Organizational Justice and Human Resource Management


Robert Folger & Russell Cropanzano

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  • Foundations for Organizational Science: A Sage Publications Series

    Series Editor

    David Whetten, Brigham Young University


    Peter J. Frost, University of British Columbia

    Anne S. Huff, University of Colorado and Cranfield University (UK)

    Benjamin Schneider, University of Maryland

    M. Susan Taylor, University of Maryland

    Andrew Van de Ven, University of Minnesota

    The FOUNDATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONAL SCIENCE series supports the development of students, faculty, and prospective organizational science professionals through the publication of texts authored by leading organizational scientists. Each volume provides a highly personal, hands-on introduction to a core topic or theory and challenges the reader to explore promising avenues for future theory development and empirical application.

    Books in This Series


    Edited by L. L. Cummings and Peter J. Frost


    Karl E. Weick


    W. Richard Scott


    Peter J. Frost and M. Susan Taylor


    Noted Scholars Discuss the Synergies of Teaching and Research

    Rae André and Peter J. Frost

    THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DECISION MAKING: People in Organizations

    Lee Roy Beach


    Robert Folger and Russell Cropanzano

    RECRUITING EMPLOYEES: Individual and Organizational Perspectives

    Alison E. Barber


    View Copyright Page


    To my parents on their 50th wedding anniversary.


    To my wife, Carol


    Introduction to the Series

    The title of this series, Foundations for Organizational Science (FOS), denotes a distinctive focus. FOS books are educational aids for mastering the core theories, essential tools, and emerging perspectives that constitute the field of organizational science (broadly defined to include organizational behavior, organizational theory, human resource management, and business strategy). The primary objective of this series is to support ongoing professional development among established scholars.

    The series was born out of many long conversations among several colleagues, including Peter Frost, Anne Huff, Rick Mowday, Ben Schneider, Susan Taylor, and Andy Van de Ven, over a number of years. From those discussions, we concluded that there has been a major gap in our professional literature, as characterized by the following comment: “If I, or one of my students, want to learn about population ecology, diversification strategies, group dynamics, or personnel selection, we are pretty much limited to academic journal articles or books that are written either for content experts or practitioners. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have access to the teaching notes from a course taught by a master teacher of this topic?”

    The plans for compiling a set of learning materials focusing on professional development emerged from our extended discussions of common experiences and observations, including the following:

    • While serving as editors of journals, program organizers for professional association meetings, and mentors for new faculty members, we have observed wide variance in theoretical knowledge and tool proficiency in our field. To the extent that this outcome reflects available learning opportunities, we hope that this series will help “level the playing field.”
    • We have all “taught” in doctoral and junior faculty consortia prior to our professional meetings and have been struck by how often the participants comment, “I wish that the rest of the meetings [paper sessions and symposia] were as informative.” Such observations got us thinking—Are our doctoral courses more like paper sessions or doctoral consortia? What type of course would constitute a learning experience analogous to attending a doctoral consortium? What materials would we need to teach such a course? We hope that the books in this series have the “touch and feel” of a doctoral consortium workshop.
    • We all have had some exposure to the emerging “virtual university” in which faculty and students in major doctoral programs share their distinctive competencies, either through periodic jointly sponsored seminars or through distance learning technology, and we would like to see these opportunities diffused more broadly. We hope that reading our authors' accounts will be the next best thing to observing them in action.
    • We see some of the master scholars in our field reaching the later stages of their careers, and we would like to “bottle” their experience and insight for future generations. Therefore, this series is an attempt to disseminate “best practices” across space and time.

    To address these objectives, we ask authors in this series to pass along their “craft knowledge” to students and faculty beyond the boundaries of their local institutions by writing from the perspective of seasoned teachers and mentors. Specifically, we encourage them to invite readers into their classrooms (to gain an understanding of the past, present, and future of scholarship in particular areas from the perspective of their firsthand experience), as well as into their offices and hallway conversations (to gain insights into the subtleties and nuances of exemplary professional practice).

    By explicitly focusing on an introductory doctoral seminar setting, we encourage our authors to address the interests and needs of nonexpert students and colleagues who are looking for answers to questions such as the following: Why is this topic important? How did it originate and how has it evolved? How is it different from related topics? What do we actually know about this topic? How does one effectively communicate this information to students and practitioners? What are the methodological pitfalls and conceptual dead ends that should be avoided? What are the most/least promising opportunities for theory development and empirical study in this area? What questions/situations/phenomena are not well suited for this theory or tool?

    What is the most interesting work in progress? What are the most critical gaps in our current understanding that need to be addressed during the next 5 years?

