Why Justice Matters. Determinants and Consequences of Organizational Justice

Bachelor Thesis, 2014

36 Pages, Grade: 1,7




The Sources of Justice Perceptions
Distributive Justice
Procedural Justice
Interactional Justice
Fairness Theory
Distinction and Overall Justice

Theoretical Frameworks of Justice Perceptions
Control Model
Social Exchange Theory
Fairness Heuristic Theory
Relational Model
Moral Virtues Model
Integrating the Theories

The Consequences of Organizational Justice
Organizational Citizenship Behavior

Organizational Citizenship Behavior and the Group Engagement Model

Organizational Citizenship Behavior and Social Exchange Theory

Organizational Citizenship Behavior and Fairness Heuristic Theory
Task Performance
Task Performance and Equity Theory
Task Performance and Intrinsic Motivation
Counterproductive Work Behavior
Counterproductive Work Behavior and Equity Theory
Counterproductive Work Behavior and the State of Affect




Organizational justice research identified a broad set of possible emotional, attitudinal and behavioral consequences to justice perceptions. Empirical evidence of these relationships strongly emphasizes the importance of justice concerns for organizations. Mainly discussed are behavioral reactions to justice, categorized in organizational citizenship behavior, task performance and counterproductive work behavior. Several theoretical approaches offer deeper understanding into why these consequences may occur, and facilitate accurate predictions. In order to clarify what individuals perceive as just in organizations, scholars identified different dimensions of justice. Taken together, the field of organizational justice research offers valuable insights for practical application. These conceptualizations of consequences, underlying processes and the sources of justice perceptions can serve as a practical valuable guideline for organizations. Thus, it helps companies to identify reasons for beneficial and harming employee behavior and points out ways to foster employee’s organizational support.

Keywords: organizational justice; procedural justice; interactional justice; task performance; organizational citizenship behavior, counterproductive work behavior

The motives of justice and injustice fascinated people through all ages. Justice is considered by most cultures to be the basic norm for human co-existence. As such, justice is not only essential for the legislations of states and organizations, further it is a strict demand on social norms and behavior. Two-and-a-half thousand years ago the philosopher Aristotle (350 B.C.) stated: “Man perfected by society is the best of all animals; he is the most terrible of all when he lives without law, and without justice.” While the importance of justice is unquestionable, there is less agreement about what justice actually is. What is just, is often inseparable connected with a certain philosophical system or a political mindset.

What really affects people is the justice they perceive, may it be objectively reasonable or not. The feeling of injustice can be a powerful motive to drive human behavior. Immanuel Kant (1785), a later philosopher, stated: “Nothing outrages us more than injustice. All other evils that we suffer are nothing compared to it.” Social research focused therefore rather on what people perceive as just, than on what is actually just. Hence justice is mostly considered to be absolutely subjective and differing between individuals. Nevertheless, scholars assume generalizable rules about when justice is more or less likely perceived. The aim of this research stream is to understand and predict individual’s reactions to justice matters (Colquitt, Greenberg & Zapata-Phelan, 2005). Following the habits of contemporary organizational justice research, this work will refer to the subjective perspective of justice. Furthermore, the terms “fairness” and “justice” will be used interchangeably, as they both present a subjective evaluation. According to that, perceived justice relates to the judgment process of justice, rather than determining events as just. Thus low perceived justice equals experienced injustice or unfairness; high perceived justice equals experienced justice or injustice.

In times of intercontinental competition and ever-advancing optimization of effective processes, managers seek for new possibilities to enhance sustainability and efficiency of their organizations. Psychological aspects have gained more and more importance. Wherever people interact with each other, justice concerns play a major role (Greenberg & Cropanzano, 2001). Especially in the workplace, justice is a topic of high importance. In any kind of organization where people work together, justice concerns will be omnipresent. Sentences, such as: “The managers earn millions, and we need to accept the next pay cut. That is not fair.” or “I do the greater part of our team project alone, while my team members make smoking breaks outside.” are likely to be dropped in company canteens. Most people will have a similar example in mind, when they reflect on justice in their workplace. An organization is per definition (Walther Müller-Jentsch, 2003) a structure of interdependent actions, which are connected through cooperation and interdependent coordination following a common goal. As such, organizations are predestinated to be affected through justice concerns. The employees offer different inputs to the organization, such as work performance, commitment and accordance to the rules. On the other side, the organization provides positive outcomes, such as loan or appreciation, for example. Another facet might be justice between colleagues, as emphasized in the team project example. If this exchange relationship between giving and receiving is disturbed, it can lead to harm of employee and organization (Ambrose, 2002).

