and here at TU not only do I feel accepted but also appreciated for my unique experiences and personality. It is an atmosphere in which students are supported to come into their own as a researcher and psychologist.”

A former high school teacher, Stone’s passion comes from a place of real-world experience and a desire to make a difference in the workplace. “TU is collaborative, authentic and transparent,” Stone said, “and that’s what makes the program stand out.”

Do you have what it takes to design efficient and successful workplaces? Consider checking out TU’s I-O psychology program for more information and how to get started. For information on how to finance your I-O psychology degree, check out the funding opportunities provided by the program.

Personality matters

If you thought you understood pretty thoroughly your coworkers’ personalities before the COVID-19 crisis hit, were you surprised by discovering a few new dimensions to their characters as a result of months and months of digital-only meetings, projects and conversations?

The subject of personality and/in the workplace fascinates Robert Tett, the chair of The University of Tulsa’s Department of Psychology. According to Tett, “personality captures people’s unique behavioral tendencies, making it a useful target of assessment in hiring workers.” Tett is currently leading a team of researchers to update a meta-analysis on personality-performance relationships he helped conduct back in 1991. Meta-analyses of personality-job performance have shown, for example, that conscientiousness contributes to performance in most jobs and extraversion helps in especially people-oriented jobs.

psychology professor Robert Tett wearing an open-collar light-blue shirt and a black blazer
Professor Robert Tett

Confirmatory vs exploratory

A crucial element of the project, which Tett is carrying out with a team that includes professors and students at other universities as well as four TU psychology doctoral students and an undergraduate, is distinguishing between “confirmatory” and “exploratory” studies. In the former, a given trait is identified as job-relevant; in the latter, the researcher has no expectations either way.

“The 1991 meta-analysis,” explained Tett, “showed that confirmatory findings are twice as strong as exploratory findings, and even stronger when extra efforts are made beforehand to identify job-relevant traits.” However, related meta-analyses conducted since then have ignored the distinction. “This has generated results that understate the value of personality when used under appropriately confirmatory conditions. And this has led critics of personality assessment at work to use such meta-analyses as evidence suggesting personality is, at best, a weak predictor of work behavior.”

The key challenge is that trait-job connections can be subtle. While extraversion, for instance, is generally relevant for sales, not all sales jobs require it. Tett argues that averaging results of all studies of extraversion in sales underestimates its value where it matters most. Confirmatory studies should yield stronger results.

Tett and his team are, accordingly, meta-analyzing results of all studies of personality in the workplace, separating confirmatory and exploratory studies and looking at other factors that affect the strength of trait-performance linkages. Based on approximately 150 source studies, the group’s results to date strongly support the use of personality tests to predict performance in jobs where particular traits are relevant. As Tett observed, “personality matters, but so does the situation.”

Does the study of personality fascinate you? Deepen your understanding of why people think and act in certain ways with TU’s psychology programs.