    We are pleased to share our dream with you, and we encourage your suggestions for how these books can better satisfy your learning needs—as a newcomer to the field preparing for prelims or developing a research proposal, or as an established scholar seeking to broaden your knowledge and proficiency.

    David A.Whetten Series Editor


    The What and the Why of Social Justice

    This is a book about organizational justice. In particular, it is about the conditions of employment that lead individuals to believe they are being treated fairly or unfairly. In the course of writing this book, we have reviewed a vast body of literature indicating that justice is an important motivator for working people. We will show that when individuals perceive a lack of fairness, their morale declines, they become more likely to leave their jobs, and they may even retaliate against the organization. Fair treatment, by contrast, breeds commitment, intentions to remain on the job, and helpful citizenship behaviors that go beyond the call of formal job duties. In short, justice holds people together, whereas injustice can pull them apart.

    As a prelude to our book, this preface is organized around two broad questions: What is justice and why does it matter? We take up this issue in three sections. First, we define organizational fairness in a general way, distinguishing it from related philosophical ideas. Second, we examine why justice matters in human societies. We argue that fairness concerns arise out of a predicament faced by many social animals: How can one pursue individual goals in the context of a social group? Fairness provides a means for resolving this dilemma. Finally, we conclude by again asking the question: What is justice? This time our answer will be more specific, focusing on the different varieties of fairness that influence work life.

    What is Justice? Social Science and Philosophical Definitions

    For a scientific investigation to go forward, it must define—in even a cursory sense—the object of inquiry. Social justice researchers have succeeded in that task, but their definition has had trouble competing with more popular conceptions. The term justice has a colloquial meaning that is very close to its philosophical origins. It is social scientists who employ peculiar terminology. In this section, we try to illustrate how researchers have approached these definitional matters. We discuss and define the meaning of social justice, both as understood by philosophers and as understood by social scientists.

    Let us start by considering where scholars concur. Social scientists and philosophers would agree that a “just” act is one that is perceived to be good or righteous. Similarly, both groups of scholars would also suggest that an act can be good without being fair (or unfair). For example, Aristotle believed that a good person should live a life of temperance or moderation. By that view, a drunkard or hedonist is not a righteous person. People who consider excessive drinking to be bad, however, probably would not say that it is “unfair.” Fairness and unfairness seem irrelevant concepts for imprudent behavior harming no one else.

    On the other hand, suppose the drunkard begins to inconvenience his or her coworkers. Harm to coworkers by a drunkard, when the coworkers did nothing to deserve being harmed, seems to qualify as an injustice. Why? The answer is that judgments about justice usually involve a social context and unwarranted actions by one party that harm or threaten other parties (such as by imposing consequences that they consider to be undeserved). If a person drinks and harms no one else, then although this behavior might be wrong-headed, stupid, and even sinful, it is neither fair nor unfair. On the other hand, once that individual begins to affect the lives of others, then fairness can become an issue. We can describe the selfish alcoholic—willing to ignore the prospects of imposing undue harm on others—as unfair.

    In organizations, justice is about the rules and social norms governing how outcomes (e.g., rewards and punishments) should be distributed, the procedures used for making such distribution decisions (as well as other types of decisions), and how people are treated interpersonally (Bies & Tripp, 1995a, 1995b). When no outcomes are being assigned and when there are no processes for assigning them (i.e., no one is interacting), then justice becomes moot. When people interact, however, they begin to treat one another in certain ways. They might, for example, derogate each other (i.e., take away someone's social status or self-respect) or they might treat each other respectfully (i.e., assign each other positive status). Some transactions and other types of interactions are judged to be virtuous or fair, whereas others are not “proper” and are unfair. When we say that someone has treated us “unfairly,” we mean that he or she has violated some ethical standard(s) regarding moral behavior. That person has not treated us as we believe people “should” be treated.

    From this introduction, it is probably clear where philosophers and social scientists diverge. Ethical philosophers are interested in providing prescriptive or normative definitions of justice. Loosely, we can say that they give us guidance as to how we should behave (Donaldson & Dunfee, 1994; Waterman, 1988). Philosophers attempt to develop standards and “first principles” that allow us to make ethical decisions. Of course, this enterprise defines justice with respect to some philosophical system. The same act can be seen as more or less fair, depending on which philosophical system one utilizes. For this reason, people vary in what they see as ethical behavior (Hosmer, 1995; Jones, 1991). For example, Rokeach (1973) argued that individuals who value both equality and freedom tend to view wide gaps between the rich and the poor as unfair. They do not like it when a relatively small number of people control a disproportionate amount of the available wealth. These individuals often prefer democratic socialism as a means of rectifying what they see as an “unfair” income distribution. On the other hand, those who have strong values for freedom but less for equality are more oriented toward free-market capitalism. Wide variability in incomes is not unfair in this philosophical world view because equality is a secondary value. For people with this orientation, a lack of justice can result from government restrictions and “confiscation” of their wealth through taxes. Justice, in this philosophical sense, refers to the extent to which a given action, outcome, or circumstance is in alignment with a certain ethical paradigm (Hosmer, 1995).

