The Distributive Side of Interactional Justice: The Effects of Interpersonal Treatment on Emotional Arousal

Article excerpt

The importance of reactions to perceptions of unfair treatment in the workplace cannot be understated. As predicted by Adams' (1963, 1965) equity theory, which has increased in importance over the last two decades (Miner, 2003), employees often respond to inequities in wage and other resource distributions by lowering performance or by increasing absenteeism, theft, and other retaliatory behaviors that are generally detrimental to organizational functioning (Greenberg, 1987, 1990, 1993b). In addition to Adam's work with distributive justice, attention has been directed towards the more subtle and long-range effects of procedural justice. Fair procedures, defined as those that are unbiased, based on accurate information, applied consistently, representative of all parties, correctable, and based on ethical standards (Leventhal, 1980) are associated with such positive organizational outcomes as organizational commitment and trust in supervision (Folger and Konovsky, 1989; Konovsky and Cropanzano, 1991) and organizational citizenship behavior (Moorman et al., 1993). Subsequent to the identification of the fundamental effects of distributive and procedural justice, attention shifted to combined effects. Notably, the outcome x procedure interaction, whereby negative responses to unfair or unfavorable outcomes are attenuated by perceptions of procedural fairness, has achieved substantial empirical support (Brockner and Wiesenfeld, 1996; Greenberg, 1987). In addition to investigations of the independent and combined effects of each aspect of justice, contemporary research has begun to address negative emotional reactions to perceived injustice in the workplace and the presumed intervention between emotional states engendered by injustice and employee behaviors (Weiss et al., 1999).

A third aspect of organizational justice, interactional justice, or the perceived fairness of interpersonal treatment (Bies, 1987), appears to have a considerable but inadequately specified influence on perceptions of overall fairness. For example, the quality of interpersonal treatment is associated with acceptance of, and affect towards, authorities (Tyler, 1989), and appears to serve a heuristic value in determining the fairness of organizational procedures and the trustworthiness of decision makers (Brockner, 2002; Lind, 2001). Although most researchers agree that interactional justice can have an impact on organizationally-relevant outcomes, there is considerable controversy regarding its position in the pantheon of organizational justice. While interactional justice is often considered a facet of procedural justice (Brockner and Wiesenfeld, 1996; Lind and Tyler, 1988), or a substitute for procedural justice (Skarliki and Folger, 1997), Greenberg notes that "... attempts to fold interactional justice into procedural justice may be seen as a premature move toward parsimony" (1993b: 99). Manipulations of procedural justice that involve variations in interactional justice may be confounded, and "... some of the strongest effects attributed to procedural justice may have emerged when interactional justice rather than formal procedures were manipulated" (Barling and Phillips, 1993: 650).

The purpose of this study was to investigate whether interactional justice can generate effects similar to distributive justice, and to distinguish those effects from those attributed to procedural causes. The identification of effects that are similar to those of distributive justice, combined with extant knowledge of effects associated with procedural justice, will enhance our understanding of interactional justice and build a foundation for gradual improvement in construct validity, research design, and resulting internal validity of research findings. Moreover, such a distinction is necessary should we hope to understand the effects of interpersonal treatment that occur in the context of work relationships. A pivotal question is whether interactional injustice can evoke the emotional and retaliatory reactions associated with unjust workplace distributions of a more tangible, economic nature. …