Workplace Fairness, Anger and Retaliation

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Does our perception of workplace fairness affect our performance and overall mental health on the job? That is the question Dr. Isabelle St-Pierre and Dr. Dave Holmes sought to answer in their research, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, exploring the effects of perceived injustices in the workplace. Dr. St-Pierre, whose background is rooted in occupational health nursing, describes the motivation behind her work: “I was able to witness first hand the consequences on employees of an unhealthy work environment. For example, I was able to observe what happens when employees perceive they are not treated with respect and dignity, are not part of the decision making process and feel they are victim of injustice”.

According to Dr. St-Pierre’s article, previous research had found a link between aspects of workplace fairness, referred to as organizational justice, and other aspects of job satisfaction, citizenship behavior, and performance. Specifically, she points to the Handbook of Organizational Justice, written in 2005 by Jerrold Greenberg and colleagues, which highlights several different dimensions of organizational justice: distributive justice (a comparison an employee makes between his or her contribution to the workplace and what he or she receives in return from the workplace), procedural justice (an employee’s perceptions of fairness with regard to how decisions are made by employers), and interactional justice (the perception of the employee that he or she is being treated with respect and dignity and being provided with a rationale for how decisions are made).

That being said, just how does organizational justice affect an individual in the workplace, and in particular, what is its relationship to workplace aggression? It turns out that when employers focus on these three dimensions of organizational justice, they may reduce retaliation behavior and aggression among employees. Specifically, the authors point to various factors among nursing staff that contribute to perceived injustices in the workplace: feeling overworked or unsure about responsibilities associated with their position, limited support, limited training, having to manage employees who may display workplace aggression, and having to give negative feedback to employees.

Dr. St-Pierre says that the take-home message of her work is that “there is a strong link between the concept of justice and ethics principles. As such, licensed health care professionals bound by standards of practice and a code of ethic must uphold principles of justice, equity and respect”. On the subject of employee-manager relations, she notes that “For their part, employers must create work environments where such principles are at the core of business so that employees can practice in accordance with the requirements of their profession”.

If you have any questions for Isabelle St-Pierre, she can be reached by email at i.stpierre@sympatico.ca.

By Katie Kordus
Katie Kordus 
is a junior Psychology and Spanish major at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  She has a minor in Human Development and plans on attending graduate school after graduating in December 0f 2011.

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