Supervisor justice occurs when leaders treat their employees fairly, and when speaking specifically about interpersonal justice, it means that they treat their employees with dignity and respect. Past research has highlighted the positive outcomes that occur when supervisor justice is at a high level, for example, employees will be more committed to the organization. However, a new study (Stoverink, Umphress, Gardner, & Miner, 2014) found the opposite. When supervisor justice is perceived to be lacking, there could be a positive benefit for employees who work on teams.
SUPERVISOR JUSTICE CLIMATE
I-O psychologists study many kinds of organizational justice, but the current study focused on interpersonal justice that comes from a supervisor. For example, does the supervisor speak respectfully and professionally to employees, or does the supervisor intimidate, scream, and harass? Specifically, the researchers investigated the climate of supervisor interpersonal justice. When researchers talk about a climate, they simply mean that they are evaluating a combination of all the employees’ individual perceptions, and in this case, they are evaluating joint perceptions of whether or not leadership is being fair to them. In this sense, a single workplace can be said to have a high amount of supervisor interpersonal justice, or a low amount.
WHEN SUPERVISORS ARE UNJUST
As you might expect, when a group of employees believe that their leaders are not treating them fairly, negative outcomes typically occur. The unique contribution of this study is that it has discovered an unintended positive outcome. When supervisor justice was perceived to be low, the employees have a greater sense of group cohesiveness. In other words, they band together in the face of adversity.
ROLE OF DISSONANCE
The authors explained that when employees have to deal with a disrespectful supervisor, they experience dissonance. Dissonance refers to an uncomfortable feeling that people get when things do not go as expected. For example, imagine that you have completed a project adequately and you expect to be praised by your supervisor. If instead the supervisor yells at you and calls you a disrespectful name, the unexpected outcome makes you feel uncomfortable. You then need to spend energy focusing your thoughts on why your supervisor would do something like that. Interestingly, this rationalization process is best done along with other people who are experiencing the same problem. Trying to figure out why your boss yelled at you will lead you to share experiences, thoughts, and feelings with people who have also been yelled at by the same boss. Ultimately, this sharing of experience among team members leads to stronger group cohesion.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WORKPLACE
The authors note that these findings do not provide carte blanche for leaders to become abusive. Besides for the obvious ethical reasons against doing so, the authors note that mostly bad organizational outcomes will occur in response. However, this article does provide a sort of silver lining for those employees currently exposed to unjust or abusive leadership. The very same mechanism that may make their jobs more difficult may also enhance their experience of being on a team. More cohesive teams may perform better, leading to long-term positive outcomes for employees. As far as advice for employees dealing with adversity, such as an abusive boss, this article discusses how seeking out others who are experiencing the same problem can help.
Stoverink, A. C., Umphress, E. E., Gardner, R. G., & Miner, K. N. (2014). Misery loves company: Team dissonance and the influence of supervisor-focused interpersonal justice climate on team cohesiveness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(6), 1059-1073.