Monica Forret, Department of Managerial Studies, St Ambrose University, Davenport, Iowa, USA
Mary Sue Love, Department of Management and Marketing, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville, Illinois, USA
Purpose – The purpose of this investigation is to explore whether perceptions of organizational justice are related to coworker trust and morale. As jobs have become more broadly defined and collaboration with colleagues has become increasingly important for accomplishing work, coworker relationships are especially critical to manage effectively.
Design/methodology/approach – Survey packets were distributed to 364 non-supervisory employees at six small companies in a large Midwestern city in the USA. Useable surveys were returned from 264 respondents for a response rate of 72 percent.
Findings – The results showed that distributive, procedural, and interactional justice perceptions are related to perceptions of coworkers. The distribution of rewards, organizational policies and procedures, and interpersonal treatment by supervisors are related to coworker trust and morale.
Research limitations/implications – This study was a cross-sectional field study with the data collected at one point in time, precluding statements regarding causality. In addition, common method variance is a concern given the use of a self-report survey.
Practical implications – The results highlight the importance of fairness in rewards, procedures, and treatment for productive coworker relationships. Suggestions are provided for managers to enhance perceptions of distributive, procedural, and interactional justice in the workplace.
Originality/value – Prior research on justice has focused primarily on individual and organizational outcomes. The study adds to this research base by examining whether perceptions of justice are associated with the quality of coworker relationships.
Justice; Trust; Morale; Employee relations; United States of America.
Leadership & Organization Development Journal
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Distributive, procedural, and interactional justice are key issues for organizations to address in order to function effectively. A substantial body of research has examined the impact of justice perceptions on outcomes such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, organizational citizenship behavior, productivity, and withdrawal behaviors that consistently illustrate the importance of justice in the workplace (Cohen-Charash and Spector, 2001; Colquitt et al., 2001; Viswesvaran and Ones, 2002). While prior research has focused on individual and organizational outcomes of justice, perceptions of justice may also extend to coworkers and influence how coworkers interact and relate with one another. The purpose of this investigation is to explore whether perceptions of organizational justice are related to coworker trust and morale. As jobs have become more broadly defined, and work is increasingly performed collaboratively or in teams (Morgeson and Humphrey, 2002; Morgeson et al., 2005; Pearlman and Barney, 2000), coworker relationships are especially critical to manage effectively. Implications from this research can help organizations advance processes and prepare managers to facilitate better relationships among coworkers. To facilitate this discussion, first, we will briefly review the literature on justice. Second, we will examine the research on coworker trust and morale followed by the development of our hypotheses. We will subsequently describe our research methods and results, along with implications for organizations and directions for future research.
The concept of organizational justice is based on fairness perceptions (Adams, 1965). Three of the most commonly studied facets of organizational justice include distributive, procedural, and interactional justice. Distributive justice is defined as the perceived fairness of outcomes received (Adams, 1965); procedural justice is the fairness of a company's policies and procedures used to determine one's outcomes (Greenberg, 1990; Lind and Tyler, 1988); and interactional justice is the manner in which results are explained (Bies and Moag, 1986). Interactional justice refers to the quality of interpersonal processes and treatment of individuals (i.e. were they spoken to with sincerity and sensitivity) as well as the extent to which the reasons behind the outcome are explained (Bies and Moag, 1986). While these three types of justice perceptions are correlated, several meta-analyses have determined they are empirically distinct and account for unique incremental variance (Cohen-Charash and Spector, 2001; Colquitt et al., 2001; Hauenstein et al., 2001). We will briefly highlight these outcomes before turning our attention to research on coworker trust and morale.
