Study: Be fair, your employees are watching

July 6, 2015  


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Employees in organizations pay attention not only to how they are treated, but how organizations treat external parties. According to a newly published study of medical workers, those who work for companies perceived as friendly to those third parties perform their jobs better.

Benjamin Dunford, associate professor of management in Purdue University's Krannert School of Management, says past studies have looked at "third-party justice" from an inward perspective, examining perceptions of the treatment of co-workers or team members. This study is one of the few that has examined those perceptions as they relate to those from outside the organization.

"People in uncertain environments are always looking for cues to understand the extent to which the organization can be trusted," Dunford said. "Those external cues have a big influence on the relationship employees have with their employers.

"We're seeing a trend now across the United States that people want to work for a trustworthy company. They want to be at a place that adheres to morals and is doing good in the community."

Dunford said that in hospitals, fairness matters greatly. The field of organizational justice deals with processes being fair as opposed to outcomes.

"Think about the interaction a patient has with a doctor," he said. "There is a whole process that goes behind the eventual decision on what treatment the patient will receive and when they will get it.

"Say you are the patient in the process of making that decision about treatment. Does the doctor consult you? Does she give you information? Do you have any control over that decision? Those are real examples of how the process can be fair or unfair in hospitals."

Dunford said an analysis of objective performance ratings found a strong correlation between employees' sense of third-party justice by their organization and the employees' own job performance. Those who perceive the company as being fair to patients are more likely to go well above and beyond their job descriptions in carrying out their roles.

The next step in this area of research, Dunford said, is to see if it goes beyond health care. The researchers also want to look at "contagion" effects, which are factors that facilitate the development of a shared fairness culture.

"Third-party justice is a very robust field, and we were surprised to see that in 40 years of research in organizational justice, very little work has been done in looking at how organizations treat those outside the company," Dunford said. "We believe there is a whole untapped body of perceptions."

The study, published in the Summer 2015 issue of Personnel Psychology, used data collected from primary-care physicians and specialty-physician offices in 12 cities, as well as a large regional hospital in the southeastern United States.

In addition to Dunford, the study's co-authors included Purdue's Christine Jackson, associate professor of management, and Louis Tay, assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology; Alan Boss, assistant professor of business at the University of Washington; and Wayne Boss, professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado. 

Source: Benjamin Dunford, 765-496-7877,  

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