Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Equity Sensitivity: A Triadic Measure and Outcome/input Perspectives

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Equity Sensitivity: A Triadic Measure and Outcome/input Perspectives

Article excerpt

For hundreds of years, employers have searched for an answer to a common managerial question "How do I get the most from my employees?" Research efforts to answer this question have resulted in a patchwork of motivation theory and research. One predominant piece of that patchwork was proposed by Adams in 1963 when he offered equity theory to explain what happens in the workplace. In simple terms, equity theory states that an employee compares what he or she puts into a situation and gets out of a situation to those inputs and outcomes of a referent other. An individual wants to see equity between his outcomes/inputs to the ratio of outcomes/inputs of a referent other. When there is a lack of equity, the individual experiences discomfort and seeks to establish equity.

Huseman et al. (1985, 1987) proposed equity sensitivity theory as an extension of Adams' (1963, 1965) equity theory to account for individual differences in response to perceived inequities in work situations. According to King et al. (1993), equity sensitivity theory asserts that individuals respond to situations of inequity as "benevolents" (tolerant of unfavorable inequity--situations in which one's own outcome/input ratio is less than a comparison other's ratio), "equity sensitives" (classic equity preference--situations in which one's own outcome/input ratio is equal to a comparison other's ratio), or "entitleds" (tolerant of favorable inequity--situations in which one's own outcome/ input ratio is greater than a comparison other's ratio). Moreover, King et al. (1993) suggest that benevolents are more focused on the inputs they contribute, while entitleds are more focused on the outcomes they receive. These differences are critical to our understanding of business relationships and transactions because of the potentially substantial impact of equity perceptions on other important variables such as justice, job satisfaction, commitment, organizational citizenship behavior, turnover, and other individual and organizational factors. Understanding the differential influences of benevolent, equity sensitive, and entitled responses to perceived inequities may provide important insights into any number of variables that are central to our understanding of workplace behavior.

Virtually all of the equity sensitivity research to date has used the Equity Sensitivity Instrument (ESI) developed by Huseman et al. (1985). The scale contains five pairs of statements, and respondents are asked to allocate ten points between the two statements for each pair. Points are then summed for the statements that reflect a "benevolent" point of view. Despite its widespread use, criticisms of the ESI persist.

Sauley and Bedeian (2000) discussed problems related to item development, sample-specific scoring, and inappropriate use of cut scores to determine categories. Foote and Harmon (2006) suggested adding equity sensitive items to the ESI so that points could be distributed over three responses (i.e., benevolent, equity sensitive, and entitled) rather than the two current responses (benevolent and entitled). Davison and Bing expressed concern with the forced-distribution format of the ESI, noting that "benevolence and entitlement will always be perfectly negatively correlated in this measurement system," (2008:132) and Shore and Strauss (2008) found low convergent validity between the ESI and conceptually similar constructs.

A few researchers have considered the input side of the equity equation (Tornow, 1971; Larwood et al., 1979), but the majority of equity sensitivity studies have focused on the outcomes individuals' receive (e.g. Miles et al., 1991; Allen and White, 2002; Shore, 2004). Recently, Davison and Bing (2008) further reconceptualized equity sensitivity as a multidimensional construct based on the extent to which individuals focus on inputs and/or outcomes. They envisioned benevolence and entitlement as separate dimensions, such that an individual could exhibit a low or high focus on inputs (benevolence) and a low or high focus on outcomes (entitlement). …

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