What if Organisational Justice Dies?


Employees of an organisation are subject to a variety of decisions made by that organisation. Some decisions affect employees directly and some indirectly. Some corporate decisions affect employees instantly, but some affect gradually over time. Whatever the nature of the decision, if it violates organisational justice and leaves employees frustrated and disappointed, the result will be work alienation.

Any institutional decision has economic as well as social and emotional consequences. Through such consequences, the employee comes to a judgment of the relevant decision. Employees inquire not only about how the decision was made, but also whether the process / methodology / procedure behind the decision are justified. If the employees feel that the relevant corporate decisions are unfair and unjust, it will create a huge lacuna between the employer / organisation and the employees and even break the employee-psychological contracts. It shows the significance of establishing and maintaining organisational justice in decision-making and decision-implementation.

Research evidence in the field of Human Resource Management (HRM) shows that there is a strong correlation between organisational justice and work alienation. Every employee aspires to work in an organisation or work environment that respects him or her, is fair, just, and ethical. At the same time, every company hopes that its employees will work in a true and fair organisation without any fraud or deception. This shows that maintaining organisational justice is extremely important for both employers and employees.

The general meaning of justice is that a decision or action must be legally, morally, religiously, and spiritually correct; meaning that it must be true and fair. However, in the corporate atmosphere justice is identified as the overall sense of fairness in corporate policies and practices as the total cognition that occurs within all affectionate parties.

Basically, two basic types of organisational justice can be identified as procedural justice and distributive justice. Although there are many other classifications and variants of organisational justice, such as interactive justice and information justice. But the procedural justice and distributive justice as mentioned above appear to have been the most widely discussed in academic research as well. Procedural justice explains how much fair treatment, recognition, and opportunity are given to the stakeholders, including employees, within an organisation. Distributive justice refers to ‘who gets what’, and to what extent.

Employees are not just concerned about the benefits they receive from the organisation. They are also concerned about the procedure used to share those benefits among one another. Also, employees are concerned not only with corporate decisions but also about who had made those decisions and the procedure that had been followed to arrive at those decisions.

Simply, procedural justice is the judgment of an organisation’s decision-making and resource allocation procedures. In other words, it is the nature of the experience gained regarding the fairness and transparency of the organisational procedures used to make decisions. Further, it is about the fairness of the processes that an organisation follows to generate results. Organisational outcomes such as net profit, market share and innovations must ensure procedural justice to conform to the principles of justice.

The rule of law is properly enforced if procedural justice is established within an institution. In such an institution there is no room for arbitrary power. Arbitrary power is the power exercised based on random choice or individual preference outside ‘accepted procedures’ that are not based on any valid reason or argument. Such a situation breaks the rule of law in the organisation and weakens institutional democracy.

Adopting Institutionalised procedures without personalisation is the beginning of incorporating procedural justice. Decisions of such an institution are made in accordance with the institutional procedures and not according to the values and aspirations of the persons holding the respective positions. Institutional core values place above the personal values of such an institution.

Corporate values are the core beliefs of an organisation. Those basic beliefs act as institutional guidelines. It regulates corporate behaviour and helps the organisation to clearly judge what to do and what not to do. Also, corporate value is an indicator used to judge whether an organisation is on the right track. So, on one hand it is also a controlling mechanism.

Employees of institutions that have established procedural justice are involved in the institutional decision-making process. They put their ideas and suggestions into the decision-making process. Institutionalised mechanisms have also been established to solicit employee feedback for the decision-making process in such organisations. Employees are a part of the corporate decision-making process. In the absence of such, they are alienated from the product, the production process, the organisational outcomes as well as the institutional decision-making process and become strangers to the organisation.

The procedures of an institution that has established procedural justice must conform to the criteria of fairness, consistency, impartiality, transparency, accuracy, and ethics. Otherwise, a strong sense of procedural injustice is not generated in the minds of employees. That procedural injustice leads to a sense of powerlessness. If employees have no opportunity or power to contribute to the decision-making process, it is a cause of work alienation.

Arbitrary power begins to activate within the institution due to procedural injustice. When arbitrary power is exercised in institutions, the employee becomes powerless and subjected to work alienation. This shows, directly or indirectly, that procedural injustice in any of these ways leads to the work alienation for employees.

Distributive justice is the quantity and extent at which an employee of an organisation feels that the benefits he or she receives at work and in the workplace are fair. It is the employee’s perception of the fairness of his or her salary, learning opportunities, and promotions, in proportion to the time and effort the employee puts into the workplace. To ensure distributive justice, the benefits enjoyed by corporate employees must conform to two basic principles of justice. That is fairness and equality. Employees develop a sense of distributive justice after comparing the benefits they receive with their professional applications which is the basis of the sense of distributive justice.

Employees also consider whether the benefits they receive will be sufficient to achieve their aspirations, and compensate the various career inputs they use, such as time, effort, and skills. Otherwise, the quality of work life of the employee will deteriorate, and the employee will fall victim to work alienation. Distributive injustice causes a wide range of cognitive, emotional, and behavioural ‘adverse effects’ on employees. The ultimate result of those adverse consequences is that the employee becomes a victim of work alienation.

Tharindu Dananjaya Weerasinghe

[Senior Lecturer, Department of Human Resource Management, University of Kelaniya]

By Tharindu Dananjaya Weerasinghe