Within the organizational science literature, it is well understood that organizations that treat their employees well tend to be more effective. Organizational justice has been linked to job performance at the individual, team, and organizational level, including both task and contextual performance. In this CQ Dossier we have a look at the foundation of organizational justice and its three components distributive, procedural, interactional justice. Furthermore, we will introduce a set of practical ways how you can achieve organizational justice and the benefits associated with it in your organization.
The concept of organizational justice focuses on how employees judge the behavior of the organization and how this behavior is related to employees’ attitudes and behaviors regarding the firm (Greenberg, 1987). Organizational justice consists of three main forms – distributive, procedural, and interactional.
Distributive justice: Fairness of outcome distribution (pay, feedback etc.)
Distributive justice occurs when employees believe that outcomes are equitable (Colquitt et al., 2013). These outcomes are either tangible, such as pay, or intangible, such as positive feedback. When employees believe that they are being paid or treated equally, then this results in distributive justice (Adams, 1965).
Procedural justice: Fairness of decision-making processes
Whereas distributive justice focuses on outcomes, procedural justice focuses on the fairness of the decision-making or process that leads to these outcomes. Employees perceive procedural justice when they feel they can voice their opinion regarding the process. Employees also believe procedures are fair when they are consistent, accurate, ethical, and lack bias (Colquitt et al., 2013).
Interactional justice: Fairness of decision-making treatment and communication
Interactional justice focuses on the way in which an individual is treated when decisions are made; individuals feel they are being treated fairly when employers provide explanations for decisions and treat employees with dignity, respect, and sensitivity (Colquitt et al., 2013). Interactional justice can also be broken down into two types – interpersonal and informational justice.
Interpersonal justice focuses on the way in which organizations treat employees, with an emphasis on respect and courtesy.
Informational justice focuses on whether employers provide adequate explanations to employees with an emphasis on timeliness, specificity, and truthfulness (Colquitt, 2011).
How to improve organizational justice?
Organizational justice is not given, but a result of a set of management interventions and behaviors. As a professional, it is important that you know how your behavior and decision-making activities influence organizational justice. We have a look at a set of practical ways how you can foster organizational justive in your organization.
Effective organizational communication
When employers use effective communication, this can result in perceptions of interpersonal and informational justice (Kernan & Hanges, 2002). It is important that organizations use quality communication when explaining decisions to employees because this can increase trust, for both management and the organization (Kernan & Hanges, 2002). An example of this is when organizations need to make several job positions redundant. It is important to explain to all employees why the redundancies are occurring and to also treat those laid off with dignity and fair treatment.
Greenberg (1990) tested this rationale in a field-based experiment, whereby a manufacturing organization reduced pay in two of its plants. In one of the plants, the reason for the pay cut was explained in a sensitive and respective manner and in the other plant, no explanation was given to employees. Following the pay cut, Greenberg (1990) examined the amount of employee theft that occurred in the two plants. As expected those whose pay was cut had higher theft rates whereas those who received a sensitive explanation stole less; moreover, perceptions of inequity were reduced (Greenberg, 1990).
Another predictor of organizational justice is employee participation. When organizations include employees in decision-making processes regarding organizational procedures this increases perceptions of justice. This increase in organizational justice occurs even when the outcome is not in the employee’s favor (Bies & Shapiro, 1988). Research has also shown that when employees are given voice or input in organizational procedures this increases perceptions of both procedural and interpersonal justice (Kernan & Hanges, 2002).
Employee mood and emotions
When organizational events occur, this can have an impact on employee mood and emotions. Moreover, employees interpret events differently and this can depend on employee disposition; for example, when a crisis occurs some employees might be more anxious than others. In fact, a meta-analytic review found that state and trait level affect can influence justice perceptions (Barsky & Kaplan, 2007). When employees experience both positive state and trait positive affectivity, they are more likely to have higher perceptions of interactional, procedural and distributive justice (Barsky & Kaplan, 2007). Depressed individuals also tend to have more negative perceptions of organizational justice (Lang et al., 2011).
Organizational justice is an individual and team level phenomenon
Organizational justice is both an individual and team level phenomenon. Most research has been conducted at the individual level yet there is research showing that organizational justice operates at the team level, particularly in terms of team climate. Employees are influenced by colleagues and team levels in their perceptions of justice and this can lead to team level perceptions of organizational justice in the form of a justice climate (Li & Cropanzano, 2009).