The field of Organizational Justice has grown exponentially through recent years. Scholars identified the importance and power of Organizational Justice to explain, predict and even influence organizational behavior. The connection between justice perceptions and several organizational key-outcomes has been explored for years and is well verified today. Recently Greenberg (2011, p.313) stated that “the fact that people care about justice is undeniable”. In 2001 large meta-studies of Cohen-Charash and Spector, and of Colquitt and colleagues reviewed the field of organizational justice research. Both came to the conclusion, that current research provides large evidence about the connection between justice concerns and several organizational key outcomes. Retrospectively, these meta-studies can be seen as a milestone in the field of organizational justice research, as they closed the chapter of establishing general evidence for effects of justice perceptions. Organizational justice perceptions are for example connected to work performance, organizational commitment and counterproductive work behavior as well as to emotional reactions like stress or burnout (Crawshaw et al., 2013). The identified emotional, attitudinal and behavioral reactions to justice or injustice perceptions highlight the great practical value that justice research offers. Understanding the framework of organizational justice can help managers to establish a sustainable and effective organizational structure and to find sources of unpleasant behavior.

The objective of this thesis is to offer an access to the practical value of organizational justice research, introducing the most established acknowledgements of research. Therefore it aims to answer the three principal questions addressed by organizational justice research: (1) What do people perceive as just? (2) Why do people react to justice concerns? (3) How do people react to justice perceptions?

Following that guideline, the first part describes how people develop a justice judgment. Utilizing the common approach to create different dimensions of justice, it shows which organizational characteristics and practices are perceived as fair. The identification of justice sources represents the first step to enhance justice in organizations. The second part introduces different theoretical approaches to explain why feeling treated fairly is important to people, and points out how this may motivate reactions. Theoretical conceptualizations offer a broad understanding into why justice plays such an important role in organizations. Furthermore these models offer insights in the interacting effects of the different justice dimensions. The third part points out behavioral consequences of organizational justice perceptions, thus it emphasizes the high practical importance of justice for organizational key outcomes. Furthermore, several explanations for these reactions are given, building on the introduced theoretical approaches, in order to identify starting points to enhance organizational practices. Figure 1 illustrates the general underlying framework of this review.

The Sources of Justice Perceptions

What do people perceive as just? What do people mean, when they say, that they have been treated rightly or wrongly in their organization? On which organizational factors do people base their fairness judgment? Today the concept of organizational justice looks back to over five decades of research. While the impact of justice matters on human reactions and effective organizational functioning could be proved frequently, the conceptualization of justice has changed and evolved. To make full use of the rich possibilities organizational justice offers to be practically valuable, it is necessary to precisely understand the characteristics and mechanisms that distinguish between a fair and an unfair organization. The mainstream of researches agrees today that individuals judge organizational justice based primarily on three components: outcomes, processes and interpersonal interactions. Despite this consensus, the approaches to study these components vary. Instead of measuring the dimension of interactional justice separately (Cohen-Charash & Spector, 2001), several scholars consider it as part of procedural justice (Blader & Tyler, 2009). Other models exploit organizational justice in four dimensions, separating the interpersonal and the informational aspect of interactional justice (Colquitt et al, 2001). Studies gave empirical evidence for all three approaches (Blader & Tyler, 2009; Cohen-Charash & Spector, 2001; Colquitt et al., 2001). Thus, two-, three- and four-dimensional conceptualizations of justice are applied, often harming the comparability and comprehensibility of results and valuable acknowledgements. Therefore, further exploration of the value of different conceptualizations is highly recommended, in order to find a common denominator. Figure 2 illustrates the relation of the different justice dimensions. The following part portrays the different constructs of organizational justice, in order to answer the question of what is actually perceived as fair in organizations.

