The Dark Side of Procedural Justice: When Being Fair Isn’t Enough

Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior
Article: Episodic envy and counterproductive work behaviors: Is more justice always good?
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin


A common belief in the workplace is that if managers make decisions in a fair way (procedural justice), then employees will be happier and organizational outcomes will be positive. Both the research literature and common sense indicate that managers should be fair, but a recent study by Khan, Quratulain, and Bell (2014) suggests that being fair may not be enough. It appears that fairness doesn’t always lead to good behavior by employees.



We’ve all experienced envy at some point. Have you ever looked at a friend’s Facebook pictures from an amazing vacation and felt at least a little bit envious? I thought so. Have you ever seen someone else get an incredible job that you wish you had? Your envy may be fleeting and you may not do anything about it, but a lot of people do. Envy in the workplace has previously been linked to counterproductive work behavior (CWB), like backstabbing or sabotaging the envied person. These CWBs can make the envious person feel more empowered, help them release their negative emotions, and can possibly even lead to beneficial outcomes for the envious person (for example, the rival might fail because of something that the envious person did).



Procedural justice is when employees perceive that the processes that lead to important outcomes are fair and just. For example, the process of how a manager gives raises will be seen as unfair if he only gives raises to his friends. We tend to think of fairness as always being a good thing. However, if someone else receives a good outcome (for example, a promotion) and you think the process was unfair, you can easily blame someone else. If the process appears to be fair, then it’s pretty hard to blame anyone but yourself for missing out.



In this study, the researchers surveyed employees from 16 organizations and found that higher levels of workplace envy were associated with higher levels of counter-productive work behavior. This relationship was stronger when employees thought that there were higher levels of procedural justice, and attributing blame (internal vs. external blame) appeared to be the reason why. For example, if Jennifer perceives a process to be fair and Chuy gets a positive outcome, then Jennifer is more likely to be envious, make negative self-attributions, and act out in a counterproductive way.



Despite the potential for counter-productive work behavior, managers should always strive to be fair. However, the possible negative effects of fairness may be lessened if managers support their employees’ self-esteem and strive to reduce envy. The authors encourage managers to support their employees and help them to find productive ways to improve workplace outcomes.

Lack of Supervisor Justice Leads to Team Cohesiveness

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Misery Loves Company: Team Dissonance and the Influence of
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


Supervisor justice sounds like a good thing, and it is. This term refers to leaders who treat their employees fairly, and when speaking specifically about interpersonal justice, it means that they treat their employees with dignity and respect. Past research has highlighted the positive outcomes that occur when supervisor justice is at a high level, for example, employees will be more committed to the organization. However, a new study (Stoverink, Umphress, Gardner, & Miner, 2014) found the opposite. When supervisor justice is perceived to be lacking, there could be a positive benefit for employees who work on teams.



I-O psychologists study many kinds of organizational justice, but the current study focused on interpersonal justice that comes from a supervisor. For example, does the supervisor speak respectfully and professionally to employees, or does the supervisor intimidate, scream, and harass? Specifically, the researchers investigated the climate of supervisor interpersonal justice. When researchers talk about a climate, they simply mean that they are evaluating a combination of all the employees’ individual perceptions, and in this case, they are evaluating joint perceptions of whether or not leadership is being fair to them. In this sense, a single workplace can be said to have a high amount of supervisor interpersonal justice, or a low amount.



As you might expect, when a group of employees believe that their leaders are not treating them fairly, negative outcomes typically occur. The unique contribution of this study is that it has discovered an unintended positive outcome. When supervisor justice was perceived to be low (think screaming bosses), the employees have a greater sense of group cohesiveness. In other words, they band together in the face of adversity.



The authors explained that when employees have to deal with a disrespectful supervisor, they experience dissonance. Dissonance refers to an uncomfortable feeling that people get when things don’t go as expected. For example, imagine that you have completed a project adequately and you expect to be praised by your supervisor. If instead the supervisor yells at you and calls you a disrespectful name, the unexpected outcome makes you feel uncomfortable. You then need to spend energy focusing your thoughts on why your supervisor would do something like that. Interestingly, this rationalization process is best done along with other people who are experiencing the same problem. Trying to figure out why your boss yelled at you will lead you to share experiences, thoughts, and feelings with people who have also been yelled at by the same boss. Ultimately, this sharing of experience among team members leads to stronger group cohesion.



