A New IO Faculty Retention Problem

a new io faculty retention problem exists as psychology professors transition to practitioner roles.

Psychology departments have a new IO faculty retention problem. During my career, I have seen the growing diaspora of academic IO psychologists to business schools where they receive higher pay and lower demands. But I am seeing another trend in psychology departments that indicates a new IO faculty retention problem. IO psychology professors are giving up their faculty jobs to become practitioners. In the past few years, I have seen 7 IO psychology faculty give up successful academic career for a job in industry. In a sense I have joined the club, as I retired from a psychology department, and today I am a part-time practitioner.

A new IO Faculty Retention Problem

A strength of the IO field is that most PhDs go into industry. The balance of academic and practitioner careers means the IO academic job market is strong. There is a large student demand for IO degrees, leading to a demand for IO faculty to staff graduate programs. Since relatively few IO psychologists want to be professors, there are many job opportunities in universities. When I first joined a psychology department in the early 80s, IO faculties were very stable. People would be hired as assistant professors and most spent their careers in one place. The twenty-first century saw an acceleration of the trend for IO faculty to move from psychology departments to business schools. In just the past few years I have noticed a second exodus from psychology departments to practice. During my years in a psychology department, I can only recall one of our PhD graduates who tried academia for a year and switched to industry. In just the past few years I’ve seen a growing number making the transition, and I’ve seen many departments struggling to retain their IO professors.  

Psychology Departments Versus Business

The first thing people mention in comparing faculty jobs in psychology versus business is the pay. Business school salaries are considerably higher—at least 50%. This gives them an advantage in attracting those with the most competitive records. However, it is not just salary that is an attraction.

  • Lighter workloads. Teaching loads are comparable between business and psychology, but graduate student supervision is not. During my tenure in a psychology department, I supervised as many as a dozen PhD students at a time, which was a heavier workload than teaching classes. My friends in business schools had the same teaching load and research demands, but few if any doctoral students to supervise.
  • Less grant pressure. Psychology departments pride themselves on being a STEM field with a heavy emphasis on funded research. Many departments make grant activity a requirement for tenure. Business schools, not so much.
  • Greater resources. Business schools do a better job in attracting resources from alumni and the business world. Successful business school alumni often identify with their alma mater and are generous in their support.
  • Access to data. Business schools have better ties to the business community, which can give faculty opportunities to conduct field research.
  • Executive teaching. Many faculty in business schools have the opportunity to teach executive classes. This not only provides supplemental income, but it provides a direct connection to the business world.

Psychology Departments Versus the Practitioner World

To me the most salient difference between academia and practice is resources. As a full-time practitioner early in my career, I had a full-time administrative assistant. As a professor I had almost no clerical support. The advantages of being a practitioner include.

  • Not having to worry about resources. As a professor a lot of time was spent focused on resources. This not only involved grant writing, but in figuring out workarounds that enabled me to complete a research study on a shoestring. Practitioners also work with limitations, but they spend less time seeking resources and more time getting the work done.
  • Better support. Practitioners have access to many forms of support on projects. This includes consultants, direct reports, and various services that the organization provides. One of the projects I am currently working on draws on the services of a curriculum specialist, event planner, project manager, videographer, and others. My projects as a professor relied mainly on me and student volunteers.
  • Making the workplace better. The academic papers we write contributes to a broad understanding of the workplace, but that impact is a step removed from people’s working lives. The projects we do as practitioners can make organizations more effective and better places to work.

Retention of IO faculty seems to be a growing problem for psychology departments. Although they might not be able to match the salaries of business schools and industry, there are other possibilities. For example, a focus on balanced workloads (PhD supervision should count as teaching), better support, and nonmonetary rewards would go a long way toward making psychology departments more attractive to all faculty, not just IO.

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6 Replies to “A New IO Faculty Retention Problem”

  1. Making the transition from practice to the academy is also harder in I/O. Business schools seem to be more open to considering faculty members who have had alternative career paths. Yet it is the practitioners with loads of practical experience who can really bring concepts to life in the classroom.

    1. I imagine it happens, but most people I know who have transitioned became internal consultants in large companies. Few IOs with PhDs who came out of our program went into straight HR. Some might do a little coaching, but I don’t know of many who do that full-time.

  2. It’s true, we are facing the same scenario here in Pakistan. If anyone has good background and expertise in IO psychology. They moved to the industry as a practitioner.

  3. Interesting!. In México we have the total opposite scenario. The academic world is highly preferred, it means stable and better work conditions despite constrained opportunities (Public Universities). The practitioner world (mainly private) is characterized by long work hours, non-stable jobs, and adverse psychosocial exposure. Furthermore, IO Psychology focus is still being restricted only to a selection and training topics.

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