Distributive Justice

Initially scholars focused on the perceived fairness of resource distributions to discover the role of justice in organizations. Distributive justice has mainly been studied from the equity theory perspective (Adams, 1965). According to Adams, individuals form a ratio between their organizational input and outcome. The sum of the individually as positive considered factors constitute the outcome, such as pay, rewards intrinsic to the job, satisfying supervision, seniority benefits, fringe benefits, job status and status symbols, and a variety of other advantages. The inputs include education, intelligence, experience, training, skill, seniority, age, sex, ethnic background, social status, and, most important, the work effort. Following Adams, a person experiences inequity whenever he perceives that the ratio of his outcomes to inputs is unequal to the ratio of others outcomes to others inputs. If a colleague doing the same job earns more, a person is likely to perceive distributive injustice. According to the relative deprivation approach (Stouffer, Suchmann, DeVinney, Star & Williams, 1949), Adams (1965) highlighted the importance of the different frames of comparison. A worker can compare his outcome/input ratio to the ratio of his immediate colleague, or to the ratio of a comparable position in another company. This choice might be determining the judgment of distributive justice. Resulting from the subjectivity of the evaluation of input and outcome and the choice of reference group, the following distributive fairness judgment is absolutely subjective (Colquitt et al., 2001).

Equity theory implies that a perceived state of inequity evokes a feeling of distress. Adams (1965) describes it as anger in case of underpayment inequity and guilt as consequence of overpayment inequity. This distressing state will motivate individuals to restore equity through actual or psychological reactions. Altering one’s own outcomes or inputs, revaluating outcomes or inputs or changing the comparison other have been discussed as possible mechanisms to restore inequity (Colquitt et al., 2005). In an early experimental study, Adams and Rosenbaum (1962) tested the predictions of equity theory. Participants were either told they were qualified (no inequity) or unqualified (overpayment inequity) for a certain job with fixed payment. As predicted, the overpaid participants showed higher performance.

Besides equity, scholars discussed several other rules contributing to the perceived distributive justice. Deutsch (1975) and Leventhal (1976a, 1976b) introduced the allocation rules equality and need. According to them, the primary goal of an exchange decides which rule is appropriate. Equal outcomes should be implemented whenever the group solidarity and harmony are central, whereas a need-based allocation should be implemented when personal welfare and development is primarily focused. Although it is widely acknowledged that most allocation situations are led by multiple allocation rules, equity remains the dominant conceptualization of distributive justice (Colquitt, Greenberg & Zapata-Phelan, 2005).

Two meta-studies (Cohen-Charash et al., 2001; Colquitt et al., 2001), reviewing a large number of labor and field experiments, highlighted the practical importance of distributive justice by revealing several distributive justice-linked reactions.

Procedural Justice

After Adams the publication of equity theory in 1965, the growing field of organizational justice research stayed focused on the outcome distribution. In 1975 Thibaut and Walker discerned the importance of the allocation process in a study on fairness perceptions in legal dispute resolution contexts, which gave the research a new perspective. By comparing different legal procedures, Thibaut and Walker could show that the characteristic of a trial, leading to a certain verdict, influences its perceived fairness. This finding suggests that people tend to consider the outcome of a fair procedure rather as just. According to Thibaut and Walker, the main antecedent of procedural justice is “voice”, therefore the possibility to present one’s arguments and opinion. This effect was later labeled the voice or fair process effect (Folger, 1977) and could be frequently replicated (Colquitt et al., 2001).

Leventhal (1980) applied the model of procedural justice to non-legal context, such as organizational settings (Colquitt, 2001). In order to adapt the idea of procedural justice to the field of organizational scholars, Leventhal and colleagues (1980) identified six rules for fair procedures, determining outcomes (Cohen-Charash, 2001; Colquitt, Greenberg, Zapata-Phelan, 2005): (a) the consistency rule, stating that procedures should be consistent across persons and over time; (b) the bias-suppression rule, stating that personal self-interests of decision-makers should not influence the allocation process; (c) the accuracy rule, stating that all available and valid information should be used during the allocation process; (d) the correctability rule, referring to the existence of opportunities to appeal and correct unfair decisions; (e) the representativness rule, stating that all needs, values and outlooks of all parties affected by the process should be considered; and (f) the ethicality rule, dealing with procedures conformity to personal or prevailing moral and ethical values.

