James is a good friend and a mentor. After his retirement from university last year, he has been struggling to hold a job, even though the recruiters are eager to hire him given the impressive credentials. Having served in education all his life and giving his heart and soul to his students, James’ expectations for [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Organisational Justice: Fairplay matters


James is a good friend and a mentor. After his retirement from university last year, he has been struggling to hold a job, even though the recruiters are eager to hire him given the impressive credentials. Having served in education all his life and giving his heart and soul to his students, James’ expectations for ethical practice reach far beyond what may be realistic in some of the modern day organisations. James’ issue was that he could not tolerate the loopholes in the biased procedures that, like a system immunised to fairness, gave way to random recruitments governed by outside politics, biased promotions, below-par measures that fail to recognise the genuine efforts of the people and more grievously, centralised authoritarian and ruthless leadership practices that stretched the power distances amongst the decision-makers and the workers. Well, James opted to quit. However, not all of us can afford to do so even though painfully speaking, certain values are far more important to be compromised.

Organisational justice can take four different forms that have been found to have different effects in the workplace. Distributive justice is about people’s beliefs that they receive fair amounts of valued work-related outcomes such as pay and recognition thereby having an impact on motivation to perform the jobs. Secondly, Procedural justice is based on people’s perceptions of the fairness of the procedures used to determine the outcomes they receive, for example, the recruitment process or the performance management systems deciding promotions and increments. In forming judgments about procedural justice, people take different factors into consideration such as, the voice given to the employees in making decisions that affect them, consistency in applying the rules of the organisation, accuracy in the use of information that is available, opportunity to correct errors and the absence of any room for the decision-makers to tweak the end result. Next, Interpersonal justice is about people’s perceptions of the fairness of the manner in which they are being treated by others, typically by authority figures. In cultures where the positions are more governed by who you know than what you can offer, this form of justice is most abused. Finally, Informational justice talks about people’s perception on fairness of the information used as the basis for making decisions. It is known that people believe that they are an important part of the organisation when an organisational official takes the time to explain thoroughly to them the rationale behind a decision.

Research reveals that there is a biological basis for people’s reaction to injustice and that humans appear to be genetically ‘hard-wired’ to be responsive to injustices. Neurologically, we seem to react differently to distributive justice and procedural justice. According to research findings, people respond to distributive injustice in highly emotional ways with frustration and aggression. In contrast, procedural injustice is highly cognitive as it requires the person to think and process information about what is going on. This is evidenced in many cultures, where people’s emotions are tamed and satisfied through ‘giving something’, an occasional bonus, a token, a perk that act as a temporary fix. Furthermore, a few will have the capacity to analyse what really is happening, the systemic flaws; hence procedural injustice takes longer to identify and fight against.

In an organisation, there are many strategies to promote justice; paying workers what they deserve, offering them a voice (meeting them regularly and invite input, conducting surveys, keeping an open-door policy, using suggestion systems), explaining decisions thoroughly and in a manner that demonstrates dignity and respect and training people to be fair. But this is just not enough! Justice is embedded crucially in Leadership. As humans, we love the ego boost of ‘power’, but somehow, we seem to forget the responsibility that comes with it. Wherever we are in the hierarchy, we have a tremendous duty to stand up for what is just and what is right, to take personal responsibility about who we are, how we work and how we treat others. We are quick to judge others or to blame the system, but we are also quick to justify our actions on the same values, because everyone else seems to do the same. We humans are funny creatures.

Most of us may not have the luxury my friend James had, but we can all stand our ground. One of the interesting suggestions I happened to hear recently was that we deserve to be where we are today due to our passivity and naïve compliance to what is going on. But you and I were not born yesterday; we do know that this is easier said than done; fighting against the norm comes at a cost. It is interesting to explore whether the people who are actually cut to become leaders are shying away or quitting due to complacency at best and the risk of assassination (of all forms) at worst. You and I are the best judges of our unique calling, so unless we respond to it obediently, the injustice is bound to continue. Leadership is not just about passion, performance, prestige or power. Leadership is ethical responsibility! Leadership is purpose!

Rozaine returns as BT Columnist

Rozaine Cooray, a Business Psychologist, consultant and a university lecturer based in Colombo, was a regular columnist for the Business Times (BT) two years ago until she decided to take a break to assist her business partner with conducting research to develop a home-grown holistic coaching model that will be featured in the duo’s upcoming book.

During this time, along with her team at her company, she has also been heading a range of empowerment programmes for adolescents and adults in northern Sri Lanka. Rozanne, who can be contacted via email on rozaine@forte.lk, returns as our columnist with bigger and better ideas, thoughts and suggestions to follow.

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