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Spotlight on I-O Organizations

Lori Foster Thompson1
North Carolina State University

1  As always, your comments and suggestions regarding this column are most welcome. Please feel free to e-mail me: lfthompson@ncsu.edu.

Greetings TIP readers, and welcome to the latest edition of the Spotlight column. The month of January has finally arrived, and you know what that means: National Hobby Month is upon us. Although I have little to offer the scrapbooking, cross-stitching, woodworking, and ham radio enthusiasts among you, those whose favorite pastime entails collecting articles about I-O psychology in Korea are in luck! This issue of the Spotlight column provides an excellent overview of the history and development of our field in South Korea, along with insights on the cultural context in which Korean I-O psychology operates. Read on for details.

Industrial and Organizational Psychology inSouth Korea

Sunhee Lee
Chungnam National University

According to Korea’s official Web site (http://korea.net), South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, is about 223,098 square kilometers large and has a population of approximately 50 million people. Over the past 4 decades, Korea has overcome many social, economic, and political challenges, which makes Koreans proud of the country’s achievement in terms of economic growth as well as democratic progress.

Korea is currently a member of OECD and G-20 major economies. The economy of South Korea is largely export oriented, and its major industrial products are semiconductors, automobiles, ships, consumer electronics, mobile telecommunication equipment, steel, and chemicals. Samsung, LG, and Hyundai are some well-known Korean companies. Korean people are very high-tech oriented. The number of mobile phone owners is approaching 95% of the total population, and over 80% of Korean households have Internet connections (Korea Communications Commission, 2009).

Currently, Korean society is facing new kinds of changes. One challenge is the rapidly aging population due to Korea’s very low birthrate of 1.08. In fact, this is the lowest birthrate in the world. Another related change is the diversification of the population in terms of race and culture. These changes have significant implications for the operation of many aspects of Korean organizations in the near future.

The Beginning of I-O Psychology in Korea

The official history of psychology in Korea began when the “Joseon2 Psychological Association” was founded in 1946. After the Korean War, the name was changed to its current one, the Korean Psychological Association (KPA) in 1953. In 1964, the KPA created two divisions: One was the Division of Industrial Psychology and the other was the Division of Clinical Psychology. Currently, there are 12 divisions of the KPA. The Division of Industrial Psychology became the Korean Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (KSIOP) in 1981.

2 Before the republic was formed, the name of the country was the Kingdom of Great Joseon.

The beginning of I-O psychology in Korea is rooted in the needs of military organizations. The academic article that we consider to be the first I-O psychology study in Korea was “A Study on the Psychological Aptitudes of Pilots” (Lee, 1953 as cited in Cha, 1976). Several years later, another study on the development of an aptitude test for Korean air force selection was published in 1961 (Oh, 1961 as cited in Cha, 1976).


KSIOP (http://www.ksiop.or.kr) is the only official organization that represents the interests of Korean I-O psychologists. The society aims to develop, apply, and expand the science and practice of I-O psychology; to protect the rights of its members; and to promote networking among members. About half of its more than 200 members are graduate students, and the rest are employed by universities, companies, consulting firms, governments, military, and research institutes. As over 70% of the members of KSIOP are in academic fields, including professors, researchers in university-based research institutes, and graduate students, the society tends to be academically oriented. However, KSIOP understands the importance of contributions that practitioners provide and continuously makes an effort to attract practitioners. One such effort is to appoint a practitioner as the vice president.

KSIOP has published The Korean Journal of Industrial and Organizational Psychology quarterly since 1988. It is the main publication outlet of I-O psychologists in Korea. Yoo and his colleagues (Yoo et al., 2009) recently conducted a content analysis of 325 articles that appeared in the journal in the last 20 years. The results show that topics related to organizational psychology have been the most popular (51%), with the other topics being personnel psychology (22%), human factors (11%), and consumer psychology (11%). Regarding the methodology used by the studies, the majority (62%) were survey based, 19% of studies were based on experiments, and the rest of them were literature reviews (6%) and qualitative studies (2%). Finally, male researchers (80%) disproportionately dominate authorship, though the proportion of female authors has been growing over the years.

