Posted by: Ornella Farrugia
on Wed 21 Mar

At March’s Innovation Day, we welcomed Dr. Christine Unterhitzenberger, Senior Lecturer at Liverpool Business School. According to Dr. Unterhitzenberger, organisational justice is a vital aspect of our business lives but one that is often overlooked.

We all like to think that we treat people fairly, but how often do we stop to think critically about how to promote fairness in the workplace? And what is fairness to others?

Justice and fairness are two words which may appear to refer to the same thing and can be used interchangeably in everyday speech. But we need to have a deeper understanding of them if we are to create a just organisation. Justice is concerned with how much you hold onto set regulations and norms. And fairness is the reaction people have to the perception of those regulations and norms. To put it another way, justice causes fairness.

It is often thought that making time for fairness and organisational justice will lead to managers just being nice, trying to please everyone and ultimately letting their business down. Do not fall into this trap. Organisational justice is a means to ensure everyone feels they have had an input into the procedures and rules in the workplace and that those rules are adhered to. The outcomes can be harsh but if everyone feels those procedures are fair to begin with, the outcome is less important. Being just is not necessarily the same as being kind.

So, what should we do to improve fairness at work?

Don’t confuse equality with equity. When we first think about bringing more fairness into our business, it is tempting to treat everyone equally. However, people have different needs and abilities. In order to promote fairness, focus on equity and personalise your approach to the needs of your team.

Consider the three factors constituting organisational justice:

  • Distributive justice is about the perception of fairness of distribution of resources between parties. How fairly are you dividing up what you’ve got?
  • Procedural justice is about how fair the systems for coming up with decisions seem to those affected. The fairness of these systems is often determined by how much third-party interference can affect the outcome.
  • Finally, interactional justice focuses on the way outcomes and procedures are communicated. It is measured by what information is shared and how it is shared.

Be sure to communicate. Procedures can be just and distribution equitable. But without clear communication to all parties involved, there is a chance that the whole process will be perceived as unfair. To make sure your fairness is not misconstrued – or missed altogether – take this and every opportunity to communicate clearly.

Focus on the process rather than outcomes. You can treat people fairly and still end up not being as nice to them as you would wish. Organisational justice teaches us that as long as people think the process of decision making is fair and communicated well, they will be happy. Give people some input or control over how the process is defined and they will be more content with whatever the output is.

These are just some key highlights taken from March’s Innovation Day. Each month, clients of the Innovation Programmes receive a full ACT report, capturing the guest expert’s research, the implications and next steps for leaders to apply back in their team and organisation.

Next month, clients will explore how to create value from the ecosystem. For more information, please view the Innovation Day page.

Sources: Unterhitzenberger, C. (2018) ‘Organisational Justice – Let’s talk about fairness!’, KnowledgeBrief Innovation Day Presentation, 14 March.

Be more aware of fairness and recognise that it’s a not a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

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