Substantial research supports the vital role distributive justice plays for numerous important organizational and individual outcomes. A recent meta-analysis found distributive justice to predict outcome satisfaction, organizational commitment, withdrawal, and organizational citizenship behavior (Colquitt et al., 2001). Cohen-Charash and Spector (2001) found distributive justice to also be significantly associated with organizational citizenship behavior, job and pay satisfaction, satisfaction with management, trust in organization and trust in one's manager, in addition to counterproductive behaviors such as conflict and negative emotion. More recent studies have upheld the relationship between distributive justice and pay satisfaction (Roch and Shanock, 2006), job satisfaction (Samad, 2006; Viswesvaran and Ones, 2002), organizational identification (Olkkonen and Lipponen, 2006), and trust in the organization (Aryee et al., 2002). Additionally, Stecher and Rosse (2005) recently showed significant negative relationships between distributive justice and negative emotion, intent to leave and intent to reduce efforts. Furthermore, Rahim et al. (2000) found that when perceptions of distributive justice were high, employees used more cooperative conflict management styles when interacting with their supervisor.
A large body of research has also examined the impact of perceived fairness of the procedures utilized in determining outcomes. Turning to procedural justice, recent meta-analyses have found that procedural justice predicts outcome satisfaction, job satisfaction, performance, organizational commitment, withdrawal and counterproductive work behaviors (Cohen-Charash and Spector, 2001; Colquitt et al., 2001; Viswesvaran and Ones, 2002). Other studies have shown that procedural justice predicts cooperative conflict management behavior (Rahim et al., 2000), aggression directed at one's supervisor (Greenberg and Barling, 1999), trust in management and satisfaction with performance appraisal systems (Cropanzano et al., 2002), in addition to perceived organizational support (Roch and Shanock, 2006). Procedural justice is also considered to be a key factor for effective organizational change efforts (Chawla and Kelloway, 2004).
More recently, researchers have studied the importance of interactional justice, that is, the manner in which decisions are conveyed to individuals. Interactional justice has been found to be related to evaluations of authority figures, job satisfaction, organizational citizenship behavior, outcome satisfaction, commitment, withdrawal behavior and performance (Colquitt et al., 2001). Cropanzano et al. (2002) found a relationship between interactional justice and perceptions of the quality of treatment received by one's manager, which was supported by later findings by Roch and Shanock (2006) that interactional justice predicts supervisor relationship quality. In addition to replicating many of the above findings, Kickul et al. (2002) results showed interactional justice to be related to intentions to quit. And more recently, Stecher and Rosse (2005) concluded that interactional justice had a stronger impact on negative emotions, intent to leave, and intent to reduce work effort than distributive justice.
Taken together, these results offer strong evidence that justice perceptions affect one's experience of work. Although research has tended to focus primarily on organizational and individual outcomes, some research has been directed toward outcomes aimed at supervisors (e.g. trust in supervisors, aggression toward supervisors), especially as those in supervisory roles are the ones most likely to convey messages regarding raises, bonuses, performance appraisals, and promotion decisions. We propose that the perceptions developed of distributive, procedural, and interactional justice are likely to extend even farther in the organization, and relate to how individuals feel about their coworkers and their workgroup. That is, we expect that justice perceptions will pervade into relationships with peers even though one's coworkers are not likely to be those who distribute rewards, develop procedures, and deliver messages about outcomes received. Justice perceptions may be associated with the quality of coworker relationships.
Trust in coworkers and morale
Trust in coworkers refers to holding confident positive expectations in situations involving risk with coworkers (Boon and Holmes, 1991). The concept of trust has been receiving increased attention by management scholars (Dirks and Ferrin, 2001; Mayer et al., 1995; Mayer and Gavin, 2005; Wech, 2002). For example, researchers (e.g. Bruning et al., 1996; Ferres et al., 2004) have found that trust in coworkers relates to increased organizational commitment, and early research by Cook and Wall (1980) showed that trust in coworkers also contributes to overall workplace trust. Trust in coworkers has been found to be related to greater proactive behavior in the workplace (Parker et al., 2006) and lower intentions to quit (Ferres et al., 2004; Ladebo, 2006).