KSIOP also organizes KSIOP conferences twice a year, one in the spring and the other in the fall. The conferences provide the most important networking opportunities for I-O psychologists. The organizers always try hard to attract the attention of practitioners as well as academic audiences for the conferences. Some examples of recent conference theme topics are “economic crisis and HR” and “competence development for a competitive market.” Workshops for graduate students and special sessions for undergraduate students are also usually offered. It is common to have informal social gatherings after the official conference events, which can provide an important chance to strengthen relationships among members.


The undergraduate and postgraduate education systems in Korea are very similar to those in the USA. Undergraduate degrees require 4 years of course work, and graduate programs offer MA-only or MA and PhD degrees. Less than a quarter of Korea’s 200 universities have a psychology department. There are only 16 departments that offer postgraduate degrees in I-O psychology. However, psychology has recently been gaining popularity with Korean students as an undergraduate as well as a graduate major. Although such popularity is mostly attributed to a growing interest in clinical and counseling psychology, I-O psychology is also getting more and more attention. It is worth noting that there are four departments whose names are “Department of Industrial Psychology” rather than “Department of Psychology.” Although these departments offer general and other specialized psychology courses, they put an emphasis on training professionals specializing in I-O.

There are currently about 30 full-time faculty members who teach I-O psychology and are active members of KSIOP. Most of them teach in psychology departments but a few of them teach in business schools. Academic disciplines in Korea used to be quite independent, and there were not many personnel exchanges between psychology departments and business schools. However, academic positions in business schools have recently become more open to psychology PhDs. It is also worth noting that about 60% of the full-time faculty members who teach I-O psychology obtained their PhD degrees in foreign countries. In fact, all but two earned their PhD from universities in the USA.

HR Practices and I-O Psychologists

Korean organizations, especially the international ones, have been quick to import and experiment with various western management practices.  Although such efforts sometimes collide with the cultural values of Koreans, oftentimes they advance the management practices of Korean organizations. One such example is the performance-based compensation system. In a culture where seniority is so important that people often ask your age (or college class year, an indirect way of asking age) when they first meet you, the introduction of performance-based compensation to replace seniority-based flat salaries often faced extensive resistance from employees. Over the years, however, more and more people have accepted the rationale of performance-based compensation, and the question now becomes how to implement the system fairly.

Sometimes, the Korean government takes the lead on such scientific HR practices. The Senior Civil Service Competency Assessment is one example. Anyone who wants to get into Senior Executive Service is required to pass the assessment. The testing consists of various assessment techniques, such as role playing, interview, group discussion, and in-basket exercise. Government use of such methods has encouraged many public and private organizations to adopt scientific HR practices.

As the needs for HR consulting grows, quite a few global management consulting firms, such as Hay, SHL, PDI, Hewitt, and Mercer have opened offices in Seoul, the capital of Korea. In addition, there is an increasing number of local HR consulting firms, such as Assessta, Dasan E&E, Huno Consulting, PSI Consulting, and KR&C. These kinds of firms provide one of the main job markets for I-O psychology majors. I-O psychologists also play important roles in HR-related departments of large firms, such as Samsung and AIG insurance company, and public organizations, such as Korea Railroad, the Republic of Korea Civil Service Commission, and the Korea Employment Information Service.

The Future of I-O Psychology: Challenges and Hopes

Although I-O psychology in Korea does not have a very long history, it has made some significant contributions to society. As always, there are and will continue to be many more challenges that Korean society will face. I-O psychologists may help Koreans address these problems. In order for I-O psychologists to respond to social problems and issues more effectively, we know that we need to be more visible to the public and to develop more cooperative relationships with academics and professionals in related fields. With the good, hardworking I-O psychologists we have in Korea, progress will be made sooner rather than later.

Concluding Editorial

So there you have it—an excellent synopsis to augment your collection of knowledge pertaining to I-O psychology in South Korea. As you can see, our profession continues to flourish in this part of the world, thanks to the diligent efforts of our Korean colleagues, whose work has advanced the science and practice of I-O psychology considerably. 


     Cha, J. H. (1976). The history and the current conditions of psychology in Korea and the directions for interdisciplinary social science research. Journal of Social Sciences, 1, 61–100. Seoul National University.
     Korea Communications Commission (2009). The index of information and communication. Retrieved October 1, 2009, from
     Yoo, T., Kim, J., Kim, S., Kim, S., An, Y., Son, H., et al. (2009). Content analysis of Korean journal of industrial and organizational psychology in the past two decades. Paper presented at the annual spring conference of the Korean Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Seoul, Korea.