On MLK Jr. Day, let’s look at justice in the workplace

The thing that really got me into the field of OD psychology was “justice.” I was, like many people, unhappy in my job. I didn’t think much of it because I saw that everyone was unhappy in their work and I just figured it was the way it was. Work was something to be tolerated, to earn a paycheck, and not be really fulfilling. However, being the son of an attorney, I was constantly thinking there was no “justice” in this practice. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what “it” was but I knew it wasn’t “just.” People being treated poorly, not getting the credit they deserve to help make their respective company’s an extra couple of bucks, being passed over for well-deserved promotions because the boss’ son-in-law was just hired straight out of school and given the corner office…. So what was to be done?

It was at this time that I started taking a class on Psychological research where our term-paper was to find a study published in the last 5 years and write a duplication study that would expand on what it didn’t quite hit. I set off to the library database and entered some search terms having to do with “work” and “justice.” Wow! There are actually people who research this stuff? Who knew? The article that caught my eye was “The Distributive Side of Interactional Justice: The Effects of Interpersonal Treatment on Emotional Arousal.” When I presented this to my professor her eyes lit up. She stopped the class, told everyone to discuss what they were going to do with a partner, and came over to me to praise me on my choice. It turns out she’s a Ph.D. in something called Industrial/Organizational Psychology. She set me up with a ton of resources, told me about SIOP (Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychologists) and I was invigorated to shift my focus from clinical psych to I/O or OD (Organizational Development) Psychology.

The concept of “justice” is one that looks at keeping people engaged when they come to work. As Leventhal defines, the procedural justice side is defined by fair procedures that are deemed unbiased, consistent, fairly represent all employees, and ethical. Distributive justice is the equity of wage and resources among employees. Interactional justice is the fairness perceived among peers (Stecher and Rosse, 229-230). All of these views have an impact on employee morale and output, which in turn, will ultimately have an impact on company output and profit. Past research has shown that employees who perceive to be mistreated “are less satisfied with their jobs, less committed to their organization, less trusting of their coworkers, more psychologically distressed, more resistant to their supervisors’ influence attempts, and less willing to perform prosocial organizational behaviors” (qtd. in Tepper et al, 1).

So, basically it’s looking at how employees are, or perceive, being treated unfairly and how that impacts work performance. Of course this will negatively impact work performance yet so many places fail to acknowledge the importance of keeping the workplace fair and just. On this, the day where we celebrate one of the greatest Americans of all time, one who fought for equality and justice, let’s not forget that these principles are very important inside the walls of the workplace as well.



Stecher, Mary D., & Rosse, Joseph G. (2005). The Distributive Side of Interactional Justice: The Effects of Interpersonal Treatment on Emotional Arousal. Journal of Managerial Issues, 17(2), 229-246. Retrieved July 12,2006, from CSU Sacramento Library Psychinfo database (2005-07195-006).

Tepper, Bennett J., Michelle K Duffy, Christine A Henie, & Lisa Schurer Lambert. (2006). Procedural Injustice, Victim Precipitation, and Abusive Supervision. Personnel Psychology, 59(1), 101-124. Retrieved July 29, 2006, from Proquest (1003526051)