The authors note that these findings do not provide carte blanche for leaders to become abusive. Besides for the obvious ethical and humanitarian reasons against doing so, the authors note that mostly bad organizational outcomes will occur in response. However, this article does provide a sort of silver lining for those employees currently exposed to unjust or abusive leadership. The very same mechanism that may make their jobs more difficult may also enhance their experience of being on a team. More cohesive teams may perform better, leading to long-term positive outcomes for employees. As far as advice for employees dealing with adversity, such as an abusive boss, this article discusses how seeking out others who are experiencing the same problem can help.

How Leadership Styles and Fairness Can Help Increase Job Performance


Stress is an inevitable part of working life within any organization. Every employee encounters different types of stressful situations, which ultimately shape our attitudes towards, and perceptions of, the organization we work for. The authors of “It’s Not Fair….Or Is It? The Role Of Justice And Leadership In Explaining Work Stressor-Job Performance Relationships” proposed that people encounter two types of stress in the workplace, which includes challenge stressors and hindrance stressors.



Challenge stressors consist of stress related to workload, the levels of complexity of a job and time constraints. These stresses are common in most jobs, and can be considered to be a normal part of any work environment. Employees feel that even though Challenge stressors can be burdensome, the employee will ultimately receive some sort of “reward.”

Hindrance stressors consist of stress related to ambiguity within the workplace, which involves roles and responsibilities not being clearly defined. It is also related to office politics and unnecessary red tape within the organization. In essence, Hindrance stressors add unnecessary burden on an employee without any perceived benefit.

The researchers acknowledged that both forms of stress can cause an employee mental fatigue and affect job performance. But employees generally have a better acceptance of Challenge stressors because, in the long term, this type of stress can be beneficial for developing our ability to cope with stressful work environments. The study found that different leadership styles within an organization can also have an impact on an employee’s stress level.



Transactional Leadership focuses on a transactional exchange between the organization’s leader and its employees. Generally, leadership will provide employees with specific deadlines, goals and objectives to complete. Employees can usually expect a system of rewards or punishment in regards to completion of their tasks under specified criteria.

Transformational Leadership focuses communicating the vision, mission and direction of the company to those within the organization. It can also include getting the “buy in” from employees regarding the direction of the organization and allowing them to have an invested stake in the company. In short, it’s effective for empowering employees.



The types of stress and leadership we encounter within the workplace can shape whether we perceive the actions of the organization’s leadership as being fair or not. This concept of fairness is described as Organizational Justice.

In other words, do we feel that we are being properly compensated for the work stress we endure? If we do not feel that the stress we encounter is “just,” then it is bound to negatively impact our overall job performance. As a result, if an employee feels the stress is unwarranted, they will take steps to avoid unnecessary mental fatigue.



To examine the connection between leadership styles, fairness and job performance, researchers performed a study consisting of 339 employees and 88 supervisors.

Employees were asked about their attitudes and beliefs regarding their supervisors and job. They were measured on several items that focused on challenge, hindrance stressors and organizational justice. Questions regarding challenge stressors focused on workload, time constraints and complexity of projects. Hindrance stressors included items such as red tape, contradictory instructions, ambiguous responsibilities and office politics. Organizational justice questions focused on promotions, pay and perceptions of procedures used to reach various outcomes.

After three weeks, the supervisors were contacted and asked to rate the job performance for the employees who completed the first survey. Supervisors were asked how the employees faired in regards to completing their tasks, level of involvement with the company, behavior that could be considered “destructive” to the work environment and ability to creatively come up solutions to improve overall performance.



The study led to some interesting findings, which included:

  • Organizational justice (fairness) buffers the impact of Hindrance stressors, largely avoiding negative impacts on job performance.
  • Greater exposure to transactional leadership can indirectly serve as a buffer for negative Hindrance stressors, having less of a negative impact on job performance.
  • Greater exposure to transformational leadership can indirectly impact Challenge stressors’ effect on job performance through improved organizational justice.



