Book Review – Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.)
Updated: Aug 24
Note: I initially received the textbook in an ebook format, accessible via the VitalSource website or VitalSource Bookshelf software program that you download and install. The VitalSource Bookshelf ebook platform (website and software program) was so frustrating and clumsy to use that I almost didn’t review this book. Luckily, the program manager for psychology at Macmillan Learning (publisher of Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace [5th ed.]) sent me a hard/print copy. Indeed, there’s evidence supporting the use of print over digital textbooks (Alexander & Singer, 2017; Baron, 2016; Crum, 2015).
Book Review of the hard copy of Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.):
Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) is the fifth edition of Dr. Paul E. Levy’s I/O psychology textbook. Professor Levy explained that the fifth edition is a “substantial revision with some major in-chapter structural changes and significant content-related updates, adjustments, and additions” (2017, p. xv).
Dr. Levy wrote that he “held fast to the same overriding principles in the design and writing of the fifth edition—to develop interesting, reader-friendly, current, research-based coverage of I/O psychology” (2017, p. xv).
I examined five topics: (1) training and development [Ch. 8]; (2) the 80 percent rule or four-fifths rule used to determine adverse impact in employee selection [Ch. 7]; (3) predictors used to make employee selections [Ch. 6]; (4) job analysis [Ch. 3], and (5) motivation [Ch. 9].
The first topic is training and development. Training and development is my passion and an area I’m always interested in, especially as it relates to I/O psychology and any evidence-based resources (journal articles, research studies, etc.). I really like Levy’s explanation of transfer of training: “Transfer of training is the extent to which the material, skills, or procedures learned in training are taken back to the job and used by the employee in some regular fashion. From the organization’s perspective, this principle is integral to the success of the training program” (Levy, 2017, p. 254). This is a fantastic explanation of a key component of training!
I was also pleased with the sections on training delivery and training evaluation. I was happy to see that professor Levy included a discussion about orientation training or onboarding in this chapter, under the training delivery section. “The socialization process for new employees can be very important in that it determines their first impression of the organization, supervisors, and coworkers. This is also the time when new employees learn the formal and informal rules, procedures, and expectations of the organization or work group” (Levy, 2017, p. 263).
I was delighted to find the topic of coaching also included. Levy explained that although “coaching is not considered as a training technique in many classic treatments of organizational training. [He is] discussing it in this chapter because its focus is on developing employees and helping them to get better at their jobs, which is, in large part, what training is all about. When [Levy] talk[s] to I/O practitioners about the really big issues in their organizations, [he] invariably find[s] that coaching is one of the first things they mention” (Levy, 2017, p. 264).
Another surprising gem was the mention of corporate universities. “As organizations continue to become more focused on continuous learning and the management of knowledge within the company, corporate universities should grow in importance” (Levy, 2017, p. 267).
The second topic is the 80 percent rule (or four-fifths rule) used to make an adverse impact determination in employee selection. Levy does an exceptional job explaining and covering the four-fifths rule:
“To appreciate the intricacies of employment law as it applies to I/O psychology, you need to understand adverse impact. This concept, defined in the Guidelines as the ‘80% rule of thumb,’ is the common practical operationalization of discrimination according to the courts. A selection procedure is said to exhibit adverse impact (i.e., to discriminate) against a group if the selection rate (i.e., the percentage of applicants hired) for that group is less than 80% of the selection rate for the group with the highest selection rate” (Levy, 2017, p. 223).
Professor Levy followed this great overview by explaining the 80% rule using a table showing two cases, one in which there is no adverse impact and one in which adverse impact is present. No other I/O psychology textbooks (I looked at five) provided as great an overview of adverse impact and explained the absence or presence of adverse impact using numbers and percentages in a table as well and as clearly and effectively as the Levy textbook! Only one of the textbooks, out of the five I looked at, used a table with two cases and numbers and percentages, but it was not as easy to comprehend as professor Levy’s textbook. Dr. Levy also outlined the role the four-fifths rule plays in an employment discrimination case.
At the end of Ch. 7, in a section called “Taking It to the Field,” Levy presents the readers with a scenario that requires them to recall what they’ve learned about the four-fifths rule in determining adverse impact in employee selection. This careful, and yet succinctly clear, treatment of such a critical topic in I/O psychology is to be applauded. Absolutely outstanding!