Morale refers to the overall attitude about one's workgroup (Sirota et al., 2005). A work group characterized by high morale is typified by positive feelings, optimism, and satisfaction with coworkers and how work is conducted. In contrast, workgroups described as being low in morale tend to be characterized by bitterness, frustration, negativity, and an overall dissatisfaction with the work environment. Poor morale has been shown to be related to lower work effort and productivity (Weakliem and Frenkel, 2006). This impact on productivity is especially notable. While we commonly think of the negative outcomes associated with poor morale, recent research has found high morale to be linked to substantial increases in stock price (Sirota et al., 2005).
Justice perceptions are likely to be related to both trust in coworkers and morale. Distributive justice perceptions exist when employees believe there is an equitable allocation of rewards based on performance and other factors such as level of responsibility and experience (Adams, 1965). Belief that rewards are distributed equitably should increase the level of trust in one's coworkers. If employees believe that distributive justice exists, then they will feel that people receive the rewards they deserve, and that they are not being taken advantage of unfairly. Feelings of inequitable reward distribution may cause employees to be suspicious and resentful of their coworkers, as they ponder the rewards their coworkers received and what they achieved to deserve them. Belief that rewards are equitably distributed should also be related to higher morale. When employees see that rewards are linked to their efforts (Nadler and Lawler, 2007), it should enhance their motivation and beliefs that rewards are fairly allocated. Believing that an equitable distribution of rewards exists, employees should be more satisfied with their work environment and their coworkers. The positive feelings engendered by an equitable reward system should translate into a favorable outlook toward the workgroup and hence, greater morale. As such, we hypothesize that:
H1. Distributive justice perceptions will be positively related to trust in coworkers and morale.
We expect that procedural justice perceptions will be related to both trust in coworkers and morale. Procedural justice is characterized by a consistency in procedures, lack of bias, accuracy of information, representation by those to whom the procedures pertain, and opportunity for a formal appeal (Leventhal, 1980). Essentially, procedural justice in the workplace helps ensure that employees are playing by the same set of rules. Mechanisms are in place to prevent favoritism among employees. When policies and procedures are consistently followed, employees are less likely to feel that due process was thwarted. Having clear and consistent processes is likely to lead to greater trust among coworkers as employees will perceive that organizational policies are being enforced in an equitable manner, and it is unlikely that coworkers can subvert organizational procedures, (e.g. promotion policies) to gain an unfair advantage. Furthermore, knowing that employees had a voice in the development of procedures and processes should help enhance feelings of trust among coworkers as the policies are implemented. Procedural justice perceptions should also be related to morale. Procedural justice allows for concerns to be heard, for decisions to be made in a consistent manner, and for differences to be resolved via an appeals mechanism. These procedures should result in a greater esprit de corps among coworkers due to the enhanced fairness by which policies are implemented and adhered. Research on political behavior in organizations (Kacmar and Baron, 1999) has found that the absence or inconsistent application of organizational policies or procedures regarding important outcomes results in greater political behavior as employees vie for rewards or decisions favorable to themselves. Such competitive behavior on the part of employees to sway decisions in their favor due to inconsistent application of organizational policies is likely to have damaging effects on employee morale.
H2. Procedural justice perceptions will be positively related to trust in coworkers and morale.
Finally, perceptions of interactional justice should be associated with greater trust in coworkers and higher morale. Interactional justice refers to treating employees with respect, honesty, and sincerity (Bies and Moag, 1986). Employees who are treated with respect and concern by their managers are more likely to have faith in their managers' decisions. Employees are less inclined to believe that their views have not been given appropriate consideration. Being treated in a considerate and respectful manner by managers is a form of role modeling (Bandura, 1976) for employees. The interactional justice role modeled by a manager should increase the likelihood that employees will treat their coworkers in the same respectful manner which should lead to the development of greater trust in one's coworkers. Furthermore, we expect that interactional justice will be related to morale. According to the social information processing model (Salancik and Pfeffer, 1978), employee attitudes are affected in part by the attitudes of others (such as coworkers) that employees interact with in the workplace. Employees who feel abused or mistreated by a supervisor often complain about such mistreatment to their coworkers. The negative attitude toward the supervisor is then likely to spread among the employees, causing a decrease in morale. In contrast, when an employee is treated in a considerate and sincere manner by a supervisor, positive reports of the supervisor's treatment are likely to be conveyed to the members of a workgroup. The favorable feelings generated by the supervisor's behavior should be related to higher morale.