    If this book were about philosophical views on justice, the content would focus on applied ethical principles, perhaps even a touch of theology. It would probably not be empirical, although it might be informed by data (cf. Donaldson & Dunfee, 1994; Randall & Gibson, 1990). However, we have offered the reader this definition of justice only by way of contrast. For social and organizational scientists, justice is defined phenomenologically. That is, an act is “just” because someone thinks it is just and responds accordingly. This definition is subjective and socially constructed. As one might imagine, two or more people can disagree. Justice, then, is a perceptual cognition. People perceive a certain event. They then make judgments regarding that event and store them in memory. Justice is a means by which individuals make sense out of their social worlds. We can see from this analysis that justice perceptions share much in common with stereotypes, schemas, heuristics, and attitudes.

    The distinction between the philosophical and the social scientific view of justice is important for understanding terminology. Suppose there was a moderately sized family business. On retirement, the owner of the firm gave his inexperienced son the job of president, thereby passing over employees with greater seniority, more experience, and better performance records. Was this promotion unfair? A philosopher might say yes or no, depending on his or her ethical inclinations. For example, the individual who strongly believed in the doctrine of employment at will would see the company as the personal property of the owner. Although the owner's decision may have been foolhardy, it is not unfair. The owner can do whatever he wants with his property. One might debate this conclusion (most philosophers probably would), but the resolution ultimately depends on one's values. Depending on one's point of view, the act could be seen as fair.

    A social scientist has a narrower question. In this case, the act is unfair when observers judge it to be unfair. The social scientist assesses perceived fairness by collecting data. If most people perceive the act as an injustice, then it is an injustice—as far as the social scientist is concerned. Another investigator disagreeing with that appraisal would probably refer to the quality of the data rather than to some abstract ethical system.

    In this book, of course, we will be using the social scientific definition. Justice is about how rewards and punishments are distributed by and within social collectives, and it is also about how people govern relations with one another. It is about who gets what and whether the participants in (and observers of) these transactions believe them to be righteous. It is also about the reactions of participants and observers to the righteousness of other kinds of human interactions—those that seem to lie beyond material transaction and distribution. Once we understand what justice is, we can easily comprehend why it is so central to human affairs: People care deeply about how they are treated by others.

    It should come as no surprise to learn that scholars of all stripes and eras have been concerned with social justice. Many of the earliest human writings, such as Hammurabi's Code and the Bible, showed an interest in social justice. These writings discussed how people should treat other people and how resources should be allocated. The myths and folklore of every culture also contain at least some tales designed to teach moral and ethical lessons. Likewise, in the Western philosophical tradition, philosophers since Plato and Aristotle have wrestled with issues of fairness. Indeed, it seems natural for human beings to worry about justice. Children show a concern for fairness at a very early age (see Wilson, 1993, for a review). Research reviewed by de Waal (1996) indicates that nonhuman primates show a rudimentary sense of justice; they practice reciprocity and punish those members who have the temerity to harm the group, displaying what ethologists call moralistic aggression. Despite differing norms, all human groups show at least some concern with fairness (Wilson, 1993), if this is understood to mean playing by the rules and abiding by ethical standards.

    Although anyone can easily imagine unfair situations, it is difficult to envision a social world in which justice would not even be a consideration. We know unfairness because it violates our sense of what is fair. Anything else would require us to imagine a world in which no one cared about who got what, or in which there were no rules governing the allocation of benefits and punishments. This is not easy for us to contemplate. Indeed, when we meet people with absolutely no sense of justice we label them psychopaths or narcissists and assume that they are mentally ill (Wilson, 1993). Some might even suggest that a person who does not consider fairness should be separated from the rest of us by means of incarceration.

    Why Justice?

    All of these observations point to the pervasiveness of justice considerations in human endeavors. However, none of them specifies why this is so. We are much like the proverbial fish who, having never been anywhere else, fails to see that it is in the water. Because we often think in fairness terms, we have difficulty imagining how it could be otherwise. We can understand why justice is important by remembering that fairness concerns itself with what things get allocated and how these allocations take place. Thus, to say that justice matters is more or less synonymous with maintaining that people care about how they are treated by others. The roots of justice can be found in our inclination to affiliate with other people.

