Wednesday, 28 September 2016

"That's Not Fair!" - Why Organisational Justice Impacts Everything At Work

No one likes to be taken advantage of.

Evidence of oppression is narrated in history books, as well as the corresponding struggles for emancipation. From the brutal conquests in millennia past, to the shameful stains of slavery, racism and modern-day discrimination - we will muster the courage to fight injustice.

And we carry this torch for fair treatment right into the workplace.

It's no wonder that in the field of organisational behavioural science, researchers find organisational justice intriguing; particularly because of the moves people will make to correct perceived injustice.

Simply put, organisational justice is concerned with the perceptions of fairness of employees. Since such perceptions shape the attitudes and behaviours of workers, this theme has become very important in understanding certain negative  actions that are displayed by aggrieved workers.

Types of organisational justice

Literature from researchers in the field has listed two, three and even four models/components of organisational justice. However, the three main types to consider are distributive justice, procedural justice and interactional justice.

1) Distributive justice

This refers to the outcomes of a decision, i.e. the fairness of the ends achieved.

One helpful construct to understand distributive justice at the workplace is Adam's Equity Theory (1963). This Theory advocates comparing the ratio of an individual's outcome to inputs, with the ratio of outcome to inputs of the comparison other. In essence, equity is achieved when: 

             Op    =   Oq
             __          __ 


             Ip           Iq

(Whereby O represents output; p represents the individual; I represents input; and q represents the comparison other).

According to Mowday (1996), it is irrelevant if the individual produces high inputs (whatever contributions he gives to the organisation, such as time, knowledge, skills, etc.); and receives low outcomes (whatever he gets from the organisation, such as pay, perks, appreciation, etc.), as long as his ratio is identical to the comparison other (i.e. his colleague). When the ratio is different, inequity arises and the individual perceives his outcome as unfair.

Now what becomes interesting is what the worker does to restore equity. Adams (1963) describes six methods he could use:

- Alter inputs;

- Alter outcomes;

- Change comparison other;

- Take actions to change inputs or outcomes  of comparison other;

- Distort inputs or outcomes;

- Leave field (turnover).

This Theory is important because it suggests that the motivation to restore fairness leads the worker who perceives distributive inequity, to engage in attitudes and behaviours that may negatively impact an organisation. He could use acts of retaliation like slowdowns as a way of lowering his inputs that may accompany under-payment. (Cropanzano & Folger, 1996).  

Evidently, it’s more difficult for the individual to alter the inputs or outputs of the comparison other to restore a state of equity. Therefore, Raja (2009) suggested that the employee might change his own inputs or outputs first by: 

- Changing  input to match outcomes such as  leaving early or slacking off;

- Changing outcomes to match inputs such as asking for a pay increase or stealing;

- Withdrawing, such as tardiness or turnover.

What organisations should perhaps focus on, is the more important dilemma of who gets what vis-à-vis rewards. This issue becomes crucial in times of organisation-wide changes such as layoffs, mergers, acquisitions, etc. To solve this problem, Levanthal (1976) suggests that a distribution rule of allocation be based on equity (contributions), equality and need.

Distributive justice is important to consider at the workplace because it predicts satisfaction with perceived outcomes (Folger, 1987). It also provides a motivational force for the employee who perceives distributive injustice (perceived inequity), to act in destructive behaviours that have harmful effects on other people, their property or sources of livelihood, as found by Cropanzano & Folger (1996).

Now distributive justice doesn't 'happen' in a vacuum. Its effect on employees' behaviours is best understood when you consider the procedures that led to the  outcomes in the first place - procedural justice.

2) Procedural justice

Procedural justice is concerned with the fairness of the processes by which a decision is made. 

It is especially important during an organisational change such as downsizing because employees cannot often get what they want. In such a scenario, the fairness of the procedures taken may be more important in predicting the behaviours of employees, rather than whether or not they received what they considered fair in relation to their contributions to the company, (distributive justice implications). 

Levanthal (1980) identified six criteria which managers should adhere to so that procedures can be perceived as fair: 

- Consistency;

- Bias suppression;
- Accuracy of information;
- Correctability;
- Representativeness (i.e. 'voice');
- Ethicality.

Negative indications of the criteria above lead the worker to perceive that procedures taken regarding decisions are unfair. Such procedural injustice as explained by Cropanzano & Folger (1996) undermines loyalty to both the institution and to its appointed representatives. Moreover, Blader & Tyler (2000), drawing on evidence from various researchers, reported that procedural justice is an important predictor of the following: 

-Commitment to the organisation;

-Effort employees put in duties;

-Likelihood workers will stay in the organisation;

-The extent of 'extra-role behaviour' they display (i.e. desirable actions not inherent  in their job descriptions);

-Acceptance of, and compliance with organisational rules. 

Interestingly, researchers in the 80s and 90s recorded some results about the effects of the interaction between distributive and procedural justice. Two of their most relevant findings must be highlighted because they simply make sense today: 

A) If the employee perceives that the procedures as fair, even if the distribution is inequitable (i.e. outcomes are unfavourable), he will be less inclined to take destructive actions against those in authority.  (Folger & Greenberg, 1985; Lind & Tyler, 1988; Cropanzano & Folger, 1996). 

B) Employees are more likely to react vigorously when both the outcomes are unfavourable and the procedures that led to those outcomes are unfair. Tyler et al. (1987) stated that such a development leads to reduced performance. Furthermore, employees are more likely to organise in collective action against the individuals who wronged them. 

A real eye opener. 

But in what manner should employees be treated and how should communication be handled for their welfare? Interactional justice is useful in understanding interpersonal relations at the workplace.

3) Interactional justice


This type refers to the fairness of interpersonal treatment. Bies & Moag (1986) advised that such fairness should be based on four criteria:

- Truthfulness;

- Respect;
- Propriety of questions;
- Justification. 

They stated that negative angles to those criteria communicate to the employee that he has been unfairly treated on an interpersonal level. 

Interactional justice is also important during change programmes because of social accounts provided. For example, adequate justification may help reduce moral outrage that leads to negative behaviours. They also help maintain a more positive image of the leader and better supervisor-subordinate relations (Cobb et al. 1995). There is an additional motivation for ensuring that employees are treated with professional courtesy. Cobb & Wooten (1998) explained that social accounts help reduce dysfunctional attitudes and behaviours following disappointing decisions and may even provide the motivation for change. 

Perhaps one of the most compelling findings about interactional justice was given by Blader & Tyler (2000) who linked interactional justice to affective commitment - the strongest type of commitment, which is the emotional attachment to an organisation.  


The three types of justice are best understood when they interact with each other, rather than in isolation. They influence, and in some cases, predict the attitudes and behaviours of employees in the organisation.


Now there exists extensive research in the theme of organisational justice, some of which, in recent times, has provided new angles to this crucial management issue. However, one irrefutable fact, backed up by numerous studies in the field of organisational behavioural science, is worth highlighting: 

When an employee perceives that he is unfairly treated—whether it is in relation to the outcomes received from his employer; or because of the procedures used to determine those outcomes; or because of the interpersonal treatment he is given—he will display negative attitudes or engage in destructive behaviours that will have dire effects on the organisation. 

Remember that without committed, engaged employees, the productivity wheel cannot function effectively. 

Know that organisational justice shapes the perceptions of employees, who in turn impact everything at work. 

So which would your organisation rather be? A productive work environment where fairness is championed, or the alternative - a sinking ship?

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