H3. Interactional justice perceptions will be positively related to trust in coworkers and morale.
Survey packets were distributed to 364 non-supervisory employees at their place of business at six small companies in a large Midwestern city in the US. These companies represented a wide range of industries including financial services, printing, employee placement, health care billing, transportation, and data and communications. In two of the smaller companies, everyone was asked to participate; whereas in the larger organizations only one or two departments were invited to respond. Only employees who had been at their company at least six months were invited to participate, as those employed less than six months may have had insufficient time to develop perceptions of distributive, procedural, or interactional justice in their workplace or attitudes toward their coworkers and workgroup. The survey packet given to employees included a cover letter depicting the importance of the study, its voluntary nature, and assured participants of confidentiality.
Useable surveys were returned from 264 respondents for a response rate of 72 percent. The average respondent was 39 years old, 60 percent were female, 51 percent were married, 78 percent were caucasian, and 55 percent had completed at least some college. A total of 41 percent held professional/technical positions, 52 percent held clerical or other types of hourly positions while 7 percent did not specify their current job type. The average tenure of the respondents was seven years. The respondents were employed by the following organizations: health care billing (43 percent), data and communications (22 percent), printing (17 percent), financial services (6 percent), employee placement (4 percent), transportation (3 percent), and 5 percent did not specify their organization. To enhance the generalizability of the study's results and to increase the power of the analyses, data from all respondents were combined to test the study's hypotheses.
Trust in co-workers
Trust in coworkers was measured with a six-item scale developed by Cook and Wall (1980). These items examine the support, reliability, and confidence in coworkers, measured on five-point Likert scales ranging from 1= strongly disagree to 5= strongly agree. Sample items from this scale included “Most of my co-workers can be relied upon to do as they say they will do” and “Most of my coworkers would get on with the work even if supervisors were not around.” Coefficient alpha for this scale was 0.87.
Individual perceptions of morale were measured using a five-item scale adapted from Hart (1994). The morale scale was measured on a five-point Likert scale with anchors ranging from 1= strongly disagree to 5= strongly agree. Sample items included “There is good team spirit in this department” and “The morale in my department is high.” Coefficient alpha for this scale was 0.92.
Organizational justice was measured with twenty items from the scale developed by Niehoff and Moorman (1993). Respondents answered on a seven-point Likert scale with anchors ranging from 1= strongly disagree to 7= strongly agree.
Distributive justice was measured with five items designed to measure the fairness of rewards. Sample items included “I am fairly rewarded considering my responsibilities” and “I am fairly rewarded for the work I have done well.” Coefficient alpha for this scale was 0.97.
Procedural justice was measured with six items designed to measure the fairness of procedures. Sample items included “My firm has formal procedures designed to provide opportunities to appeal or challenge decisions” and “My firm has formal procedures designed to let all sides affected by a decision be represented.” Coefficient alpha for this scale was 0.95.
Interactional justice was measured using nine items designed to measure the fairness of interactions. Sample items included “My supervisor considers my viewpoint” and “My supervisor treats me with kindness and consideration.” Coefficient alpha for this scale was 0.94.
