Researchers from a variety of disciplines within psychology have come to the conclusion that people care a great deal about fairness. One stream of this research, organizational justice, focuses on issues of justice in the workplace. Whereas most justice researchers agree that organizational justice is a multidimensional construct, this entry focuses on one particularly important dimension of justice called procedural justice.
Procedural Justice Definition
Procedural justice is generally defined as the perceived fairness of the procedures used to make decisions. In organizations, these decisions often involve allocating resources such as promotions or raises. While people are certainly concerned with the fairness and favorability of their outcomes, the procedures used to arrive at these decisions can also influence peoples’ reactions.
An Overview of Procedural Justice
John Thibaut and Laurens Walker first demonstrated the importance that people place on procedural justice. These researchers examined process control, which refers to the opportunity to voice one’s opinion, and decision control, or the ability to influence the outcome via one’s voice, in the context of legal negotiations. They found that people were willing to give up decision control as long as they were still allowed to voice their opinions about the process used to negotiate a decision. The process control idea has been extended into organizational settings, where employees see procedures as fair when the procedures are correctable, ethical, unbiased, based on accurate information, used consistently, and consider stakeholders’ opinions. So why do people care about procedural justice? One theory, the instrumental model, states that people care about procedural justice because fair procedures should lead to fair and favorable outcomes over time. The relational model has a different take on this, arguing that people care about procedural justice because fair procedures signify that one is valued by the group. The relational model also has implications for the self, as fair treatment can affect one’s identity by verifying that one is a valued group member.
Perceptions of procedural justice affect a number of important attitudes and behaviors, such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, trust, perceived organizational support, self-esteem, and identity. Procedural justice also influences performance, withdrawal, turnover, discrimination-claiming behavior, and organizational retaliatory behaviors such as employee theft. Organizations should be concerned with the fairness of their procedures, which can also have significant implications for career development. Before describing the implications of procedural justice for career development, this entry briefly discusses career management systems in today’s workforce. It then presents three major decisions or processes involved in career development—(1) choosing a career, job, or organization, (2) advancing within an organization, and (3) changing careers or organizations—and highlights the important role that procedural justice plays for both the individual’s career development and the organization’s success.
Career Management Systems
A great deal has been written about the changing nature of work and the move from traditional employment, where employees spent their entire careers with one organization, to a more dynamic career path. This shift to a protean career, a career that changes frequently due to changes in the employee’s interests or work environment, requires that employees take responsibility for their own career development. This is important, as most employees today do not stay with the same organization for the duration of their time in the workforce. This new relationship between employees and employers creates a definite need for organizations to invest in a career management system. These systems vary a great deal in terms of their focus and goals. For instance, some systems may focus more on helping employees understand their career values, interests, and abilities, whereas other systems may center on short- and long-term goal setting. Other organizations may create a system with clearly established career paths within the organization, whereas another system may be less formalized. Regardless of the system’s structure, career management is a shared responsibility among different partners and therefore becomes largely affected by interactions among those partners. The employee, manager, and organization share responsibility for supporting career management, although each partner has different role responsibilities. Employees should perform well, discuss career-related issues with their managers, identify areas that need improvement, and establish career goals. The manager’s role requires effective coaching, counseling, communication, and use of the organization’s resources. Finally, the organization is responsible for creating a culture and systems that support career management.
Choosing a Career, Job, or Organization
As individuals enter or reenter the workplace, their employment choices should ideally support their career goals. While a number of factors affect these decisions, the impression that an organization gives to potential employees will influence the likelihood that these individuals will pursue a career with that organization. Thus organizations should ensure that their recruiting policies and practices are procedurally fair with regard to relevant guidelines such as the EEOC, contractual policies, and labor practices. However, it is also important to consider potential employees’ perceptions of the organization’s recruiting procedures. If an individual does pursue a job within that organization, procedural fairness during the selection process is also critical. Potential applicants’ perceptions of the organization go beyond recruitment and selection procedures, however. For example, an organization that values development and operates a solid career management system may attract better candidates and ultimately cultivate greater social capital. This should serve to enhance employees’ perceptions of procedural fairness with regard to their career development and related issues. Furthermore, once new employees begin their employment, it is crucial that the organization provide beneficial training and development opportunities, because this will enhance new employees’ perceptions of procedural fairness. These early experiences influence subsequent attitudes and behavior, and it is difficult for the organization to change employees’ negative impressions once they are set.
