Organizational justice, sensitivity to injustice and the experience of stress

Francis, Lori D.
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University of Guelph

Adherence to the principles of organizational justice is associated with positive workplace attitudes and behaviour, while injustice contributes to undesirable reactions (Cropanzano & Greenberg, 1997). However, the outcomes most often considered in organizational justice research have been attitudinal or behavioural in nature. Health related outcomes, such as stress, have not been fully explored in the justice literature. This is a serious oversight as stress is associated with negative strain related outcomes such as depression, decreased job satisfaction, and absenteeism (Kahn & Byosiere, 1992). As injustice is known to result in negative employee reactions, it is possible that exposure to injustice contributes to the experience of stress. Similarly, the justice literature has not fully explored the possibility that individuals differ in their reactions to injustice. People may in fact differ in their sensitivity to injustice, such that what is perceived as fair to one person is viewed as unfair to another (Schmitt, 1996). Individuals who are highly sensitive to injustice may be more likely to regard situations as unfair and experience more intense reactions to injustice. Three studies investigated the relationship between perceptions of organizational injustice, sensitivity to injustice, and employee stress. The first study was a lab-based vignette study, the second a field study using a student sample, and the third a survey of schoolteachers. In each case, procedural and distributive injustice were associated with increased reports of stress, thereby supporting the hypothesis that injustice is a stressor. Additionally, as predicted, those who are highly sensitive to injustice reported higher levels of stress. However, contrary to initial hypotheses, sensitivity to injustice did not predict fairness evaluations. Thus, for the current samples, being highly sensitive to injustice did not influence one's justice perceptions. Taken together, these results demonstrate that exposure to injustice is stressful and that the intensity of the stress response is impacted by sensitivity to injustice, thus highlighting the need to consider health related outcomes and individual difference factors in justice research.

perception, organizational injustice, sensitivity to injustice, employee stress, health related outcomes