Employee Relations

Does Fair Today Mean Fair Tomorrow?

It is commonly thought that employees’  overall justice perceptions global evaluations of an organization or supervisor based on previous experiences with that entity) are, barring any major changes or events occurring in the workplace, stable over time. However, contrary to this belief, in the absence of major changes and events, each employee’s perceptions are still variable over time. The good news is that there are known factors that influence overall justice perceptions, including individual justice dimensions and trust in the organization and supervisor. With knowledge of these factors, organizations can work to mitigate changes in the negative direction and sustain greater perceptions of fairness in the workplace.

How Much Do These Perceptions Vary?

The most relevant aspects that feed into overall justice perceptions are the employees’ perceptions of the fairness of their organization, overall organizational justice, and perceptions of the fairness of their supervisor, overall supervisory justice perceptions. Although coworkers and customers also contribute to employees’ overall justice perceptions, the supervisor and organization are the biggest contributors, as they are perceived to be most responsible for workplace events and environment. Previously it was thought that once these perceptions were formed, they were unchanging. However, recent research has shown there is variability in both an employee’s overall organizational justice and supervisory justice perceptions over time. Particularly, the average rating of fairness shifts back and forth from greater perceptions of fairness to less perceptions of fairness. These shifts could occur due to new information being obtained (possibly from coworkers), different experiences within the organization or with the supervisor, or differing moods of the employee.

What Predicts Overall Justice Perceptions?

To clear up the mystery of why overall justice perceptions change over time, we now highlight the factors that help predict these perceptions. Overall organizational justice has been shown to be best predicted by:
  • Organizational Trust
  • Interpersonal Justice (level of respect and dignity shown to employees during interactions)
  • Distributive justice (fairness of outcomes and distribution of resources)
  • Procedural Justice (fairness in decision making and procedures to allocate resources)
Overall supervisory justice is best predicted by:
  • Supervisor Trust
  • Interpersonal Justice
What is particularly important here is that employees who trust their organizations and supervisors have less rapid change in overall organizational and supervisory justice perceptions, respectively. When employees trust an organization or a supervisor, they expect them to be fair. Thus, their expectations of fair treatment (or unfair treatment) predispose the employees to view the organization and supervisor as fair (or unfair) in the future. Supervisor-focused interpersonal justice proves to be a strong predictor of overall supervisory justice perceptions. A possible explanation for this phenomenon is that interactions with the supervisor occur so often in organizations that the treatment in these interactions becomes more meaningful to employees than other forms of justice (i.e., distributive, procedural, and informational justice). Interestingly enough, supervisor-focused interpersonal justice helps predict not only overall supervisory justice perceptions, but also overall organizational justice perceptions. This most likely occurs because employees typically view the supervisor as a representative of the organization, thus viewing the fairness of their supervisor to be representative of the fairness of the organization as a whole.

Implications for Practice

Because trust proves to be the best predictor of overall justice perceptions, organizations and supervisors should continually work to build trust with their employees. It is in DeGarmo Group’s opinion that trust can be cultivated early in an employee’s time with an organization. By following through with what is promised to an employee, even during the selection process, the employee will gain trust in the organization and supervisor’s word. Similarly, organizations should always employ fair decision-making practices and procedures for distributing resources to employees. However, it is the interactions with supervisors that play an even greater role in determining the employees’ overall justice perceptions. We advise organizations and supervisors to be respectful in their day-to-day interactions with their employees, as disrespectful treatment leads to a decrease in the employees’ overall justice perceptions. In sum, employees’ overall justice perceptions should not be taken for granted and viewed as unchanging. Because greater overall justice perceptions lead to positive work outcomes (e.g., high job satisfaction, organizational-directed and supervisor-directed citizenship behaviors, organizational commitment), an organization should continually strive to gain trust, be respectful during interactions, and be fair when making decisions and allocating resources.

Lexy Adkins


This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Holtz, B. C., & Harold, C. M. (2009). Fair today, fair tomorrow? A longitudinal Investigation of overall justice perceptions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 1185 – 1199.