Reassess Organizational (In)Justice

Mar 23, 2018

Women Leading Research: Debra L. Shapiro

Debra L. ShapiroSMITH BRAIN TRUST – Countless studies that have assessed employees’ perception of organizational (in)justice have found that more desirable work-attitudes and behaviors tend to be associated with higher (rather than lower) levels of perceived workplace fairness. For this reason, it is a matter of practical as well as theoretical importance to understand what work-related circumstances are more (versus less) likely to enhance employees’ perceptions of organizational justice.

To answer the latter question requires, at a minimum, that the instrument used to assess employees’ perception of organizational (in)justice be as accurate as possible. Is it? Or, alternatively, might it be time to reassess the assessing of organizational (in)justice? This is the question that is provocatively raised in a paper published in 2017 in Academy of Management Annals by professor Debra L. Shapiro at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and her co-authors.

Shapiro and her co-authors raise this question because, as their article explains, the scaled instrument typically used to assess employees’ organizational (in)justice was developed decades ago in a workplace that is quite different than the 21st century workplace. More specifically, the scale that is most frequently used in surveys to assess the extent to which employees perceive organizational justice (identified in their article) is based on workplace-qualities of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s – chief among these, the tendency for employees to work for one boss and/or one organization.

As a result, the organizational justice assessing instrument that management scholars typically use refers to the perceived fairness of allocation decisions ("distributive fairness"), procedures ("procedural fairness"), and/or interpersonal treatment ("interpersonal fairness") of one boss and/or one organization. The notion of one boss or one organization poorly fits work experiences in the 21st century workplace where employees increasingly work for more than one boss or organization due to organizations' increased need-- in order to compete globally  to rely on distance-shrinking digital technologies for communication-channels and to hire contingent workers, expatriates, and virtual teams that are often transnational in composition.

These more recent workplace trends mean, too, that the source of information pertaining to Management decisions and allocation-determining procedures is increasingly social media or other internet channels and, thus, not merely organizational authorities as is assumed in the traditional assessment of organizational justice.

Regarding digital media, “its effect increases numerous potential sources of injustice (i.e., potential perpetrators/transgressors), targets of injustice (i.e., potential victims), levels of analysis (i.e., individual, group, organization), objects of focus (i.e., self, others) and objects of judgment (i.e., outcomes, procedures, interpersonal treatment).” These factors, Shapiro and her co-authors explain, “reduce the odds that today’s employees will form their organizational justice impressions by cues from (only) “one boss” or “one organization,” and strictly within the confines that are operationalized by conventional distributive, procedural, and interactional justice measures.”

Research, accordingly, needs to explore what informational and interpersonal justice means to employees who draw organizational news comes from potentially multiple sources other than organizational authorities, Shapiro and her team writes. Scholars also should account for “how employees working remotely via multiple communication channels access and evaluate information related to interpersonal treatment and social accounts.

Read more: A Critical Analysis of the Conceptualization and Measurement of 'Organizational Justice': Is it Time for Reassessment? by Shaprio, Deborah Rupp (Purdue University), Robert Folger (University of Central Florida), Daniel Skarlicki (University of British Columbia) and Ruodan Shao (University of Manitoba), is published in Academy of Management Annals.

Debra L. Shapiro is the Clarice Smith Professor Chair of Management & Organization at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Research interests: Negotiation, mediation and dispute resolution; change management; managing multinational teams; strategies for promoting positive work attitudes, including organizational justice, support, developmental climate and inclusiveness; strategies for promoting desired workplace behaviors associated with these attitudes, including organizational commitment, attachment, proactivity, knowledge-sharing, team innovation and high levels of performance; management of workplace challenges, including the “shock” of leader departures.

Selected accomplishments: Past president, Academy of Management; 1991, 1992, 1996 and 2007 best paper awards from AOM’s Conflict Management Division; 1999 Best Empirical Paper Award, International Association for Conflict Management; author of two books; 2007 Krowe Teaching Award recipient at the Smith School.

Women Leading Research: Debra Shapiro

About this series: The Smith School faculty is celebrating Women’s History Month 2018 in partnership with ADVANCE, an initiative to transform the University of Maryland by investing in a culture of inclusive excellence. Daily faculty spotlights support activities from the school’s Office of Diversity Initiatives, starting with the seventh annual Women Leading Women forum on March 1, 2018.

Other fearless ideas from:  Rajshree Agarwal  |  Ritu Agarwal  |  T. Leigh Anenson  |  Kathryn M. Bartol  |  Christine Beckman  |  Margrét Bjarnadóttir  |  M. Cecilia Bustamante  |  Jessica M. Clark  |  Rellie Derfler-Rozin  |  Waverly Ding  |  Wedad J. Elmaghraby  |  Rosellina Ferraro  |  Rebecca Hann  | Amna Kirmani  |  Hanna Lee  |  Hui Liao  |  Jennifer Carson Marr  |  Wendy W. Moe  |  Courtney Paulson  |  Louiqa Raschid  |  Rebecca Ratner  |  Debra L. Shapiro  |  M. Susan Taylor  |  Niratcha (Grace) Tungtisanont  |  Vijaya Venkataramani  |  Janet Wagner  |  Yajin Wang  |  Yajun Wang  |  Liu Yang  |  Jie Zhang  |  Lingling Zhang

Image credit: dvolkovkir1980



About the Expert(s)


Debra L. Shapiro (Ph.D. Northwestern U) is the Clarice Smith Professor at the U of Maryland (UMD), formerly the Willard Graham Distinguished Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill where she was 1986-2003. Debra has led UNC's and MD's business schools' PhD Programs (as Associate Dean at UNC from 1998-2001 and UMD from 2008-2011).

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