Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Multidimensionality of the Equity Sensitivity Construct: Integrating Separate Benevolence and Entitlement Dimensions for Enhanced Construct Measurement *

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Multidimensionality of the Equity Sensitivity Construct: Integrating Separate Benevolence and Entitlement Dimensions for Enhanced Construct Measurement *

Article excerpt

Equity theory (Adams, 1965) proposes that individuals evaluate the fairness of their situation relative to that of others by assessing the ratio of their own outcomes (e.g., salaries, rewards) to inputs (e.g., effort, skill) in comparison to the corresponding ratios of referent others (e.g., co-workers). If the outcome/input ratios of individuals and their referent others are not equal, then inequity (i.e., over-reward or under-reward) is said to exist, and individuals may use cognitive (e.g., alter perceptions of referent others' inputs or outcomes) or behavioral (e.g., increasing or decreasing inputs) approaches to resolve the inequity. However, individuals subjected to the same inequitable situations often respond in different ways, suggesting that there may be individual differences in sensitivity to inequity.

Research on a construct called equity sensitivity (Huseman et al., 1985, 1987; Miles et al., 1989) has provided empirical evidence that individuals have different tolerances for the level of equity associated with any given situation. Specifically, research suggests that individuals are differentially sensitive to disparities in outcome/input ratios between themselves and their referents, which helps to explain why there are differences in reactions among individuals to the same inequitable situations. This is in contrast to Adams' (1965) original theory, which posited a universal preference among individuals for equity. Huseman et al. (1985, 1987) and Miles et al. (1989) have proposed that differences in sensitivity to equity lie on a continuum, ranging from benevolent to equity sensitive to entitled. Originally, these researchers described benevolent individuals as those who prefer their outcome/input ratios to be less than the ratios of their referents. Equity sensitives were described as individuals who prefer their outcome/ input ratios to be equal to the ratios of comparison others, and who experience distress when either under- or over-rewarded, as proposed in Adams' original theory. Last, entitleds were described as individuals who experience distress when their outcome/input ratios do not exceed the ratios of their referents.

More recently, King et al. (1993) have suggested that benevolents have a greater tolerance for, but not preference for, under-reward, whereas entitleds are more focused on the outcomes they receive than on the inputs they contribute, and thus are more tolerant of over-reward and less tolerant of under-reward. Hence, benevolents might be perceived as altruistic or "givers" who focus primarily on their inputs to work, and entitleds as "getters" who focus primarily on the outcomes that they receive from work (Huseman et al., 1987; King et al., 1993). The Equity Sensitivity Instrument (ESI), developed by Huseman et al. (1985, 1987), has been used in numerous studies to investigate individuals' preferences for outcomes versus inputs in a general work situation. The ESI places individuals on a continuum, from benevolent to equity sensitive to entitled. The instrument is a forced-distribution scale consisting of five pairs of statements, where one statement in each pair reflects a benevolent preference and the other reflects an entitlement preference. All items begin with the phrase, "In any organization that I might work for:" and an example item is as follows:

It would be more important for me to:

A. Get from the organization.--

B. Give to the organization.--

Individuals are instructed to indicate their agreement with each item by distributing 10 points between the paired statements. Theoretically, an entitled person would give the majority of the 10 points to the entitlement statement, a benevolent person would give the majority of the 10 points to the benevolent statement, and an equity sensitive person would give approximately five points to each statement. The ESI is scored on a continuum from 0 to 50 points in the direction of benevolence, such that high scores represent benevolence, middle scores represent equity sensitivity, and low scores represent entitlement. …

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