Fair is Fair


Topic: Organizational Justice
Publication: Journal of Management
Article: Perceptions of discrimination: A multiple needs model perspective.
Blogger: James Grand

I know the saying goes “Life isn’t always fair – sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield.”

But in truth, things aren’t usually that black and white (or life and death, if you will). One theory of organizational justice (fairness) that has begun to grow in prominence within the research literature in recent years is that of Cropanzano et al.’s (2001) multiple needs model of justice.

In short, the multiple needs perspective states that every human being has three needs that contribute to the experience of justice: economic needs (e.g., “I’m paid fairly for my share of the work”), interpersonal needs (“My manager treats my ideas with respect”) and moral needs (“My company takes the ethical high road”). Thus, according to the theory, a sense of unfairness is likely to arise if any one or more of these needs goes unfulfilled or is transgressed. While perhaps intuitively sensible, one of the major problems with the multiple needs theory is precisely that it has largely remained a theory—there has been little empirical data to support the claim that negative actions in the environment can violate these needs, and that failures to meet these needs lead to meaningful outcomes for organizations and their employees. Heeding this very call, Goldman and colleagues (2008) attempted to test these hypotheses using a sample of nearly 6000 American workers across a variety of occupational titles.

In their study, Goldman et al. attempted to test a sequential model in which 1) employees’ levels of perceived discrimination were negatively linked to each of the three justice needs (economic, interpersonal, and moral); 2) each need was predicted to positively affect job satisfaction and organizational commitment; and 3) job satisfaction and commitment would be negatively related to turnover intentions.

Without exception, the researchers found support for all three of these linkages in the model.  While it is important to note that the conclusions from this study are entirely correlational (e.g., it could not be proved that the fulfillment of justice needs caused enhanced feelings of satisfaction and commitment), the data did reveal at least two intriguing findings of use to future research and practice: Perceptions of discrimination were most strongly related to the violation of interpersonal and moral needs, rather than economic needs (though this relationship was also significant and negative). In other words, employees who thought their company had done something discriminatory tended to feel as though their workplace was somewhat financially unjust towards them but was definitely socially and ethically unjust.

The fulfillment of interpersonal needs was the strongest predictor of job satisfaction and organizational commitment; thus, although providing financial and moral reinforcement to employees was important, it appears that feelings of respect and justice in interpersonal relations goes much further in predicting positive job attitudes.

Goldman, B. M., Slaughter, J. E., Schmit, M. J., Wiley, J. W., & Brooks, S. M. (2008). Perceptions of discrimination: A multiple needs model perspective.
Journal of Management, 34(5), 952-977.

Cropanzano, R., Byrne, Z., Bobocel, D. R., & Rupp, D. (2001). Moral virtues, fairness
heuristics, social entities, and other denizens of organizational justice.
Journal of Vocational Behavior, 58, 164-209.