Why Should Leaders Care About Being Fair?

Organizational justice, or how fairly an organization treats its workers, is a big deal to employees. To an individual employee, organizational justice helps determine his or her attitude about the job and as well as his or her productivity. But this perception doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Because this perception is often shared with co-workers and team members, called justice climate, Researchers (Whitman et al., 2012) conducted a meta-analysis (or statistical combination of many past studies) to summarize and clarify how organizational justice climate exists at the team level and how it can influence team effectiveness.


Being an ambiguous term in itself, the authors defined effectiveness as having four main parts: attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction), processes (e.g., citizenship), withdrawal (e.g., turnover), and performance (e.g., profit). They predicted that a more positive justice climate at the team-level means that workers would be able to trust their leaders to a greater extent, which would result in the team achieving more group goals. The authors also predicted that the different parts of organizational justice would be related to the components of effectiveness in different ways. The different parts of organizational justice include distributive (i.e., fairness of reward allocation), procedural (i.e., how fair company policies are), and interactional (i.e., how fair workers are treated interpersonally by their managers).


Using 37 studies that totaled 4,600 teams with 11 employees per team on average, the authors discovered that the mean-corrected correlation between justice climate and effectiveness was .40—this means that how fair the team perceives the organization to be overall, the more likely they are to be effective. As for the separate pieces of organizational justice, the authors found that distributive justice has a stronger relationship (than the other two justice climate types) to both performance and attitudes. This means that the rewards have to be judged as fair when compared to the work performed by the team. Procedural justice had the strongest relationship with how often team members are absent or turnover. And finally, interactional justice had the strongest relationship with process effectiveness—teams are unlikely to go above and beyond if they do not view their interaction with leaders as fair.


So, if you notice that your team’s performance has leveled off or your team’s attitude and morale are slipping, it is important to appear fair. Also, keep in mind that you should not just focus at the individual perception of fairness, you should also focus on making sure rewards are appropriate for the team, team-level policies and procedures are fair, and you treat each team equitably in their day-to-day interactions.


Whitman, D. S., Caleo, S., Carpenter, N. C., Horner, M. T., & Bernerth, J. B. (2012). Fairness at the collective level: A meta-analytic examination of the consequences and boundary conditions of organizational justice climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(4), 776-791.