    With these observations in mind, we are now ready to answer the “why” question. This preface will approach the matter broadly, dividing our argument into four sections. First, we discuss why people live and work in groups. We emphasize that social collectives, in the broadest sense of that term, provide Homo sapiens with a variety of advantages. Second, given the advantages of group living, it seems likely that gregariousness had clear survival value. On the basis of this, we will argue that sociability is built into the human psyche. Nature has endowed humans with a set of inclinations or needs that other people are helpful in fulfilling. Third, we will examine human needs in more detail. Generally speaking, human needs can be organized into two broad categories. One set of needs is economic or quasi-economic. For example, people require shelter, food, and so on. Another set is socioemotional. For example, people tend to be desirous of status and a sense of dignity. Such needs draw us to others. Fourth, we discuss how individual inclinations tug people into social groups as a means of fulfilling their needs. Consequently, most of us seek out others, but we tend to do so to fulfill our own objectives. As such, outcomes in the group need to be negotiated. Justice provides the vehicle by which these negotiations can occur.1

    Why People Need other People

    The bottom line in species survival is the reproduction of viable offspring (Wright, 1994). Of course, to reach this goal one needs to stay alive long enough to mate. This requires obtaining adequate food and escaping predators, among other things. Human beings are especially vulnerable as infants. As Gould (1981) observed, humans are born relatively immature, as not much more than embryos. In addition, the large size of infant heads makes deliveries difficult and dangerous for mothers (Diamond, 1992). Fortunately, humans and related species can pool their otherwise modest physical resources by forming social groups. For most of evolutionary history, these groups consisted of small clans composed mostly of blood relations who made their living as hunter-gatherers (Diamond, 1992). Once groups are organized, all sorts of advantages begin to accrue. People can gather themselves into hunting parties (or, perhaps more accurately, scavenging parties; see Lewin, 1988), fight as a team, and share the all-important chores of child rearing and education.

    Given these considerations, we might suspect that people would work together on the basis of nothing more than straightforward, rational considerations. This idea is no doubt largely true, as reason allows people to select among a plethora of alternative groups. For instance, we pick and choose among potential employers by taking our self-interest into account. A job applicant might accept the position that offers the highest pay (although he or she weighs other things as well; see Chapter 4 in this volume). In addition, we can also choose to modify the collectives of which we are already a part. For example, the size of a corporation might be expanded in order to boost manufacturing efficiency (Fukuyama, 1995).

    Despite the strength of these arguments, they tell only part of the story. Purely rational considerations require a reasonably good intellect. Neither the cheetah nor the gray wolf sits down and reasons through the best hunting strategy—much less conducts an empirical study. Rather, the cheetah evolved as a solitary stalker and the gray wolf as a pack hunter. Within each species, style shows little variance. By extension, rational considerations cannot account for a key aspect of human life: People (or the ancestors of people) were affiliating in collectives before modern brain capacities had evolved (de Waal, 1996; Lewin, 1988). Undoubtedly, reason influences the mechanisms by which we select our comrades and friends. It also provides us with innovations and ideas for how these groups can be changed and adjusted. Our orientation toward others in general, however, predates sophisticated cognitive and linguistic capabilities. It is a more basic inclination, in the narrow sense that our thinking capacities developed within the context of our social natures, not the reverse.

    We need to be extremely careful not to overstate this point. We are not arguing for biological determinism. A large brain provides humans with tremendous flexibility for engaging in innovative planning. Likewise, we do not intend to understate the role of culture. Obviously these influences are very important. It is also clear, however, that the vast majority of people, from all walks of life, eschew a solitary existence. Most of us seek some contact with others, although we vary widely in whom we choose and how much contact we prefer. With these caveats in mind, let us now take up the matter in greater detail.

    How Nature Built Humans to Work with others: Evolution within a Social Setting

    Most anthropologists agree that humans share at least two attributes: big brains and a tendency to affiliate in social groups. These characteristics are, of course, related. Big brains allow us to keep track of who is in our in-groups and who else, conversely, is not (Bigelow, 1972). Moreover, they help us to remember the dominance hierarchies under which we all live, and they guide us in crafting the necessary political tactics to compete within that hierarchy (de Waal, 1996; Lewin, 1988). Using our intelligence, humans can also distinguish those among us who are honest and worthy of our trust from those who are selfish “free-riders” (Cosmides, 1989).

