The Relationship Between Organizational Justice and Employee Health

Topic(s): burnout, fairness, Health & Safety, organizational justice, stress
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2012)
Article: Perceived Unfairness and Employee Health: A Meta-Analytic Integration
Authors: J.M. Robbins, M.T. Ford, L.E. Tetrick
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, organizations can not only incur costs due to direct medical expenses, but can also pay for poor employee health in the form of absenteeism, decreased productivity or morale, and even turnover.

Recent research (Robbins, Ford, & Tetrick, 2012) has linked employee perceptions of organizational unfairness to employee health. There are four ways that employees experience organizational justice (or injustice) in the workplace. Distributive justice refers to fairness of outcomes or decisions, procedural justice refers to fairness of the process of decisions, interactional justice refers to fairness of exchanges between individuals in an organization, and psychological contract breach refers to 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 problems, 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 health indicators.


What can be done to promote employee health and well-being in the workplace? First, it is important to understand that perceptions of fairness are malleable aspects of the workplace, meaning that organizations have a great deal of control managing perceptions of fairness (and unfairness).

To increase feelings of distributive justice, organizations should strive to make policies with outcomes that are the same for all employees, regardless of gender, race, and tenure. Increasing perceptions of procedural justice can be accomplished by insuring that decision-making processes are applied to all employees equally. Finally, to increase perceptions of a sturdy psychological contract, organizations can 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 Psychology97, 235-272.