Advancing Within an Organization
In organizations that have career management systems with clearly established career paths, the organization should do its best to communicate the purpose of the system and how it operates, as this will enhance perceptions of procedural fairness. Employees should know what competencies are important for success in the various positions and the developmental activities needed to develop these competencies. If an organization establishes formal procedures for determining when developmental activities occur and who participates, these procedures should be applied consistently, ethically, and without bias. Employees should be allowed to appeal the decisions, and the information used to make these decisions should be as transparent as possible. Organizations should consider allowing employees to participate in designing the procedures used to make these decisions, because this will likely enhance their perceptions of outcome fairness. All of these activities have been shown to promote perceptions of procedural fairness. These issues also have implications for talent retention, because employees who perceive the career management system as procedurally unfair may leave the organization prematurely. This can have serious consequences for the organization, particularly if the organization is concerned with succession planning.
Following from the protean career, effective development now focuses less on formalized training and more on building relationships and gaining experience. Thus, organizations should consider what they can do to enhance these outcomes. For example, employees may benefit from job rotation, either within a work team or across areas of the organization. Creating opportunities for employees to network with others in the organization or industry may also be beneficial to both the employee and the organization. Organizations should also reward employees for participating in these activities, as this sends a strong message that employees’ learning and development are valued. Thus, organizations should ensure that their culture and systems support career management. However, managers also play an important role here. For instance, they need to coach employees through the development process and demonstrate supportive communication. It is important to keep in mind that the interactions between employees and managers, as well as with the organization, can affect perceptions of procedural fairness. Thus, managers need to clarify performance expectations, provide adequate feedback, and treat employees with respect during these interactions.
Because so much hinges on the developmental opportunities an organization provides, organizations should take care to implement these opportunities in a procedurally fair manner. For instance, information regarding developmental opportunities and possible career moves should be made available to all employees to enhance perceptions of procedural justice. Special consideration should be given to employees whose skills may quickly become obsolete. The organization should ensure that these employees have access to developmental activities that will update these skills or teach skills that will be needed in the future. This is especially important if the organization anticipates laying off employees. When an organization makes a good faith effort to develop and prepare its employees for future work, even if these employees will eventually leave the organization for one reason or another, several positive things can happen. For example, employees who are laid off will react more favorably to their negative outcome, be less likely to pursue discrimination-claiming litigation against the organization, and be more likely to speak favorably of the organization. This also enhances the reputation of the organization as a positive place to work, which can serve as a powerful recruiting tool.
Once the organization is ready to make promotional decisions, issues of procedural justice will again arise. The organization should ensure that these procedures are fair before implementing them to make promotional decisions. However, employees’ perceptions of these procedures must also be managed. Again, this can be done by allowing employees to voice their opinions about how promotional decisions should be made. Procedural justice may be especially important when these types of decisions are made because the organization cannot promote a large number of employees, particularly in organizations with a flat hierarchical structure. Thus, there will generally be many employees who are not promoted at any given time. If not promoted, employees who view the procedures used to make these decisions as fair will most likely perceive their unfavorable outcome as fairer than they would had the procedures been unjust.
Changing Careers or Organizations
Many researchers have stated that the nature of employment between an employee and an employer is dramatically different from the past. Employees used to expect that that they would be employed by the same organization for the duration of their careers and that they would eventually be promoted up the hierarchy. However, this employment arrangement has become outdated, as organizations must be flexible and responsive to customer demands and other environmental changes.
Employees need to understand this and take responsibility for their career development, focusing on their lifelong career goals and learning objectives. For example, employees need to ensure that they are performing as effectively as possible and regularly communicating with their manager concerning career development goals and progress. Employees must also know where they want their careers to go and be able to identify areas where they require development, although this can be difficult to do. On the other hand, this change also shifts a different kind of responsibility onto organizations. Because most employees spend several years with any given company, organizations should ensure that they provide the best developmental opportunities, given the organization’s constraints and environment. In other words, organizations need to provide helpful learning and development opportunities, which should benefit both the individual and the organization. To many employees, the fairness of these programs and opportunities is absolutely critical.
Because of this shift in the nature of employment, employees need to know that their organization will provide strong developmental opportunities. Moreover, when organizations provide developmental opportunities and information about career prospects, employees should show stronger career motivation. This in turn benefits employees because they gain insight into their own strengths, areas needing development, and career interests. Developmental opportunities also engage employees in learning activities, ensure that their skills do not become outdated, and provide strategies for handling stressful working conditions. Organizations benefit because employees’ career motivation is enhanced, which could encourage innovation, organizational commitment, flexibility, and pride in one’s work. Organizational justice plays a major role in organizations of the twenty-first century, and its role in career development will continue to grow as employees recognize the increasing importance of career management to their working lives.
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