The Role of Individual Differences in Perceptions of Fairness

Scholars and practitioners in I-O psychology have known for some time that organizational fairness, in all its forms (e.g., procedural fairness, interactional fairness, etc.), is relevant in the study of a wide array of organizational phenomena, including employee engagement, turnover, and performance. However, studies of the factors that impact fairness perceptions have typically been limited to environmental or organizational factors. That is, the role of employees’ characteristics has been neglected in the study of organizational fairness; as a result, differences in individuals’ perceptions of fairness have primarily been ascribed to environmental or organizational influences.


In their new paper, researchers (Bianchi & Brockner, 2012) looked at employee characteristics (specifically dispositional trust), hypothesizing that higher dispositional trust would be associated with more positive perceptions of fairness. They also hypothesized that perceptions of procedural and interactional fairness would explain the relationship between dispositional trust and job outcomes, such as organizational commitment. Across three studies (two survey studies and one experimental study), the authors found overall support for their hypotheses, which may help explain why different employees in an organization can have dramatically different fairness-related reactions to policies, initiatives, and organizational change.


Although all employees may be operating in the same environment, it is possible that individual differences (specifically dispositional trust) may account for the varying reactions that different employees can have to organizational policies and decisions. Thus, while having consistent organizational procedures that are carried out similarly for everyone is undoubtedly important, such consistency may not ensure that all employees have universally positive reactions to such procedures, due in part to the influence of individual differences.


Bianchi, E. C., & Brockner, J. (2012). In the eyes of the beholder? The role of dispositional trust in judgments of procedural and interactional fairness. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 118, 46-59.