    There is a subtle theme running through all of these examples. Human beings were probably organizing themselves into social groups when they were still Australopithecus afarensis. In other words, we were living in clans before we were humans or even hominids (Lewin, 1988; Wilson, 1978; Wright, 1994). Additionally, our big brains—the hallmark of humanity—did not condition us to this gregarious lifestyle; rather, the gregarious lifestyle helped lead to the evolution of the brain. Keep in mind that evolution is a response to environmental pressures. For our ancestors, that environment was largely a social environment. To state the matter loosely: We became human because we were social animals. Our evolutionary history has built us so that we need things that are best fulfilled by others.

    Two Sets of Needs

    Loosely speaking, people can be said to have two broad sets of needs. On the one hand, of course, are the basic needs that are requisite for individual survival: These are demands for concrete material things, such as food and shelter. This would also include legal tender (i.e., money) that can be readily exchanged for goods. These material needs can be said to have “a consummatory facet … [and] can be enjoyed immediately” (Lind, 1995, p. 96). Personality theorists (see Campbell & Pritchard, 1976; Cropanzano, James, & Citera, 1993; Murray, 1938) have given a great deal of attention to concrete, material cravings. In fact, this family of needs has been studied under a variety of names, such as physiological needs (Maslow, 1954) and existence needs (Alderfer, 1969, 1972). In the present discussion, we are not attempting to invoke a specific need theory. The only issue here is that a variety of human desires can be subsumed under this general family. To separate our thinking from the personality literature, we shall refer to these simply as economic needs (in keeping with Cropanzano & Schminke, in press).

    The second class of needs is more directly tied to our social natures. To a greater or lesser extent, people desire to be valued and esteemed by others. As Lind (1995) remarked succinctly, some things are desired “because they have greater implications for feelings of inclusion and social identity” (p. 96). Among other things, this would include a sense of dignity and the respect of one's peers (cf. “belongingness needs,” Maslow, 1954; “relatedness needs,” Alderfer, 1969, 1972). In this discussion, we shall refer to them simply as socioemotional needs (Cropanzano & Schminke, in press). These socioemotional needs drive home the reason that humans feel compelled to affiliate with other people, because there is no way for us as humans to fulfill these desires completely by ourselves. To some extent, people must look to other humans for status and esteem.

    The Predicament: Trying to Meet Personal Needs in the Context of a Social Group

    Group cooperation often enhances the ability to provide for economic needs. For this reason, a general tendency to seek out others has evolved (Simon, 1983). In addition, this tendency manifests itself as a set of socioemotional needs that go unfulfilled unless peers act in ways that meet those needs. For such reasons, people choose to affiliate with others. People hope that ultimately their comrades will help them attain their goals.2 Unfortunately, those comrades have many of the same objectives for themselves. They seek collaboration in order to achieve their goals, which might be incompatible with the goals of those seeking their help.

    The situation can be understood thus: If our comrades are not helpful to us, then we are more likely to seek a new set of associates. Likewise, if we are not helpful to our comrades, then they will be motivated to abandon us. They depend on us to give them respect. For this reason, each person cannot be overly demanding of others. Everyone should show at least a modicum of concern for the needs of his or her peers. Ultimately, successful collectives are based on a grand compromise—everyone agrees to keep his/her personal self-interest partially in check so that something is left for other members of the group.

    Justice norms develop as guidelines for fair interaction and rules by which exchanges are made. In the act of framing norms, social groups decide what is “right” and “ethical.” These norms help us to regulate both our own behavior and the behavior of others. For example, we know that if we take too big a portion of the profits for ourselves, we risk the disdain of our coworkers. Justice makes us aware of those boundaries. Furthermore, justice affords us a sense of predictability. When we have clear rules, we know how decisions are made and what outcomes we are apt to receive in the long run. In a fair system, for example, we are likely to be less upset when a particular transaction does not go our way. This affords us more confidence that outcomes will be distributed adequately in the future.

    Of course, it is difficult to monitor some transactions, and it is not always easy to know whether you are being treated fairly. Added to these concerns is another important fact: Members of a group have an incentive to cheat. This is because “free riding,” if undetected, allows the cheater to maximize his or her benefits without endangering his or her future. Justice norms offer a partial solution. Sound fairness principles can provide clearer standards by which a peer's behavior can be evaluated. This could make it easier to detect free riders.

    In sum, other people are the avenue by which individuals fulfill many of their needs. Justice provides us with a system for getting our needs met in an orderly and fair way. Once group members agree on the rules of fairness (no mean task), then everyone need only abide by them. Doing so means that you can address the needs of others while others are addressing your personal interests. We shall demonstrate this matter more explicitly in our next section.

