How Time Can Affect Perceptions of Organizational Justice

Employee perceptions of organizational justice have been a point of emphasis for practitioners working in I-O psychology and human resource management in recent years. Organizational justice is typically divided into several types, including interactional, procedural, and distributive justice, but the same basic concept underlies them all: the concern that employees have for being treated fairly.


Although previous work has evaluated a number of influences and outcomes associated with organizational justice, relatively little attention has been paid to the role that time may play in organizational justice issues. As such, a recent series of studies by Cojuharenco and colleagues evaluated this relationship. Specifically, they assessed the impact that temporal perspectives (whether someone is thinking of how they feel currently, versus how they felt in the past, etc.) when considering employee perceptions of justice. Overall, the authors found that past-focused individuals exhibited greater concern over unfair treatment by others (interpersonal justice), while future-focused individuals exhibited greater concern over unfair outcomes (distributive justice).


One explanation for this phenomenon may be that people have more opportunities to “smooth the waters” with people that they have a procedural justice-related issue with, while the injustice associated with a distributive justice-related issue usually remains unchanged over time. Whatever the reason, it is worth remembering that time can have an important impact on the relevance of different types of injustice, and organizations would be well-advised to consider the types of justice that are most likely to be important to employees in a given situation.


Cojuharenco, I., Patient, D., & Bashshur, M. R. (2011). Seeing the “forest” or the “trees” of organizational justice: Effect of temporal perspective on employee concerns about unfair treatment at work. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 116, 17-31.

Image credit: istockphoto/ArLawKa AungTun