The control variables of gender, marital status, education, tenure with the company, and position were used. Gender was coded one for men and two for women; marital status was coded one for single and two for married. Respondents also indicated their level of education obtained, where 1= didn't complete high school, 2= high school, 3= some college, 4= associates degree, 5= bachelors degree, 6= some graduate school, and 7= graduate school or beyond. Respondents noted their tenure with their current employer in years and months. This was recoded into total months. Respondents indicated the type of their current position where 1= professional/technical and 2= clerical/hourly position.
Table I presents the means, standard deviations, and correlations for the study variables. All three types of justice were positively associated with trust in coworkers and morale. Distributive justice, procedural justice, and interactional justice were related to trust in coworkers (r=0.39, r=0.34, r=0.38) and morale (r=0.53, r=0.50, r=0.48) respectively. Taken together, these preliminary findings lend initial support to our hypotheses.
To perform a more stringent examination of the hypotheses, hierarchical multiple regression was performed. Table II shows the results of the regression analyses predicting trust in coworkers and morale. Control variables were entered in the first block and the justice variables were added in the second block to calculate the unique changes in R 2 . When added into the equation, all three types of justice remained significant in both models. Specifically, distributive justice predicted both trust in coworkers (β=0.18), and morale (β=0.30); as did procedural justice (β=0.16, β=0.25, respectively) and interactional justice (β=0.20, β=0.20, respectively). With the control variables included, those who perceived greater organizational justice also experienced higher feelings of trust in their coworkers and higher morale, providing support for our three hypotheses. Of the control variables, there was only one significant relationship. Tenure was negatively related to morale (β=−0.17), such that those who were with their company for a longer period of time reported lower morale. Looking at the R 2 values for the models revealed that the regression equations accounted for 21 percent of the variance in trust in coworkers and 45 percent of the variance in morale.
Finally, we were concerned as to whether there were any differences in coworker trust and morale based on the company where the respondent was employed. We computed analyses of variance with post hoc Bonferroni contrasts using the organization as the independent variable, to determine whether the company in which the respondent worked influenced trust in coworkers and morale. The ANOVA for trust in coworkers was not significant; however, the ANOVA for morale did reach statistical significance. Examination of the post hoc contrasts showed that the sixteen employees of the financial services firm tended to have higher levels of morale than employees in several of the other companies. To determine whether the organization was influencing our results, we removed the employees of the financial services firm from our sample, and reran our regression equation. The results from the regression equation remained the same, indicating that the organization where the respondent worked did not influence the results.
In the workplace of the twenty first century, employees are being asked to collaborate and cooperate as never before in the face of increasing global competition and technological change (Pearlman and Barney, 2000). Self-managing teams, project work, and task forces are prevalent in organizations, requiring that employees work effectively with others (Morgeson et al., 2005). To promote healthy coworker relationships, organizations need to consider how justice perceptions are related to the ability of employees to work well with one another. Employees who are busy “keeping score” as to how they are treated and the rewards they receive are unlikely to be thoughtful, resourceful contributors for their colleagues. While much previous research has focused on the individual and organizational outcomes of justice perceptions, little attention has been given to the possibility that justice perceptions may influence the attitudes of employees towards their co-workers. As such, the purpose of this study was to examine whether employee perceptions of justice are related to trust in coworkers and morale.
Our results showed that distributive, procedural, and interactional justice perceptions are strongly related to the perceptions of one's coworkers and workgroup. The distribution of rewards, organizational policies and procedures, and interpersonal treatment by supervisors showed strong relationships with coworker trust and overall morale. These results are important, given that lack of coworker trust and poor morale are associated with many negative outcomes such as low organizational commitment and productivity and higher intentions to quit (Bruning et al., 1996; Ferres et al., 2004; Weakliem and Frenkel, 2006). Furthermore, recent research has shown that the effects of job attitudes on task performance, contextual performance, and withdrawal behaviors (e.g. absenteeism) may be stronger than previously thought when the criterion is measured at a more abstract level (Harrison et al., 2006). Hence, fostering perceptions of justice in the workplace would seem to be especially critical for managers and organizations.