    What is Justice (Revisited)? Distributive and Procedural Justice in Work Organizations

    At this point, it might be useful to consider the social scientific approach in more detail. As we have seen, philosophical theories of social justice are intimately concerned with how people relate to one another in exchange situations. Any outcome assigned by a group or individual, be it money or status, can be judged with respect to fairness. Because these are important reasons that people are driven to affiliate, justice is critical for understanding interpersonal relationships and group processes (Greenberg, 1988a). We can say, therefore, that justice involves at least two or more actors and some category of resource. We can define these terms broadly. The actors need not be individual people but can be social units, such as organizations or even nations. Likewise, the resources can be economic or socioemotional. The interactions that take place are governed by some rules or procedures, formal and explicit as well as informal and tacit. For example, an organization selects among job applicants on the basis of interviews. In this case, the two actors are the organization and the individual who has applied for a new job. The outcome is whether or not the job was obtained. The process refers, in part, to the manner in which the interviews were conducted.

    This example underscores an important aspect of contemporary justice theories. The person who is seeking a job actually has to make multiple fairness judgments. He or she can evaluate the fairness of the outcome (Was it right that I did not get this new job?) and the fairness of the process (Were interviews conducted in the right manner to render a decision?). The first judgment refers to distributive justice, whereas the second refers to procedural justice. In addition to procedural and distributive justice, there is a third category or form of fairness—interactional justice—that refers to interpersonal treatment received at the hands of others (Bies, 1987b; Bies & Moag, 1986; Greenberg, 1988c). It is often identified with, or seen as closely related to, procedural justice (e.g., Greenberg, 1990c; Tyler & Bies, 1990).

    Distributive Justice

    Distributive justice is the perceived fairness of the outcomes or allocations that an individual receives. It can cause workers to lower their job performance (Greenberg, 1988b; Pfeffer & Langton, 1993), engage in withdrawal behaviors (Pfeffer & Davis-Blake, 1992; Schwarzwald, Koslowsky, & Shalit, 1992), cooperate less with their coworkers (Pfeffer & Langton, 1993), reduce work quality (Cowherd & Levine, 1992), steal (Greenberg, 1990c), and experience stress (Zohar, 1995). To state the matter starkly, distributive injustice causes about every pernicious criterion ever chronicled by organizational scientists!

    When people render a distributive justice judgment, they are evaluating whether an outcome is appropriate, moral, or ethical. Making this decision is trickier than it may appear, for there is seldom an objective standard of righteousness. To decide if something is fair, people must generate a benchmark or frame of reference. We call this standard a referent. Although a variety of referents are possible (Kulik & Ambrose, 1992), social comparisons have received the most attention. For example, if a person needs to decide whether or not his or her pay is fair, he or she can simply find someone in a similar job and compare their compensation levels. If the two salaries are equal, then there is no inequity. If one discovers that one is being “overpaid” (again, this is relative to a given referent), one is likely to experience guilt (Greenberg, 1982; 1988a); however, it should be noted that people tend to get less upset when an inequity is in their favor (Hegtvedt, 1993). On the other hand, being “underpaid” is more troublesome. Individuals are likely to react negatively when their rewards are substantially less than those of a comparison person.

    Distributive fairness is judged by referent standards. What a person receives cannot determine outcome justice without considering the outcome relative to some standard of comparison. Sweeney, McFarlin, and Inderrieden (1990), for example, predicted pay satisfaction from actual salaries and self-reported referents. Salary was an important predictor, but including the referent accounted for additional variance in pay satisfaction. Thus, two people with the same outcomes may perceive different levels of justice if they are not using the same referent. In a related vein, Stepina and Perrewe (1991) obtained longitudinal data from discontented individuals who improved their satisfaction by changing their referent standards (e.g., enhanced sense of accomplishment from comparing with the less accomplished).

    Procedural Justice?

    When social scientists refer to procedural justice, they are still indicating an evaluation or subjective judgment. However, in this case it is an appraisal of the process by which an allocation decision is (or was) made. As an area of inquiry, procedural justice emerged on the scene more recently than distributive justice, although it has now been studied for some time. Folger and Greenberg (1985) were the first major researchers to apply procedural fairness to work settings. Since that time, there has been a veritable flood of procedural justice research. This work has had important practical implications. Evidence now shows that when people believe that decision-making processes are unjust, they show less commitment to their employers, more theft, higher turnover intentions, lower performance, and fewer helpful citizenship behaviors (for recent reviews, see Cropanzano & Greenberg, 1997; Tyler & Smith, in press). People care about how they are treated, and these procedural justice perceptions do much to shape their relationships with their employers. For this reason it is important for us to articulate more clearly the attributes of fair decision procedures.