Reading this article, I found two major takeaways from the research:

The study found that transactional leadership affects an employee’s view of fairness, which indirectly lessens the negative impact of Hindrance stressors, but does not do the same for Challenge stressors. Basically, transactional leaders provide a clearly defined set of rewards and punishment regarding tasks, which allows employees to know precisely where they stand.

The study also found that transformational leadership affects an employee’s view of fairness, which lessens the stress associated with Challenge stressors, but does not do the same for Hindrance stressors. A transformational leader helps employees take ownership of their work, and the employee, in turn, sees Challenge stressors as opportunities for them to grow within their role and improve the organization. Transformational leaders are not as effective with Hindrance stressors because employees may view them as “out of touch.” They don’t address the bureaucracy, as they are more focused on big picture objectives.

In the end, the article makes a case that transformational and transactional leaders both have their place. This supports previous research suggesting that the best leaders have aspects that are both transactional and transformational. Having a leader that is able to inspire employees with big picture objectives while also providing enough structure to reduce ambiguity provides a sense of balance within an organization. By offering a more balanced work environment, these leaders can help reduce the negative impacts stress has on an organization, which ultimately helps to increase job performance among employees.

With OCBs and Justice For All (IO Psychology)

Topic: Organizational Justice, Teams, Citizenship Behavior, Performance Appraisal
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (NOV 2012)
Article: Examining Retaliatory Responses to Justice Violations and Recovery
Attempts in Teams
Authors: J.S. Christian, M.S. Christian, A.S. Garza, A.P.J. Ellis
Reviewed By: Ben Sher

Should managers deal fairly with their employees? Well yes, of course, if they are concerned about being nice people or perhaps want to be told the correct location of the
holiday party. But what if managers are only concerned with bottom-line organizational effectiveness, profit, and ruthless getting-ahead in life? For these types, research by
Christian, et al. (2012) has shown that treating employees unfairly can lead to certain negative workplace outcomes.

The authors conducted an experiment with teams of simulated employees and found
that employees who are treated unfairly respond in two harmful ways. The first is that
these employees engage in fewer organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs). This
refers to things that an employee might do to help out at work, but are not technically
considered part of the employee’s job. The second thing that employees do in
response to unfair treatment is give supervisors lower performance ratings.

But worse than that, these retaliatory behaviors may not be confined to the individuals
who were treated unfairly. The authors found that entire teams of employees banded
together and performed fewer OCBs as a response to a teammate’s unfair treatment.
When teammates perceive that someone is getting treated unfairly, they may have an
emotional response of moral outrage that moves them to supportive action.

Another interesting discovery is that these findings do not work equally for all people.
The authors describe “strategic core” employees, or employees whose work is
instrumental for team success, and who encounter more problems and a heavier
workload than the typical employee. When these employees are treated unfairly,
they respond with even fewer OCBs than ordinary employees would under similar
circumstances. Also, teams more drastically reduced their OCBs when a strategic core
employee was wronged.

This research shows the importance of treating employees fairly. But what can
managers do if they have already behaved unfairly toward an employee? Luckily
this study provides a solution. “Recovery” is an attempt to atone for past injustice
by correcting the injustice or showing genuine remorse. Recovery was successful
at raising levels of OCBs as well as improving subsequent performance ratings of
managers. In this situation, the wronged employee’s teammates also increased OCBs
and managerial performance ratings. In other words, don’t underestimate the power of
simply saying “I’m sorry”.

Christian, J.S., Christian, M.S., Garza, A.S., & Ellis, A.P.J. (2012). Examining retaliatory
responses to justice violations and recovery attempts in teams. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 97(6), 1218-1232.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management




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Why Should Managers Care about Being Fair? (Human Resource Management)

Topic: Fairness, Organizational Justice, Organizational Performance
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Fairness at the collective level: A meta-analytic examination of the
consequences and boundary conditions of organizational justice climate.
Authors: Whitman, D. S., Caleo, S., Carpenter, N. C., Horner, M. T., and Bernerth, J.
Reviewer: Neil Morelli

Organizational justice, or how fairly an organization treats its workers, is a big deal to employees. To an individual employee, organizational justice helps determine his or her attitude about the job and as well as his or her productivity. But this perception doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Because this perception is often shared with co-workers and team members, called justice climate, Whitman and his co-authors conducted a meta-analysis to summarize and clarify how organizational justice climate exists at the team (unit) level and can influence team effectiveness.