Several limitations must be acknowledged when considering the findings of this study. This study was a cross-sectional field study with the data collected at one point in time. Therefore, we cannot determine causality. However, it appears unlikely that coworker trust and morale would lead to equitable distribution of rewards, fairness in organizational procedures, and respectful treatment by managers. Nevertheless, future longitudinal research would be beneficial for exploring how justice perceptions influence coworker trust and morale. In addition, common method variance is a concern given the use of a self-report survey. Common method variance tends to inflate the strength of relationships under investigation, although the direction remains the same. Future research should attempt to collect more objective measures of justice (e.g. evaluating the fairness of company reward systems and procedures through archival records) to see how such measures relate to outcome variables. Future research should also explore potential moderator variables of the relationships between justice perceptions and perceptions of coworkers. For instance, the effectiveness or degree of liking for one's supervisor may moderate the relationships between justice perceptions and coworker relationships.
Finally, future research should explore possible mediating effects of coworker trust and morale on the relationships between justice perceptions and productivity, organizational citizenship behavior, and teamwork as well as the theoretical mechanisms through which these results may occur. For instance, Blau's (1964, 1986) concept of social exchange may help to explain how justice perceptions relate to coworker trust and morale, which in turn may lead to both task and contextual performance. If employees perceive a lack of fairness in the workplace, they are more likely to engage in economic exchanges (characterized by their explicit, controlled nature) with others that may hinder the quality of their relationships in the workplace, and subsequently negatively impact both their task and contextual performance. In contrast, employees who perceive high levels of justice in the workplace should be more likely to engage in social exchanges with others since an element of trust is present that employees will be treated fairly. Social exchange relationships have a more diffuse nature and are not governed by a quid pro quo sense of reciprocity. Employees should be more likely to trust one another and develop higher levels of morale in an environment characterized by social exchanges, which should lead to more active engagement in problem-solving among employees, better teamwork, higher productivity, and greater organizational citizenship behavior.
Our findings on organizational justice and co-worker relationships illustrate the vital role that distributive, procedural, and interactional justice perceptions play in the workplace. In light of their importance, a number of actions can be taken to improve employee justice perceptions. To enhance distributive justice perceptions, managers need to help employees understand how organizational compensation systems function so employees perceive fairness in reward allocation. Managers should also recognize that employees focus on many other rewards besides compensation, including the condition of their work environment and company perquisites (expense account, car, etc.) and make sure their distribution is fair. To build better procedural justice perceptions, managers must strive to ensure that procedures are fair, based on employee input, and allow for a formal appeals mechanism (Leventhal, 1980). Employees should be treated consistently and feedback given in a timely manner. Finally, to enhance interactional justice perceptions, managers need to treat employees (regardless of performance level) with respect and dignity. Actively listening to employee concerns and avoiding defensiveness are two key techniques for building interactional justice (Burley-Allen, 1995; Rogers and Farson, 2007). In sum, distributive, procedural, and interactional justice are three key elements for managers to consider for enhancing trust among employees and improving morale in the workplace.
Table ICorrelations, means, and standard deviations of study variables
Table IIMultivariate regressions predicting trust in coworkers and morale (n=208)
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About the authors
Monica Forret (PhD, University of Missouri) is a Full Professor in the Department of Managerial Studies at St Ambrose University. She has published articles in Journal of Organizational Behavior, Group & Organization Management, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Career Development International, Journal of Business and Psychology, and Organizational Dynamics primarily in the areas of networking, mentoring, and recruitment processes. Monica L. Forret is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: ForretMonicaL@sau.edu
Mary Sue Love (PhD, University of Missouri) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Management and Marketing at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She has published articles in Journal of Applied Psychology, Career Development International, Communications of the ACM, International Journal of Management Concepts and Philosophy, and Business Horizons primarily in the areas of organizational citizenship behavior, coworker interactions and IT professionals.