    The “Voice” Tradition of Thibaut and Walker (1975)

    The study of procedural justice grew out of Thibaut and Walker's (1975) work in the mid-1970s. Thibaut and Walker were interested in understanding disputants' reactions to various forms of legal proceedings. They divided dispute resolution into two stages: a process stage in which evidence was presented and a decision stage in which a third party rendered a verdict. Thibaut and Walker were interested in a circumstance involving three individuals: two disputants and a third-party decision maker such as a judge. Generally speaking, the disputants were willing to forgo decision control if they were allowed to retain process control. In other words, participants saw the resolution process as fair and were contented with the results if they were given a sufficient chance to present their cases. This was termed voice (Folger, 1977). We should not understate the importance of voice in the study of procedural justice. Thibaut and Walker (1975) launched an area of inquiry that continues to the present day (e.g., Shapiro & Brett, 1993).

    Leventhal's Six Attributes of Fair Procedures

    In their early work, Thibaut and Walker (1975) virtually equated voice with procedural fairness. However, in later research, Leventhal (1976, 1980) expanded the list of process characteristics that could increase perceptions of procedural justice. Leventhal's list of six attributes is now famous. To be considered fair, a procedure should be (a) consistent, (b) bias free, (c) accurate, (d) correctable in case of an error, (e) representative of all concerned (a feature related to voice), and (f) based on prevailing ethical standards. For the most part, Leventhal's early thinking has proven to have been astute. Research generally attests to the importance of these six attributes (Lind & Tyler, 1988). One of the prevailing trends in recent organizational justice research is found in the application of Leventhal's six characteristics to various practical situations. For example, Alder and Ambrose (1996) used Leventhal's list to devise standards for building fair computer-based performance monitors. Likewise, Gilliland (1993) adapted the Leventhal attributes to workplace selection. In doing so, he provided guidelines for fairer assessment systems. Although this new work adjusts Leventhal's (1976, 1980) original model to fit the needs at hand, his basic six criteria seem to have withstood the test of time.

    Interactional Justice

    Interactional justice refers to the quality of the interpersonal treatment received by an individual. Certain kinds of treatment are likely to be perceived as fair, whereas others are seen as unfair. Interactional justice was introduced as an independent, third type of fairness contrasted with both procedural and distributive justice (Bies, 1987b; Bies & Moag, 1986). Nowadays, interactional justice is frequently treated as an aspect or component of procedural justice (e.g., Cropanzano & Greenberg, 1997; Greenberg, 1990c; Tyler & Bies, 1990), although some have called this scheme into question (Greenberg, 1993a). It is a straightforward matter to conceptualize interactional justice as an aspect of process if decision-making processes are conceptualized to include processes of implementation and communication (e.g., how the decision is explained). Also, at least some research has found that ratings of procedural and interactional fairness are highly correlated (e.g., Konovsky & Cropanzano, 1991). In such a classification scheme, procedural justice has two aspects: a structural or formal component (represented by Leventhal's six attributes and related work) and a social component (represented by interactional justice).

    Whether considered independently or as part of the procedures, interactional justice itself can be thought of as having at least two components (Brockner & Wiesenfeld, 1996; Cropanzano & Greenberg, 1997). The first subpart is interpersonal sensitivity. Fair treatment should be polite and respectful. The recipients of insensitive treatment are prone to poor attitudes, conflict, and low performance (e.g., Baron, 1993; Bies & Moag, 1986). The second subpart of interactional justice includes explanations or social accounts. Explanations tell the recipient why something unfortunate or untoward occurred. They provide a rationale. Individuals are much more tolerant of an unfavorable outcome when an adequate justification is provided (Bies & Shapiro, 1988; Shapiro, 1991; Shapiro, Buttner, & Barry, 1994).

    Plan of This Book

    We have covered a lot of ground without yet leaving the preface! Let us, therefore, summarize the major points. In colloquial language, justice is usually thought of from a more or less philosophical perspective—a fair act is one that seems righteous. Often, justice refers to situations in which some transaction is involved, such as an exchange of goods or services. Although the social science definition of justice shares much in common with its philosophical counterpart, there is one major difference. Within the social sciences, an act is just because some observer or observers judge it to be so. In this case, fairness is subjectively defined. The social science literature concerns itself with why some acts, but not others, are perceived to be fair. It also examines the results of making such an evaluation. This definition constitutes the subject matter for this book.

    Considerable interest has been paid to justice by both philosophers and social scientists. This, along with some of the research reviewed previously, indicates that fairness is of great concern to people. In this preface, we have suggested that people's interest in justice results from a fundamental natural dilemma: We have individual needs that can best be satisfied through interaction with others. These needs include relatively concrete economic needs, such as money, and relatively abstract socioemotional needs, such as a concern with personal dignity. The dictates of fairness provide people with standards for assessing whether these needs are met within the context of social settings, which often can become complex.