Being an ambiguous term in itself, Whitman et al. defined effectiveness as having four main parts: attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction), processes (e.g., citizenship), withdrawal (e.g., turnover), and performance (e.g., profit). They predicted that a more positive justice climate at the team-level means that workers would be able to trust their leaders to a greater extent, which would result in the team achieving more group goals. The authors also predicted that the different parts of organizational justice, distributive (i.e., how fair rewards are to input), procedural (i.e., how fair company policies are), and interactional (i.e., how fair workers are treated interpersonally by their managers), would be related to the components of effectiveness in different ways.

Using 37 studies that totaled 4,600 teams (units) with 11 employees per team on average, the authors discovered that the mean-corrected correlation between justice climate and effectiveness was .40—this means that how fair the team perceives the organization to be overall, the more likely they are to be effective. As for the separate pieces of organizational justice, the authors found that distributive justice has a stronger relationship (than the other two justice climate types) to both performance and attitudes. This means that the rewards have to be judged as fair when compared to the work performed by the team. Procedural justice had the strongest relationship with how often team members are absent or turnover. And last but not least, interactional justice had the strongest relationship with process effectiveness—teams are unlikely to go above and beyond if they do not view their interaction with leaders as fair.

So, noticing that your team’s performance has leveled off or team attitude and morale is spoiling? You have to make sure you’re seen as being fair. Also, keep in mind that you should not just focus at the individual perception of fairness, you should also focus on making sure rewards are appropriate for the team, team-level policies and procedures are fair, and they have treat each team equitably in their day-to-day interactions.

Whitman, D. S., Caleo, S., Carpenter, N. C., Horner, M. T., & Bernerth, J. B. (2012). Fairness at the collective level: A meta-analytic examination of the consequences and boundary conditions of organizational justice climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(4), 776-791.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management



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When It Comes to Employee Health, More than an ‘Apple a Day’ is Needed (IO Psychology)

 Topic: Health & Safety, Organizational Justice, Fairness, Burnout, Stress
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2012)
Article: Perceived Unfairness and Employee Health: A Meta-Analytic Integration
Authors: Robbins, Jordan M.; Ford, Michael T.; Tetrick, Lois E.
Reviewed By: Lauren A. Wood, M.S.

Practitioners and employers alike have expressed concern around the effects of poor employee heath. When employees are not well, the organization can not only incurs costs due to direct medical expenses, but can also pay for poor employee health in the form of absenteeism, decreased productivity and moral, and even turnover.

Recent research has linked employee perceptions of organizational unfairness to employee health. There are four ways in which perceptions of unfairness are thought to be experienced. These are through feelings of distributive injustice (i.e., fairness of outcomes of decisions), procedural injustice (i.e., fairness of the process of the decisions), interactional injustice (i.e., fairness of the exchanges between individuals in the organization), and psychological contract breach (i.e., failure of the organization to live up to the expectations of the employee).

In general, perceived organizational unfairness was found to be associated with poor employee health indicators such as mental health conditions, physical health conditions, and number of absences. Moreover, unfairness was most strongly related to more proximal health indicators such as employee feelings of burnout, negative mood, and job related stress.

Additionally, the four types of unfairness were related to different health related indicators. For instance, procedural justice was more strongly related to physical health problem, while distributive justice was more predictive of mental health issues. Psychological contract breach was most strongly associated with employee perceptions of burnout. Of the four, interactional justice was the least predictive of the health indicators.

