Leader Fairness and Employees' Trust in Coworkers: The Moderating Role of Leader Group Prototypicality

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Abstract

In this article, the association between perceived supervisor fairness and trust in coworkers as a collective entity is studied. Based on identity-related theories on fairness, trust, and leader effectiveness it was hypothesized that perceived supervisor distributive, procedural, and interactional fairness are positively and more strongly related to employee trust in their coworkers if the supervisor is highly group prototypical rather than less group prototypical. An empirical study, conducted with 176 employees within 30 work groups, supported this hypothesis. Fairness of a less group prototypical supervisor was not associated with trust in coworkers, whereas especially unfairness of the group prototypical supervisor was detrimental for trust in coworkers. The study concludes that leader's prototypicality might not work as a substitute for fairness, as some recent studies have suggested, when the outcome is not directly related to the assessment of the leader. Thus, leaders should not count on the trust they earn by being group prototypical but they should also aim at fairness. Implications for collective distrust theory (Kramer, 1994, 1998) are also discussed.

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