Employee Relations

Fairness Perceptions and Employee Reactions

Organizational commitment, trust in managers, and organizational citizenship behaviors are much desired attitudes and behaviors in employees. A significant aspect that drives these attitudes and behaviors is the perception of fairness or justice within the organization. Thus, it is important to determine how employees evaluate justice and what reactions result.

How Do Employees Evaluate Justice?

Within the field of Psychology, two paradigms exist which attempt to understand how employees evaluate justice. First, the event justice paradigm suggests that employees evaluate a particular event based on the specific time and situation (e.g., I was given complete and timely information about the new evaluation procedure). The second paradigm, social entity paradigm, suggests that employees evaluate the social entities (e.g., boss) perceived as responsible for the event and develop more global justice perceptions of the entities’ overall propensity to perform fair behaviors.  Two social entities particularly relevant to employees’ global justice perceptions are their (1) managers or supervisors and (2) the organization. By blending these paradigms, one is able to more fully understand how employees evaluate and react to the fairness of events. Employees can have differing perceptions of how fair their organization or supervisor is; therefore, even though employees may experience a similar event, fair or not, their reactions vary based on their preexisting view of the social entities involved.

Importance of Social Entity Justice

The relationship between event justice perceptions and employee reactions toward the organization (e.g., organizational commitment vs. abuse of sick time or the organization’s internet) and managers (e.g., trust in managers vs. undermining their authority) are moderated (meaning affected or strengthened) by the fairness of the social entity perceived accountable for the specific event. The relationship between event justice perceptions and organization-directed reactions is moderated by perceptions that an organization is fair. Therefore, if employees are exposed to an unfair workplace situation, but otherwise perceive the organization to be fair, they will be less likely to negatively react toward the organization based solely on disappointment about an unfair event. However, if in this case the employees perceive the organization to be generally unfair, their preexisting view will be confirmed and they will likely assign greater blame on the organization and negatively react toward it. Notably, the overall fairness of the manager reduces detrimental reactions toward both the manager and the organization.

Practical Implications

Overall, social entity justice perceptions are a better predictor of employee reactions than are event justice perceptions. To decrease the likelihood of negative reactions and increase the likelihood of positive organization- and supervisor-directed reactions, such as organizational commitment, trust in managers, and organizational citizenship behaviors, organizations should improve employees’ social justice perceptions by:
  • Training managers and supervisors to be fair and convey fairness throughout the workplace (e.g., provide fairness-oriented training via the web, manuals, in-person training).
  • Directing managers and supervisors to do their best to show that the organization as a whole is fair (e.g., treat all employees equally, give adequate and timely information about new processes)
  • Building a culture of fairness by communicating importance of fairness and making fairness a priority in all management practices (e.g., be open about managerial procedures, encourage employees to voice concerns about any perceived injustice, show employees that their concerns are heard).

Interpretation by:

Lexy Adkins

DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Choi, J. (2008). Event Justice Perceptions and Employees’ Reaction: Perceptions of social entity justice as a moderator. Journal of Applied Psychology. 93 (4), 513-528.