What can be done to promote employee health and well-being in the workplace?Well, one good thing is that perceptions of fairness are malleable aspects of the workplace, meaning that organizations have a great deal of control managing fairness (and unfairness) perceptions. To increase feeling of distributive justice, organizations should strive to make policies with outcomes that are the same for all employees regardless of gender, race, and tenure. While, increasing perceptions of procedural justice can be accomplished by insuring that decision-making processes treat all employees equally. Finally, to increase perceptions of a sturdy psychological contract, openly and clearly communicate to employees, provide them with information, direction, and support in times of change, and treat employees with respect.

Robbins, J. M., Ford, M. T., & Tetrick, L. E. (2012). Perceived unfairness and employee health: A meta-analytic integration. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 235-272. doi: 10.1037/a0025408

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Are cognitive ability tests insulting your applicants? (IO Psychology)

Topic: Organizational Justice, Fairness, Interviewing, Assessment, Selection
Publication: Personnel Psychology (WINTER 2011)
Article: Status and organizational entry: How organizational and individual status affect justice perceptions of hiring systems
Authors: Sumanth, J. J., & Cable, D. M.
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

It is well known in the field of IO psychology that cognitive ability tests are very predictive of employee performance.  However, applicants often see them as unfair and do not like taking them; more informal and much less valid methods (like informal interviews) tend to be preferred by applicants. In this study, Sumanth and Cable (2011) investigated the effect that the status of the organization and the career status of the applicant would have on applicants’ perceptions of the selection system’s fairness.

In this quasi-experimental study, the authors tested their hypotheses with two samples of adults (one of MBA alumni in the United States, one of executives in the United Kingdom). All participants were told that the hiring organization would use behavioral interviews, and half of the participants were told that they would also need to complete a cognitive ability test.

Organizational status is the reputation of an organization; a high-status organization (e.g., Google) is seen as being very reputable and prestigious. High-status organizations tend to be known for the rigor of their selection systems. The authors found that when low-status organizations (as opposed to high-status organizations) used cognitive ability tests as part of their selection system, applicants were less likely to view the organization attractively.

Individual career status refers to one’s beliefs about his or her career accomplishments and status (i.e., respect, prominence) within and outside of an organization. It is plausible that applicants with high status might be insulted by having to take a cognitive ability test when applying for a job; for example, they may think that their accomplishments should speak for themselves. Procedural justice is the fairness of the procedures used to make decisions. The authors found that when an individual’s status was high and cognitive ability tests were included, that person was more likely than low-status individuals to have lower perceptions of procedural justice. In other words, the process was seen as unfair. High-status individuals also were more insulted by the inclusion of a cognitive ability test.

These results indicate that even though cognitive ability tests are highly valid, they may repel high-status applicants who may see the process as unfair and insulting. My recommendation based on these findings would be to make it clear to applicants why cognitive ability tests are being used (i.e., their high validity) and that the exact same procedure will be used for all applicants.

Sumanth, J. J., & Cable, D. M. (2011). Status and organizational entry: How organizational and individual status affect justice perceptions of hiring systems. Personnel Psychology, 64, 963-1000. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.2011.01233.x

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management

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How Employees Really Feel about Workplace Romances

Topic: Organizational Justice, Sexual Harassment
Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (DEC 2009)
Article: Workplace romance: A justice perspective
Authors: N. Cole
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Workplace Romances(WRs) are a fact of life. Some statistics suggest that as many as 40% of employees report having had a WR at some point in their careers. Though organizations are often concerned about the potential performance and legal ramifications of in-house WRs, general attitudes toward WRs appear to be changing; employees are much less secretive about WRs than they have been in the past.

Cole (2009) interviewed 100 employees who reported witnessing a WR in their workplace. In general, study participants reported that the fairest managerial action was to treat WRs as inevitable and take little or no action against the employees. However, managerial action was considered fair if the WRs have a negative impact on the work environment and/or job performance. In fact, under these conditions, coworkers may find too little managerial action unfair.

Additionally, employees find managerial action against WRs fair when the parties work in the same department and when the organization has a formal written WR policy. Although positive effects of WRs are sometimes discussed in the literature, Cole notes that none of the participants mentioned potential positive effects of WRs. When participants discussed effects on performance and the work environment, they were always negative. Thus, if positive outcomes are present, coworkers may not perceive them.

