Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Testing Measures of Equity Sensitivity for Resistance to Response Distortion

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Testing Measures of Equity Sensitivity for Resistance to Response Distortion

Article excerpt

Equity theory (Adams, 1963, 1965) has been one of the most influential frameworks within management and organizational behavior (Colquitt and Zapata-Phelan, 2007), as it plays a discernible role in the daily lives of employees. Indeed, when individuals perceive inequity at work, they are less satisfied with their jobs, their productivity suffers, and they are more likely to quit (Colquitt et al, 2001). At its core, equity theory posits that individuals make fairness judgments by calculating the ratio between their outcomes (e.g., pay, promotion, etc.) and inputs (e.g., skills, contributions, etc.) and subsequently comparing it to the ratios of relevant peers. In equitable situations, these ratios are equal. In inequitable situations, however, tension or distress is caused in proportion to the perceived inequity, and individuals are consequently motivated to restore an equitable balance.

Although the tenets of equity theory are widely accepted, researchers acknowledge that individual reactions to inequity can differ greatly. These differences have been the subject of a growing body of research into what has become known as equity sensitivity (Huseman et al., 1985, 1987). As is true of other individual differences, equity sensitivity has become recognized as important in predicting attitudinal and behavioral outcomes in the work setting, including job performance (e.g., Bing and Burroughs, 2001; O'Neill and Mone, 1998). To describe how people differ in their perceptions of and reactions to inequity, Huseman et al. (1987) proposed a taxonomy by which individuals' unique equity preferences placed them into one of three categories: Benevolent, Entitled, or Equity Sensitive. Benevolents prefer their outcome/input ratio to be less than their relevant peers, Entitleds prefer their ratio to be greater than others, and Equity Sensitives prefer ratios equal to their peers.

Despite its intuitive logic and strong theoretical foundation, equity sensitivity research has struggled to accumulate a coherent body of findings consistent with equity theory tenets (e.g., Allen and White, 2002; Miles et al, 1989; Zellars and Kacmar, 1999). These inconsistencies, some researchers contend, are partly due to problems in measuring equity sensitivity (Davison and Bing, 2008; Foote and Harmon, 2006; Taylor et al., 2009). Self-report measures, often used to measure the construct, are generally susceptible to socially desirable responding and other biases (Dunning et al., 2004; Podsakoff and Organ, 1986; Spector, 1994). With respect to equity sensitivity measures, researchers have tended to find mean scores indicative of benevolence, so "the question then arises as to whether individuals indeed are more benevolent than entitled in their relationships with organizations, or whether they simply respond in a socially desirable direction (i.e., in a benevolent direction)" (Davison and Bing, 2008: 184). Moreover, Clarke al. (2010) found through cluster analyses that entitled individuals were the least prevalent equity sensitivity group (17%) among a large sample of working adults, with benevolent (33%) and equity-balanced individuals (50%) being more common. Whether due to individual motives or to the measures themselves, distortion of one's equity preferences could affect the accuracy with which a score describes an individual's standing on the characteristics being measured (i.e., benevolence and entitlement) and the validity of predictions made from the scores. As response distortion has been shown to inflate test scores (Kruger, 1999; Viswesvaran and Ones, 1999) and reduce scale variance (Hough et al., 1990), it represents an important yet unexamined problem that may be affecting equity sensitivity research. As such, the present study explores the susceptibility of various equity sensitivity measures to response distortion.

THE DISTORTION OF EQUITY SENSITIVITY

Two theoretical perspectives support the idea that equity sensitivity scores can be distorted. …

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