The third topic is predictors (Ch. 6) used to make employee selections. I love that Levy used the title “predictors” for the chapter. As he explained:
“Predictors are of great importance because we place so much trust in their ability to model criteria. Just as faulty criteria can result in bad organizational decisions such as firing or promoting the wrong employee, faulty predictors can result in hiring the wrong person or not hiring the right person” (Levy, 2017, p. 168).
I like that Dr. Levy divided the chapter into two major subheadings: Testing Formats (under which are Computer Adaptive Testing; Speed Versus Power Tests; Individual Versus Group Tests; Paper-and-Pencil Versus Performance Tests) and Predictors (under which are Cognitive Ability; Psychomotor Tests; Personality Tests; Integrity Tests; Work Samples; Assessment Centers).
Professor Levy did a great job discussing the importance of validity coefficient to employee selection. Validity coefficient (r) is an index of the relationship between a predictor and a criterion. Researchers and practitioners use it as evidence that a test is a good predictor of job performance (Levy, 2017).
In Table 6.5 on p. 195, Levy provides a fantastic table showing the validity coefficients for common predictors for employee selection. In that table, we can see how the different types of predictors (e.g., general cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, personality test, etc.) rank in predicting job performance. For instance, we can see right away that structured interviews are extremely effective (r=0.71) compared to unstructured interviews (r=0.20) and even cognitive ability (r=0.53 and r=0.48). We can also see that predictors such as work samples, personality tests, and emotional intelligence tests are better at predicting job performance than unstructured interviews.
The fourth topic is job analysis or “the process of defining a job in terms of its component tasks or duties and the knowledge or skills required to perform them” (Levy, 2017, p. 73).
“Although job analysis tends to receive little empirical attention, it is among the most important areas of I/O psychology, providing the foundation on which all other HR processes are built” (Levy, 2017, p. 95).
Professor Levy explained that job analysis experts categorize job analysis methods as either task-oriented or worker-oriented. “Task-oriented techniques focus on describing the various tasks that are performed on the job. Worker-oriented techniques examine broad human behaviors involved in work activities” (Levy, 2017, p. 74). Levy pointed out that “one approach is not necessarily better than the other; as a job analyst, you can choose a hybrid approach or any combination of pieces from different job-analytic techniques” (Levy, 2017, p. 74).
Levy did a nice job covering job analysis and I appreciated the outstanding figures and diagrams that provided a great visual and bird’s-eye view so readers can have a better understanding of the topic. For instance, in Figure 3.1 (p. 73), Levy provided a clear and easy-to-understand diagram showing that job analysis is comprised of job evaluation, job description, and job specifications, and how job analysis is related to other human resources functions (e.g., compensation, training, performance appraisal, selection, etc.). Another great diagram is the O*NET Content Model (Fig. 3.5, p. 79), which actually looks cleaner and better than the original O*NET Content Model found on the O*NET website!
The fifth (and final) topic is motivation, one of the most thoroughly explored topics in I/O psychology (Levy, 2017). I really like how Dr. Levy shares his own experience about what he tells companies or senior leaders when they ask him for tips to motivate their workers:
“As an I/O psychologist, I am often asked by organizational managers and executives about what can be done to improve the motivation of their workforce. One theme that I have emphasized throughout this book is the complexity of human behavior at work. This complexity explains why we need to use multiple tests (i.e., a selection battery) for employee selection and why we are fortunate if our battery accounts for 30% of the variance in performance. It also explains why even the most skilled and competent professionals are not always the best performers. Ability is an important predictor of individual performance, but so is motivation. The brightest and most skilled workers in the world will not be successful if they are not motivated to be successful” (Levy, 2017, p. 283).
Levy provided a great definition of work motivation: “A force that drives people to behave in a way that energizes, directs, and sustains their work behavior” (Levy, 2017, p. 283). I also like how professor Levy explained that motivation is an abstract concept: “Motivation is an abstract internal concept that cannot be seen, touched, or measured directly. We infer motivation from employees’ behaviors; we operationalize it by measuring behavior choice, intensity, and persistence” (Levy, 2017, p. 283). In the “Taking It to the Field” section for Ch. 9 [Motivation], Levy asks readers to apply what they’ve learned about theories of motivation in responding to an email inquiry from a client.