Although organizations may have little control over the existence of WRs, Cole’s results highlight the importance of having formal, written WR policies. Surprisingly, most organizations do not have written WR policies, but probably should (see review of Pierce & Aguinis, 2009 for WR policy recommendations). Written policies legitimize managerial action in response to WRs and improve coworker perceptions of such action.  Overall, employees seem accepting of WRs, so long as they do not negatively impact the work environment or performance.

Cole, N. (2009). Workplace romance: A justice perspective. Journal of Business and Psychology, 24, 363-372.

Explanations Can Leave a Sweet Taste in Job Applicants’ Mouths

Topic: Organizational Justice, Selection
Publication: International Journal of Selection and Assessment (DEC 2009)
ArticleEffects of explanations on applicant reactions: A meta-analytic review
Authors: D.M. Truxillo, T.E. Bodner, M. Bertolino, T.N. Bauer, and C.A. Yonce
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Oftentimes, job applicants run a gauntlet of various selection tests, assessments, and interviews and it is important to understand how they affect applicants’ reactions toward the organization. Providing job applicants with explanations for the various selection procedures is a cost-effective and easily implemented intervention. Additionally, according to Truxillo and colleagues’ meta-analysis, explanations can positively impact applicants’ reactions toward the employment process and organization as a whole.

Firstly, Truxillo et al. found that explanations have a positive impact on job applicants’ fairness perceptions (e.g., how fair they perceive the selection process to be) and perceptions of the organization as a whole. Explanations were also found to have a more favorable impact on the fairness perceptions of personality employment tests as compared to cognitive ability employment tests (although this relationship is still favorable).

Interestingly, explanations have a positive effect on job applicant motivation which positively impacts job applicants’ cognitive ability test scores. Finally, Truxillo contrasted college student samples with real job applicant samples and found that the relationship between explanations and outcomes tends to be stronger for non-student samples (i.e., “real world” situations).

Ultimately, there is little doubt that organizations should be concerned with job applicants’ reactions to the employment process. Truxillo and colleagues’ findings are encouraging because they suggest that providing explanations to applicants during the employment process is cheap, fast, and effective at improving job applicants’ reactions.

Truxillo, D.M., Bodner, M., Bertolino, T.N., Bauer, T.N., & Yonce, C.A. (2009).  Effects of explanations on applicant reactions: A meta-analytic review. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 17(4), 346-361.

Who is holding the glass ceiling in place?

Topic: CompensationOrganizational Justice, Motivation, Rewards
Publication: Journal of Human ResourcesArticle: Who is holding the glass
ceiling in place?
Author: N. Fortin
Featured by: Benjamin Granger

Many 21st century women still earn less than their male counterparts.  However, this injustice may not be due fully to chauvinists and stereotypes. In her article, The Gender Wage Gap among Young Adults in the United States: The Importance of Money versus People , Nicole Fortin investigates influences that women themselves exhibit which may contribute to their smaller paychecks.  As women more often choose to volunteer with organizations that are altruistic in nature, and tend to place more importance on workplace success rather than rolling in the dough, it is easy to follow Fortin’s argument that such noncognitive factors inevitably influence the gender wage gap.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 and the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988/94, Fortin explores the possible impacts on the gender pay gap by examining four noncognitive functions:

·     The importance of money and work

·     The importance of people and family

·     Self-esteem

·     Locus of control (the extent to which a person feels they- rather than their environment        have control over their own success).

In addition to human capital and cognitive factors, Fortin argues that these noncognitive qualities significantly influence the discrepancy in wages among men and women.

Fortin finds that lower locus of control and higher importance of people and family tend to widen the gender wage gap, while higher self-esteem and importance of money and work tend to lead to more equitable wages for workers in their early thirties.  Although the research shows that the differences due to these noncognitive factors are largely insignificant over time, the importance of work and money should not be overlooked, as it plays the largest role of the four noncognitive factors.

Fortin, N. (2008, Fall2008). The Gender Wage Gap among Young Adults in the United States. Journal of Human Resources, 43(4), 884-918. Retrieved March 14, 2009, from Advanced Placement Source database.