Coping With Unfair Events Constructively or Destructively: The Effects of Overall Justice and Self–Other Orientation

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Abstract

Drawing on fairness heuristic theory (Lind, 2001, 2002), it was predicted that how employees cope with an unfair event—whether they are more or less forgiving, and whether they are more or less vengeful—will depend jointly on (a) their perceptions of overall organizational justice and (b) the degree to which they focus on their own interests or on the interests of others. Data were collected in a 2-part field survey of 153 employees who reported their responses to a recent unfair event. Hierarchical regression analyses (controlling possible 3rd variable explanations) revealed the 2 predicted 2-way interactions. Perceptions of overall organizational justice (a) facilitated forgiveness among those with strong other-orientation, and (b) suppressed revenge among those with strong self-concern. Together, the data suggest that perceiving one’s organization as a fair entity can shape proximal responses to unfair events, simultaneously facilitating constructive responses in some employees, and suppressing destructive responses in other employees. Theoretically, the findings are consistent with the idea that overall justice fulfills psychological needs that are differentially relevant to employees as a function of their chronic attention to others or to themselves, which in turn enables them to cope with unfair events more beneficially. The data have implications for the study of workplace forgiveness and revenge, as well as more broadly for the literatures on organizational justice and workplace mistreatment.

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