For example, if there is a crisis within the organization, team members can share their perceptions with each other and this can lead to a shared interpretation of events. Team members are also influenced by each other and this can lead to homogeneity in team perceptions of justice, creating a strong climate (Roberson & Colquitt, 2005). Colquitt and colleagues also showed that teams with a high justice climate tend to perform more effectively, in terms of performance and less absenteeism (Colquitt, Noe & Jackson, 2002).
Benefits of organizational justice
Organizational justice is an important construct because it affects outcomes at the individual, team and organizational level. Research has shown that organizational justice is linked to positive outcomes such as
job performance and satisfaction,
organizational commitment, and
organizational citizenship behaviors (Colquitt et al., 2013).
Organizational justice is also linked to negative outcomes such as counterproductive work behaviors, turnover and burnout, such that employees who perceive fairness in outcomes and processes tend to engage less in these negative behaviors (Colquitt et al., 2013).
It is important for organizations to ensure that they treat their employees fairly through ensuring that both outcomes and processes are equitable and just. Organizations can ensure that organizational practices are transparent and equitable so that employees remain committed to the goals of the organization.
Critical appraisal of organizational justice: Solidity Level 5
Based on the empirical evidence for the relationship between team-efficacy and team performance, this dossier is assigned a Level 5 rating, (Based on a 1- 5 measurement scale). A level 5 is the highest rating score for a dossier based on the evidence provided on the efficacy of organizational justice. To date, the research on organizational justice has demonstrated the importance of this construct on a myriad of organizational outcomes. Moreover, the research has been conducted at the individual, team, and organizational level.
Organizational justice consists of three main forms – distributive, procedural, and interactional.
Distributive justice occurs when employees believe that outcomes are equitable
Procedural justice focuses on the fairness of the decision-making
Interactional justice focuses on the way in which an individual is treated when decisions are made
Effective communication results in interactional justice
Perceptions of justice increase when employers include employees in decision-making
State and trait affect influence perceptions of justice
Organizational justice is both an individual and team-level phenomenon
Organizational Justice influences outcomes at the individual, team and organizational level
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References and further readings
Barsky, A., & Kaplan, S. A. (2007). If you feel bad, it's unfair: A quantitative synthesis of affect and organizational justice perceptions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 286–295.
Bies, R. J., & Shapiro, D. L. (1988). Voice and justification: their influence on procedural fairness judgments. Academy of Management Journal, 31, 676-685.
Colquitt, J. A. (2001). On the dimensionality of organizational justice: A construct validation of a measure. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 386–400.
Colquitt, J. A., Noe, R. A., & Jackson, C. L. (2002). Justice in Teams: Antecedents and Consequences of Procedural Justice Climate, Personnel Psychology, 55, 83-109.
Colquitt, J. A., Scott, B. A., Rodell, J. B., Long, D. M., Zapata, C. P., Conlon, D. E., & Wesson, M. J. (2013). Justice at the millennium, a decade later: A meta-analytic test of social exchange and affect-based perspectives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98, 2, 199-236.
Greenberg, J. (1987). A taxonomy of organizational justice theories. Academy of Management Review, 12, 9-22.Greenberg, J. (1990). Employee theft as a reaction to underpayment inequity: The hidden cost of pay cuts. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75, 5, 561-568.
Kernan, M. C., & Hanges, P. J. (2002). Survivor reactions to reorganization: antecedents and consequences of procedural, interpersonal and information justice. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 916-928.
Lang, J., Bliese, P. D., Lang, J. W. B., & Adler, A. B. (2011, February 7). Work Gets Unfair for the Depressed: Cross-Lagged Relations Between Organizational Justice Perceptions and Depressive Symptoms. Journal of Applied Psychology.
Li, A., & Cropanzano, R. (2009). Fairness at the group level: Justice climate and intra-unit justice climate.Journal of Management, 35, 564-599.
Roberson, Q. M., & Colquitt, J. A. 2005. Shared and configural justice: A social network model of justice in teams. Academy of Management Review, 30, 595-607.
Annette was born in England and now lives in the United States. She has a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and has taught at several institutions. Annette has published in several journals, including Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Human Resource Development Quarterly, and Organizational Research Methods. She worked in the public and private sector for many years, primarily as a management trainer.