Forms of Organizational Justice

This is a repost of an article I wrote on LinkedIn.

TL;DR: There are 3 forms of justice in the organizational context: distributive justice, procedural justice, and interactional justice. People perceive unfairness and react badly, especially if all types of justice are not present. The presence of any type of justice can buffer the effects of the other’s absence. During moments with negative consequences, decision-makers should strive to provide those forms of justice to minimize the ill effects of perceived unfairness.

What is the Right Thing to Do?

Some people are interested in the topic of justice because they sensed something is wrong in the world and they want to make a difference by doing what’s right. From the times of Aristotle until the political philosophers of the 20th century, philosophical discussions about what is “right” and “just” have generated much discussion and applied in various contexts.

Justice has been an interest for me as well. Back when I was still in academia, I watched Michael J. Sandel’s “Justice” course several times. If you are not familiar with the course, the videos are available on YouTube. I would consider it as one of the best classes in the world, and it might change the way you look at social problems.

Most of those discussions are applied in the political context. However, “politics” does not only mean how state officials should treat its citizens. By Aristotle’s definition, “politics” could cover anything that describes any activities related to a group human affairs, be it in the context of state government, village, or even in any organizational situation.

In the realm of behavioral science, a colleague of mine in the world of HR showed me a body of research related to the concept of justice and fairness in workplace: “Organizational Justice” Cropanzo & Molina (2015). Essentially, it’s about how people at work form judgments and perceive about fairness about various types of events happening at the workplace.

Most study about organizational justice are studied descriptively. That is, it focused on perceptions that are formulated by people at work. This approach is subjective by nature and allows disagreement on what is appropriate or not.

This is a different approach from ethical philosophers who used logic and observation to determine what is “normatively fair” (philosophers seek to understand what the objective attributes that make something just/fair). However, some concepts are borrowed from philosophers, e.g. John Rawls or even back to Aristotle.

Why Organizational Justice is Important?

In the world of work, true justice might never be achieved. You have to deal with limitations and compromise on things that are beyond your control. Even when you’re doing your best to be fair, people will still judge you of being unfair. As you move on the corporate ladder and sit on the chair of decision-maker, this seems to be unavoidable.

However, organizational justice is still an important goal to pursue because it brings a positive impact to the organization. Research (Cohen-Charash and Spector, 2001; Rupp et al., 2014) has found that justice perceptions are positively correlated with:

  • organizational commitment,
  • job performance,
  • leader–member relations, and
  • helpful organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB).

They are negatively correlated (this means a higher level of justice perception causes these to become lower) with:

  • work stress,
  • counterproductive work behaviors, and
  • turnover intentions.

How Perceptions of Justice are Formed

Four factors that triggers people to perceive whether an event is just or unjust:

  1. Saliency. People will only do the cognitive work to judge fairness if the event is considered important enough by the individual. Therefore, negative events that personally effects the individual are more likely to be viewed as unfair, rather than events that does not concern themselves.
  2. Behaviors of others. Rather than going through the cognitive process themselves, people will rather simply mimic and adopt the behavior of their peers.
  3. Scope of Justice. People are more likely to solicit fairness judgment when it involved their in-group. Negative events that affects their out-group will not trigger their fairness judgment, however unfair it might be.
  4. Egocentric Bias. Biases are automatic and unconscious. The relevance of events to the individual will affect how they create fairness judgment, rather than process of factual information.

Forms of Justice in Organizational Context

1. Distributive Justice

This refers to “perceived fairness of an allocation or, more broadly, to how people judge outcomes they receive“. There are three rules that people can use to judge whether the outcome is fair or not:

  • Equity, whether someone gets outcome in accordance with their contributions
  • Equality, whether everyone gets the same amount of outcome or not, regardless of their contribution.
  • Need, whether the outcome matched the individual’s perceived deficit or not.

2. Procedural Justice

This refers to “the decision-making process or the set of policies that are used to make allocation decisions“. For example, whether there is a “voice” as an opportunity to present their case or not, whether the trial process is fair or not, etc.

There are six criteria that are used to measure whether procedural justice is present or not:

  1. Treat all parties consistently.
  2. Be free from bias.
  3. Use accurate information in rendering decisions.
  4. Take into account the views of all.
  5. Be correctable in the event of an error.
  6. Remain consistent with prevailing ethical norms.

In addition, it is best to prepare advance notice before something potentially negative occurs.

3. Interactional Justice

In addition to formal outcomes and procedures, individuals also evaluate fairness based on social or communication criteria. They look to how they are treated by others. Broadly defined, there are two categories:

  1. Interpersonal Justice; whether people are treated with respect and dignity. An interpersonally fair transaction would avoid personal attaches, refrain from unnecessary harshness, eschew bigotry, etc.
  2. Informational Justice; whether people are provided with relevant evidence and explanations (decision makers should provide social accounts that explains why things happen, this is especially important when things goes wrong).

Interactions between types of justice

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All those forms of justice/fairness judgment interact with each other. People disliked receiving an unfair or even unfavorable outcome. However, the ill effects of unjust allocation can be partially addressed if the process is viewed as fair.

The ill effects of unfairness are maximized if all types of justice are low (distributive and procedural). Any form of fairness (out of three previously mentioned forms) could minimize the negative impact.

Key takeaways

  1. Fairness judgment is a subjective process, perceived by individuals when they compare the differences between “what should have been” and “what I think has happened“.
  2. There are three forms of justice that impacts how people perceive justness: distributive justice, procedural justice, and interactional justice.
  3. Especially during events when the outcomes are not preferred (negative consequences), decision makers should strive to provide as many forms of justice as possible, because it acts as a buffer of the ill effects. For example, during moments when the presence of distributive justice can’t be achieved, try to move forward with a fair procedure, treat people with dignity, and provide clear information.

Reference

Cohen-Charash, Y., & Spector, P. E. (2001). The role of justice in organizations: A meta-analysis. Organizational behavior and human decision processes86(2), 278-321.

Cropanzano, R., & Ambrose, M. L. (Eds.). (2015). The Oxford handbook of justice in the workplace.

Rupp, D. E., Shao, R., Jones, K. S., & Liao, H. (2014). The utility of a multifocal approach to the study of organizational justice: A meta-analytic investigation into the consideration of normative rules, moral accountability, bandwidth-fidelity, and social exchange. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes123(2), 159-185.

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