What I Really Like:
There are I/O Today boxes, one for each chapter in the book, that I really enjoy. The I/O Today boxes “present cutting-edge practices, current controversies, and developing theories that practitioners and researchers are grappling with now and that will continue to influence the field in the coming years” (Levy, 2017, p. xviii).
Here are the titles of all I/O Today boxes: Scientist/Practitioner Gap; Big Data; Future of Job Analysis; Performance & Disability; Technology, Performance Measurement, & Privacy; Remote Assessment for Selection; Religion in the Workplace; Gamification in Job Training; Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE); Relationship Between Unions & Job Satisfaction; PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and STSD [secondary traumatic stress disorder]; Age Diversity in Teams; Romance of Leadership; and Holacracy.
I found these boxes/sections to be very refreshing since the general public and students don’t always see the connection between how psychology is applied in the workplace and/or what connection this has with the real workplace.
For instance, in the I/O Today box/section on Big Data, Levy wrote: “One of the most important developments in I/O psychology in the past decade has been the emergence of something known as ‘Big Data,’ which refers to massive data sets (potentially millions or even billions of data points) that are rapidly accumulated and contain information on a wide assortment of variables” (Levy, 2017, p. 65).
Another interesting I/O Today box/section is titled, “Gamification in Job Training.” Professor Levy wrote: “gamification refers to the use of gaming mechanics (such as virtual worlds, leaderboards, and unlocking achievements) to train employees, and it represents an exciting new trend within the training realm. Arguably, this technique appeals to computer savvy workers and can help to motivate employees to complete training and hone their skills. Gamification as a concept is not new; for decades, academic and military institutions have often found ways to incorporate game components such as badges, achievements, and points to encourage certain learning behaviors” (Levy, 2017, p. 260).
“Gamification holds many potential benefits for employers and employees by making learning and practicing fun, but trainers must be thoughtful about when gamification is appropriate and how best to implement it” (Levy, 2017, p. 260).
Levy poses two or three thought-provoking discussion questions to engage students/learners at the bottom of each I/O Today section. He also provides references and suggestions for additional readings on the topic. These I/O Today sections are relevant, practical, and bring I/O psychology to life. Well done!
Another feature I really like is the Taking It to the Field section which follows the Summary section at the end of each chapter. These are detailed scenarios or consulting situations that require the reader/learner to analyze, evaluate, and solve a realistic I/O problem. For instance, the Taking It to the Field section for Ch. 3 is on job analysis. Levy provided some great tips for writing effective worker-oriented job descriptions and for designing possible interview questions. In the Taking It to the Field section for Ch. 7, Levy asked readers to imagine that they are responding to an email inquiry about the legality of a hiring process. More specifically, in composing their email response, they would need to recall what they had learned about the use of the four-fifths rule to determine adverse impact in employee selection. In another Taking It to the Field section for Ch. 13, readers are asked to address gender and leadership in an email inquiry from a female founder of a company which is experiencing a higher level of turnover as well as complaints from exit interviews about the lack of leadership. These scenarios are a wonderful way to engage students and get them to imagine a real-world application!
Summary: The print copy of Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) by Paul E. Levy is a terrific I/O psychology textbook. The fifth edition lives up to Dr. Levy’s goal of producing a textbook that engages, excites, and instructs. The student-friendly writing style combined with fantastic charts and graphics make this book accessible and engaging. The I/O Today and Taking It to the Field sections are outstanding. They present cutting-edge practices (I/O Today) and really engage readers in analyzing, evaluating, and problem-solving realistic I/O scenarios (Taking It to the Field), helping to bring I/O psychology to real life! Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) is an excellent and important resource in the field of I/O psychology and I highly recommend it.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D. Organizational & Leadership Development Leader
Alexander, P. A., & Singer, L. M. (2017, October 15). A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens. http://www.businessinsider.com/students-learning-education-print-textbooks-screens-study-2017-10
Baron, N. (2016, July 20). Do students lose depth in digital reading? https://theconversation.com/do-students-lose-depth-in-digital-reading-61897
Crum, M. (2015, February 27). Sorry, Ebooks. These 9 Studies Show Why Print Is Better. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/27/print-ebooks-studies_n_6762674.html
Levy, P. E. (2017). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (5th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Disclosure: I received a print copy of Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.