Using the Pen to “Right” Organizational Wrongs

Topic(s): Uncategorized

Topic: Organizational Justice
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Healing the wounds of organizational injustice: Examining the benefits of expressive writing.
Author: L.J. Barclay, D.P. Skarlik
iFeatured by: Benjamin Granger

When employees experience injustice in the workplace (e.g., unfair interpersonal treatment, unfair policies and procedures, unfair outcomes), they often experience negative emotions and engage in deviant behaviors to “right the wrong” (retaliation).

Adopting the commonly used practice from clinical and health psychology, researchers Barclay and Skarlicki (2009) investigated whether expressive writing helps employees cope with organization injustice: A much more productive way to deal with negative feelings don’t you think?

But what exactly is expressive writing? According to Barclay and Skarlicki, a typical expressive writing intervention involves having employees write about a negative experience for 20 minutes per day for a total of four days.

To test the effectiveness of expressive writing, the authors conducted an experiment in which 100 employed participants who had recently experienced unfair treatment from a supervisor were broken up into 4 groups. Each group was given different instructions:

Group 1: Wrote only about their emotions regarding the injustice

Group 2: Wrote only about their thoughts regarding the injustice

Group 3: Wrote about their emotions AND thoughts regarding the injustice

Group 4: Wrote about a trivial topic (i.e., time management at work)

As expected, participants who wrote about both their thoughts and emotions (group 3) regarding the recent injustice at work tended to show the best outcomes post-intervention.

In fact, compared to the other groups in the experiment, participants who wrote about their thoughts and emotions reported (1) better psychological well-being, (2) fewer intentions to retaliate, and (3) being more likely to have personally resolved the issue. Also, as compared to those participants who wrote only about their emotions (group 1), those who wrote about both their thoughts and emotions reported less anger post-intervention.

Overall, Barclay and Skarlicki’s findings suggest that there are may be something beneficial to this notion of expressive writing. By simply taking time to write about their thoughts and emotions, employees may be better able to cope effectively with injustices at work.

Barclay, L.J., & Skarlicki, D.P. (2009). Healing the wounds of organizational injustice: Examining the benefits of expressive writing. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(2), 511-523.