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Organizational Psychology – Organizational Justice

Answers the Question

Why do individuals react to decisions, procedures and authority in an organisation the way that they do?

How it Began

Several models of organizational justice have been provided which draw on the early work of theoriests such Adams (1965) Equity Theory and Homans (1961) Social Exchange Theory.

Organizational Justice

Seeking answers to the reaction of individuals to events by asking the question “Was that fair?” a number of different models have been proposed regarding perceptions linked to the concept of Organizational Justice.

The idea of Organizational Justice began with a focus on the fairness of certain decisional outcomes or distributive justice.  Further work was completed by Thiabut and Walker (1975) who examined the outcome of courtroom procedures on the idea of procedural justice, focusing on whether the decision making processes themselves, were fair in addition to the final verdict.

Bies and Moag (1986) developed a three factor model based on decision events in the context of recruitment; a decision, a procedure and an interpersonal interaction during the implementation of the procedure or interactional justice.

Greenberg (1993) developed this idea further, examining the role of respect and propriety rules in justifying decisions; interpersonal justice as distinct from the use of honest and truthful information in the decision-making process; informational justice.

Greenberg (1987) adopted an umbrella terms of Organzational Justice in a literature review of the various forms of justice outlined above.

Key Terminology

  • Differentiation – Susceptibility of an individual to group think or group pressure.
  • Cognition – Cognition is a term referring to the higher-level mental processes involved in gaining knowledge and comprehension. These processes include knowing, thinking, remembering, judging, and problem-solving.
  • Exogeneity – Reaction to external stimuli without conscious intention
  • Justice – An ethical principle that  people in similar circumstances and conditions should be treated alike.
  • Fairness – conformity with rules or standards resulting in an ability to make judgments free from discrimination or dishonesty

In Brief

There have been three major trends in the development of Organizational Justice; differentiation, cognition and exogenity.  These trends have influenced the study of, research questions, methods and procedures and conceptual lens in academic literature.

Differentiation

This impacts the way in which justice is conceptualized, measured and segmented into different sources.  Early studies on justice focused on the difference between procedural and distributive justice.  Key studies included the fairness of performance evaluation; Greenberg (1986), the examination of procedural rules; Thibaut and Walker (1975) and the development of the two factor model by Sweeney & McFarlin (1993)

Further studies introduced the concept of interactional justice and demonstrated from a predictive validity perspective that this was a better predictor of citizenship behaviour than either procedural or distributive justice.  Key studies included the study of citizenship behaviour; Moorman (1991) manager-originating constructs of procedural justice including respect, propriety, truthfulness and justification; Folger & Bies; (1989); Tyler & Bies (1990); Greenberg et al (1991).

Colquitt (2001) validated a new justice measure which further differentiated interactional justice into interpersonal (respect and propriety) and informational (truthfulness and justification).  This acknowledged that polite and respectful communication is distinct from its honesty and truthfulness; Bobocel, Agar & Meyer (1998).  The motivational effects of feedback focused on informational justice was studied by Robertson and Stewart (2006) and the distinction between focus and content of justice dimensions were explored by Blader & Tyler (2003); Ruppe & Cropanzono (2002).

Blader and Tyler explored the distinction between organisation versus manager-originating as formal justice versus informal justice or organizational justice versus supervisory justice; Rupp and Cropanzono (2002).

Social exchange Theory; Blau (1964) suggests that authority which uses supportive behaviours is a benefit to an employee and in turn is reciprocated with positive discretionary behaviours.  This theory provides the premise that there is positive relationship between justice perceptions and citizenship behaviours.

Cognition

Resulting in the more visible theories, cognition provides a rational and calculative theme to Organizational Justice.

With early models of justice explored through the lens of deliberation most were cognitive in nature, focusing on the controlled or calculative end of the cognitive continuum, whilst others stressed the automatic or heuristic end.

Cropanzano et al’s (2001) tackled the question on “Why do individual’s care?” by arguing that justice fulfilled a number of needs based on individual goals that are critical to an individual such as the sense of control and predictability over the long term; Thiabut & Walker (1975), positive self regard and sense of status; Lind & Tyler (1988) and moral virtue signalling a respect for principled moral obligations; Cropanzano et al (2001).

Fairness Heuristic Theory; Lind (2001) argues that justice-relevant information results into a ‘fairness heuristic’ that guides the resulting attitudes and behaviours regardless of what justice dimension is experienced by a newcomer.

Exogeneity

Tackles Organizational Justice from a predictive validity perspective, producing an independent variable position for justice in empirical studies.

Greenberg (1987) introduced a taxonomy.  The first dimension reflected on procedural and distributive justice.  The second on reactive and proactive reactions to just and unjust events.  Later reviews sought to answer the questions “How do people respond to fair and unfair conditions?” and “How can fair conditions be created?”

Later studies moved towards a reactive direction casting justice as an independent variable affecting job attitudes, job satisfaction, trust and organizational commitment; Folger & Konovsky (1989); and the social exchange lens prompted a new set of variable for justice to predict including citizenship and reciprocation behaviours; Materson et al (2000).  The result was that justice is exogenous in most empirical studies, although some studies measure fairness perceptions as endogenous.

What does this mean for Organisation Development?

How employees perceive fairness in the workplace and react to that perception can profoundly affect their physical and emotional health, and in turn, affect an organization’s bottom line. Get it right and an organisation can build commitment, loyalty, and a sense of well-being at work.  Get it wrong and workplace behaviours can be hostile, communication aggressive and counterproductive resulting in high levels of absenteeism, and high staff turnover.

  • Ensure Employees are treated as Equals – observe interactions in the workplace and make recommendations to ensure that reinforce that all employees are equal and that they know that.
  • Help the Organisation Promote Fairly – dissension can be caused when someone gets a promotion over another, check the promotion process for procedural fairness and opportunity.
  • Make sure the Pay System is Transparent – Counter negative feelings about a the mysterious pay scale by making the payroll system transparent, so all of your employees understand the company’s pay scale, and how it works.
  • Develop an Employee Appeal Process – Rather than disregard employees who ‘feel’ they have been treated unfairly develop an employee appeal process in place that the employee can use to plead their case.
  • Focus on Expectations – Help managers establish clear targets and rewards, and communicating performance expectations. Ensure performance measures clearly articulate what constitutes outstanding performance and what rewards employees can expect when they achieve it.
  • Help Employees Meet those Expecations – For those whose performance is falling below expectations ensure coaching and encouragement is available to help them improve.
  • Structure the Reward System for Sustainable Performance – Develop a well-thought-out reward system that allows flexibility to provide spontaneous “spot rewards” for deserving performance, and keeps employees motivated by the expectation of, but not entitlement to, reward for valuable performance.
  • Be Consistent in yourself – Remember as a OD Practitioner you need to be the change.  Don’t maintain different standards for different people, or different groups, without reasons everyone feels good about. Keep your promises, and follow through.