man standing with his head up to the sky, wearing a shirt that says 'respect'; fairness in the workplace is important

Is a Fair Workplace Also a Safer Workplace?

By Madison Hanscom, PhD

Attitudes influence behavior.

There are a host of reasons why justice perceptions should be of concern to companies. They influence the employee experience, the brand, the reputation of the company, and the customer experience. Justice perceptions are also related to important organizational outcomes like job satisfaction, organizational commitment, job performance, citizenship behavior, trust, turnover intentions, health and stress (1,2). This begs the question —

Researchers were interested in this question. In order to examine these relationships, they collected data from over 300 mine and factory workers (e.g., textiles, food processing, breweries, timber and sawmill plants) (3).

The researchers were interested in each type of organizational justice.

• Distributive Justice: How fair are the outcomes?
• Procedural Justice: How fair are the processes that led to the outcomes?
• Interactional Justice: How fairly am I treated?

The results indicated there is a strong positive correlation between each type of justice and safety climate as well as compliance with safety procedures (3). Thus, workers with positive fairness perceptions were also more likely to perceive a stronger safety climate and were more likely to work safely. There was also a strong negative correlation between each type of justice and accident frequency (e.g., more fairness significantly related to less accidents).

A possible explanation for this relationship can be due to Social Exchange Theory, which is a psychological theory explaining how employees are willing to “return the favor” when they feel supported by the company they work for. Conversely, the researchers showed that individuals who experienced injustice did the opposite — they were less committed to safe work, had lower compliance, and had higher accident frequencies.

How can we create a fairer workplace?

These are interesting findings that make intuitive sense. If someone feels their company is not fair or unjust, it would be hard to keep this individual motivated to work safely. Workers want to be treated with respect and dignity. They also want their voices heard, clear/fair performance standards and outcomes, equitable rewards, recognition that is commensurate with their hard work, and to feel in the loop when it comes to how decisions are made.

So, what can we do about it? First, take a look at justice perceptions within your own organization. This is best conducted using a quantitative survey and qualitative data collection methods (i.e., focus groups and interviews). Because fairness is a sensitive topic, confidentiality and psychological safety are critical. To get the most accurate data, a third-party evaluator should be utilized. Contact us if you would like to partner. We can help you to assess your current state and build custom solutions to build a strong, positive justice climate in conjunction with a safer one. Attitudes are strongly related to behavior, and perceptions of justice should not be ignored.

At Propulo Consulting, we care about the health and wellbeing of all workers. We partner with you to improve the world of work using the latest insights from research. Our team has the expertise to help your business build a safer and healthier culture.

For more information on this topic, read about Safety & Safety Culture at Propulo Consulting.

Referenced Articles:

(1) Cohen-Charash, Y., & Spector, P. E. (2001). The role of justice in organizations: A meta-analysis. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 86(2), 278-321.
(2) Judge, T. A., & Colquitt, J. A. (2004). Organizational justice and stress: the mediating role of work-family conflict. Journal of applied psychology, 89(3), 395.
(3) Ayim Gyekye, S., & Haybatollahi, M. (2014). Relationship between organizational justice and organizational safety climate: do fairness perceptions influence employee safety behaviour?. International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, 20(2), 199-211.


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