According to Leventhal (1980), a procedure is likely to be perceived as fair, if it meets these criteria. In later studies, procedural justice has been operationalized following these theoretical rules. The assumptions published by Thibaut and Walker (1975) and Leventhal (1980) could be reliably supported in several experimental and empirical tests (Folger and Corpanzano, 1998; Sheppard and Lewicki, 1987; Greenberg, 1986).

Summing up, a procedure, which is consistent, unbiased, accurate, correctable, representative and ethically justified and furthermore, provides process control in form of voice, is likely to be perceived as fair. The outcomes of a fair procedure are perceived as more just than the outcomes of an unfair procedure (Brockner &Wiesenfeld, 1996). The dimension of procedural justice and its determinants received broad recognition, as they offer valuable insights for the development of organizational decision-making structures (Colquitt et al., 2005).

Interactional Justice

With their publication about the role of interpersonal treatment people receive in organizational procedures, Bies and Moag (1986) added a new perspective to justice research. Interactional justice highlights the importance of the quality of interpersonal treatment, besides a fair structure and outcome distribution, to create fairness perceptions. Bies and Moag remarked that structurally fair procedures can lead to perceived unfairness, when implemented through a rude or dishonest supervisor. In order to clarify what people experience as interactional just, they identified truthfulness, justification, respect and propriety as the basic requirements.

Later, Greenberg (1990,1993a) distinguished between the social and the structural sides of interactional justice. Under the label interpersonal justice, he captured the respect and property rules from Bies and Moag. It reflects the degree to which decision makers (supervisor, authorities) execute given procedures in a polite and respectful way. Informational justice refers to the justification and truthfulness components. It reflects the extent to which decision makers explain and provide adequate information about why procedures were used in a certain way or why outcomes were distributed in a certain fashion (Colquitt et al., 2001).

Interactional justice was shown to be an important variable for several organizational outcomes (Bies, 2005). Numerous studies used interactional justice measures to predict individual reactions to organizational practices, such as theft (Greenberg, 1990), organizational citizenship behavior (Malesta and Byrne, 1997; Moorman, 1991; Rupp and Corpanzano, 2002), occupational stress (Elovainio et al., 2001) etc.

Fairness Theory

Fairness theory (Folger & Cropanzano, 1998, 2001) reflects another perspective of individual’s justice judgment process. Contrary to the concepts of the justice dimensions, that try to capture which organizational practices and characteristics an individual perceives as fair, fairness theory focuses on the conditions of the judgment process. In other words it seeks to explain when an authority will be held accountable for injustice (Colquitt, Greenberg, Zapata-Phelan, 2005).

Fairness theory implies a framework of counterfactual thinking, based on would, could and should judgments. First, individuals consider if an event is disadvantageous relative to better scenarios. Hence they judge if an alternative would have felt better. Second, individuals attempt to allocate for this disadvantage. Therefore they judge if the authority could have acted differently to establish a possibly better scenario. Finally individuals judge the morality of what happened. Thus they consider if the acting authority should have behaved differently; thus, if it breached ethical standards.

Furthermore, fairness theory states that this way of counterfactual thinking can trigger subsequent emotions. If an individual concludes that the organization is to blame for an unfair outcome, negative emotions, such as anger, will typically be experienced (Cropanzano et al., 2000).


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Why Justice Matters. Determinants and Consequences of Organizational Justice
University of Cologne
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organizational justice, distributive justice, procedural justice, interactional justice, interpersonal justice, informational justice, task performance, counterproductive work behavior, organizational citizenship behavior, social exchange theory, group engagement model, equity theory, voice effect, fair process effect, fairness heuristic theory
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Yannik Schenk (Author), 2014, Why Justice Matters. Determinants and Consequences of Organizational Justice, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/283767


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