Organizational Justice and Grievance Procedures




Considerable research has been done about organizational justice and grievance procedures. In spite of some similarities, these two areas have developed rather independently. The integration of these two areas should be needed in order to increasing the understanding organizational justice or workplace justice more broadly. In this essay, I briefly summarize the development of both organizational justice research and grievance research. Then, I will compare and contrast these two streams of research. Finally, I will suggest the specific ways for studying organizational justice defined broadly. I will use "workplace justice" that represents more broadly defined construct of organizational justice.

Organizational justice research

Organizational justice research was developed from equity theory (Adams, 1965). Equity theory considers the proportion of ones input and output, and the proportion is compared with referent others. If the person feels inequitable thorough the comparison, he or she is motivated to reduce that inequity by reducing input, increasing output, or changing the referent others. However, this theory was a little narrow for the understanding of organizational behavior. Therefore, organizational behavior researchers tried to broaden this theory to the idea of organizational justice.

The significant advance in the organizational justice research was to distinguish the distributive and procedural justice (e.g., Greenberg, 1986). While distributive justice refers to the perceived fairness of the outcome, procedural justice refers to the perceived fairness of the procedure that produces the outcome (e.g., Leventhal, 1980). Furthermore, recent studies suggest that procedural justice includes structural components (i.e., fairness of the formal procedure) and interpersonal components (i.e., fairness regarding interpersonal treatment and adequate information) (e.g., Cropanzano & Greenberg, 1997). Some researches differentiate interactional justice from procedural justice (e.g., Skarlicki & Folger, 1997).

Major research has been conducted in order to identify the antecedents and consequences of distributive and procedural justice in various human resource practices and organizational behavior. These practices are performance appraisal (Folger et al. 1992), personnel selection (Gilliland, 1993), compensations (Greenberg), leadership (e.g., Podsakof et al.), retaliation behaviors (Skarlicki & Folger, 1997), and so on. Also, the interaction of distributive and procedural (and interactional) justice has been studied.

Many models and theories regarding organizational justice have been proposed. For example, instrumentality model and group value model try to understand procedural justice (Konovski, 2000). Two factor theory (i.e., distributive and procedural justice independently affect outcomes) and interactional perspective such as referent cognition theory (RCT, Folger, 1987) were developed in order to understand the complex relationship between distributive and procedural justice.

Grievance research

Grievance procedures have been considered as the system that contributes to the workplace justice by solving management-employee disputes, gathering information about the employee relations, providing voice for employees, and so on. Grievance research has been conducted mainly in the unionized settings, although research on nonunion grievance procedures has been also conducted in recent years. From the early post-war period to mid 1980s, grievance research has been rather atheoretical and descriptive in nature. Especially, many of grievance studies were conducted through case studies, and quantitative measures were not used frequently. The major interests of grievance researchers have been the description of the grievance cases, and purpose of the study has been practical (e.g. problem solving) as well as development of knowledge about grievance systems. Quantitative studies appeared after behavioral researchers came into the area of industrial relations. Many studies were conducted using various quantitative measures such as economic and behavioral variables.

Lewin & Peterson (1988) called for more systematic approach for grievance procedure research. They proposed the systems model of grievance procedures in order to understand the grievance effectiveness. According to them, effectiveness of grievance procedures should be assessed through various objective and subjective variables including number of filing, behavioral outcomes of filers, economic variables such as performance and productivity.

Some theories were also proposed in this area. For example, Freeman & Medof's (1984) exit-voice theory states that people remain in organizations or maintain positive attitudes when they have opportunities to exercise voice. Grievance procedures are considered to be such systems that allow employee voice. On the other hand, Arvey & Jones's organizational punishment model suggests that employees who file the grievance will be punished because of the violation of organizational norms. Industrial relations model (e.g., Lewin & Peterson, 1988) focuses on the due process factors of the grievance procedures. Recent article by Lewin & Peterson (1999) examined the behavioral outcomes of grievance procedure and found that the organizational punishment model was supported by their data.

Differences between the two streams of research

There are some differences and similarities between organizational justice research and grievance research. First, organizational justice research is theory-oriented and use deductive approach while grievance research has been rather atheoretical, descriptive and inductive (e.g., Bemmels & Foley, 1996). This might be because organizational researchers' focus has been theory development while industrial relations researchers have focused both on theory development and problem solving purposes.

Second, research on organizational justice heavily relies on student samples, most of whom have little experience of actual workplace justice issues, although some studies ware conducted through field studies (e.g, research on smoking bans by Greenberg). On the other hand, grievance research is typically conducted in the field, using actual employees or actual unionized settings.

Third, in terms of variables and level of analysis, organizational justice research tends to focus on the psychological variables such as the perception of fairness and individual behaviors. On the other hand, grievance research uses the variety of variables that include individual behaviors, grievance filing and settlement rates (e.g., Bemmerls), behavioral outcomes (e.g., Klass & DeNish, 1989; Lewin & Peterson, 1999), employee reactions, organizational or institutional outcomes (e.g. Kleiner et al.) and so on.

Similarities between the two streams of research

There are also some similarities between organizational justice research and grievance research. First, both screams of research have paid little attention to the interactional justice factors. This is because the concept of interactional justice is relatively new. However, interactional justice that includes interpersonal and informational justices appears to be crucial in understanding workplace justice.

Second, the definition and understanding of workplace justice appear to be still inadequate in both organizational justice and grievance research. That is, organizational justice research looks at the issue of justice too narrowly. They tend to limit the definition of justice in terms of psychological or perceived factors (Folger & Cropanzano, 1998). On the other hand, grievance research appears to understand the workplace justice too broad.

Third, both organizational justice and grievance procedures include same justice components, that is, distributive justice and procedural justice as well as interactional justice. Both streams of research focused on the distributive justice first, then the importance of procedural justice began to be recognized later.

In sum, research on organizational justice and grievance procedure has both similarities and differences. The integrative approach is needed through making the most of their strengths and eliminating the shortcomings of both areas of research to understand workplace justice further.

Specific ways that future research could add to our insight

In order to understand workplace justice further, I propose some specific steps for the study on workplace justice. First, the detailed definition and understanding of the construct of workplace justice is needed. As discussed above, workplace justice should not be too narrow or too wide. The concept of workplace justice should include organizational outcomes such as economic variables as well as psychological variables. Recent advancement of strategic human resource management (e.g., Becker & Gehert, 1996) suggest the importance of human resource practice that leads to the corporate performance. Therefore, we should also consider the workplace justice that is related to the firm's competitive advantage thorough employee motivation, reaction, and firm performance.

Second, appropriate research questions should be asked. Research on workplace justice might not have to be always deductive. Therefore, research questions such as what actually going on in terms of the conflicts in the workplace and how they are resolved are important in order to understand workplace justice. For example, issues of interactional justice should be examined in the future. That is, issues on interpersonal and informational aspects of grievance procedures or other human resource practices can be appropriate research topics.

Third, the combination of multiple research methods and multiple variables can enhance more integrative research on workplace justice. We can utilize in-depth interview, participant observations, archival records as well as field study, laboratory study and so on. Especially, grounded theory approach (Glaser & Straus, 1967) or case study methods (e.g., Eisenhardt) are useful for less understood area and theory development. These qualitative methods are process-oriented and thus suited for the study of interactional justice, because interactional justice includes social exchange processes. These methods enables us to focus on the actual process that related to the workplace justice.

In conclusion, the integrative approach of organizational justice and industrial relations using (1) appropriate definition of workplace justice, (2) adequate research questions, (3) using multiple research methods and analysis will add new knowledge to our insight about organizational or workplace justice that is both theoretically and practically valuable.