Ideas for Leaders #334

Justice, Fairness and Employee Engagement

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Key Concept

Employees’ perceptions of justice in their organization can impact important outcomes and should not be ignored. In this Idea, positive changes in distributive, procedural, and interactional justice are linked to job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Read on to find how these can be built upon in your workplace.

Idea Summary

Organizational justice has become a major focus of management research in recent years, due to its connection with numerous employee outcomes; satisfaction, commitment, trust and reduced levels of turnover have all been associated with an employee’s perceived level of justice in their workplace. But how exactly do changes in perceptions of justices—both and positive or negative—affect employee attitudes? In a 2013 paper, Tae-Yeol Kim from CEIBS explores this question, alongside researchers from the University of Macau and City University of Hong Kong. They propose that changes in outcome allocations, company procedures and interpersonal treatment that make employees feel that they are being treated more fairly can go a long way towards improving their job satisfaction, employee engagement and commitment.

Kim et al collected survey data from 151 employees across a wide variety of organizations in Hong Kong, including participants from the finance, service, information technology, manufacturing, and education industries. In particular, they measured fairness perceptions, job satisfaction and affective organizational commitment. They found that changes in distributive, procedural, and interactional justice significantly explained variances in job satisfaction. They describe these types of justice perceptions as follows:

  • Distributive justice: employees’ perceived fairness of organizational outcomes that they receive. In other words, are they getting back as much as they are putting in?
  • Procedural justice: employees’ perceived fairness of the processes by which outcomes are allocated.
  • Interactional justice: employees’ perceived fairness of the interpersonal treatment they receive from authority figures (such as dignity, respect, etc.)

Positive changes in these forms of justice were found to be strongly related to job satisfaction and affective organizational commitment. In particular, procedural justice was more strongly related to employee attitudes than other types of justice.

Previous research in this area has focused primarily on US workers, and the results have suggested that negative changes in fairness perceptions have a stronger impact on employee attitudes than positive changes. This study, however, showed the opposite; positive changes had a stronger affect on the job attitudes of employees in Hong Kong. This may be due to cultural differences, but is nevertheless relevant for global organizations that may wish to do business in the region.

Business Application

According to Kim et al’s research, organizations and executives that want to build affective commitment and enhance their employees’ job satisfaction need to promote and highlight these positive changes in order to leverage their benefits on job attitudes. Undoubtedly, improving employees’ perceptions of fairness is very important, and these findings suggest this can be done by:

  • establishing fair procedures in allocating rewards;
  • providing detailed and timely explanations for decision procedures and outcomes; and
  • tailoring communication to meet employees’ specific needs.

In addition, training supervisors to help them implement fair practices in their interactions with subordinates may also be helpful.

They also found that justice perceptions tended to decrease over time in newcomers to an organization, which might be explained due to the wearing off of a ‘honeymoon effect’. This can be prevented by providing realistic previews of fairness issues in the organization to reduce unrealistic expectations.

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Idea conceived

  • December 2013

Idea posted

  • March 2014

DOI number



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