    Finally, we introduced the idea of distributive and procedural justice in work settings. We noted that distributive justice refers to the perceived fairness of the outcomes assigned during a transaction. Procedural justice, on the other hand, refers to the process or means by which outcome assignments are made. We indicated that the distribution-process dichotomy is fairly central to the modern understanding of social justice, although some additional distinctions involving interactional justice suggest that it can also make sense to distinguish between (a) structural features designed for procedures (e.g., formal mechanisms for meeting Leventhal's procedural criteria, such as an institutionalized appeals board) and (b) behavioral features of implementation revealed in the conduct of people who administer procedures (interactional justice elements such as efforts to provide sincere, adequate explanations and to treat those affected by decisions with the dignity and respect owed human beings).

    The rest of the book will build on the ideas outlined in this preface. It may be helpful to think of this volume as two books in one. The first “book” is a theoretical review of the justice literature. This can be found in the three opening chapters. Chapter 1 examines distributive justice, and Chapter 2 examines procedural justice. Chapter 3 not only introduces interactional justice but also tries to provide a preliminary conceptual synthesis for interpreting how the various forms of justice relate to one another. The second “book” can be found in Chapters 4, 5, and 6. In those three chapters, we apply research on justice to various topics in organizational behavior. Chapter 4 reviews the literature concerning social justice and selection systems. Chapter 5 turns its attention to performance appraisal. Finally, Chapter 6 considers the role of (u n) fairness as both a contributor to and a means of resolving workplace conflict. We close the book, in Chapter 7 and Chapter 8, with a new theory of fairness and a discussion of emerging directions for future theory and research.


    1. In this section, we do not intend to imply that human biology does or should determine the content of human ethical systems. Although such a position was suggested by Wilson (1978), it has the disadvantage of confusing what is with what should be. That is, it conflates the descriptive with the prescriptive (Singer, 1981). This has been termed the “naturalistic fallacy” (Donaldson & Dunfee, 1994; Wright, 1994). Our point is far more modest. We maintain only that our biological nature provides us with a broad set of potentialities and problems. Some of these problems are addressed by human ethical systems.

    2. Much has been written about the human penchant for selfishness. Is this all there really is to us? The answer is difficult because we are actually asking at least two questions at one time. Whether we answer this question yes or no depends on how we define our terms. When one thinks of selfishness, one usually means a willful decision to pursue one's own good at the expense of others. We shall term this moral self-interest. On the other hand, there is also genetic self-interest. For instance, certain behaviors make it more or less likely that, on average, one's genes will be passed on to the next generation. The two are not the same. Consider the case of a father who risks his life to save a child. (Such things are not rare.) This father is manifesting a trait we might call familial love. In our ancestral environment, familial love was no doubt adaptive, in that it allowed us to pass on our genes. In this narrow sense, we might say the father is motivated by self-interest or even (were we to push the matter) a sort of “genetic selfishness.” However, this does not make the father any less altruistic, for there is no willful decision to pursue his own ends to the neglect of another person. From the perspective of our species, the act might be selfish, but from the perspective of the father and child it is an act of pristine altruism.

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    Author Index

    About the Authors

    Russell Cropanzano is Associate Professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Colorado State University. He received his PhD in I/O Psychology from Purdue University in 1988. He is a member of both the Academy of Management and the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology and serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Applied Psychology. He has published more than 35 scholarly articles and chapters, which have appeared in such places as the Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Organizational Behavior, and Social Justice Research. In addition, he has edited two books: Justice in the Workplace and Organizational Politics, Justice, and Support. He is a coauthor of the forthcoming book Advances in Organizational Justice and of Justice in the Workplace (Vol. 2). He has lectured widely, delivering more than 25 talks. He has also been active internationally, having presented papers in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and The Netherlands.

    Robert Folger is Freeman Professor of Doctoral Studies and Research, and Professor of Organizational Behavior, at the A. B. Freeman School of Business, Tulane University. He received his PhD at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His research interests include work motivation, fairness, performance appraisal, compensation, layoffs, workplace aggression, and ethics. His honors and awards include the New Concept Award from the Organizational Behavior Division of the Academy of Management for his work on reactions to perceived unfair treatment. He has also served as a consultant with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Postal Service, the IRS, and with companies in various industries.

    He has authored more than 75 publications, including articles in the Academy of Management Journal, Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, Journal of Applied Psychology, Research on Negotiations in Organizations, and Research in Organizational Behavior. He edited a book on The Sense of Injustice and coauthored a book on Controversial Issues in Social Research Methods.

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