[We’re pleased to welcome authors Alex Rubenstein of the University of Memphis, David G. Allen of Texas Christian University, and Frank A. Bosco of the Virginia Commonwealth University. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management entitled “What’s Past (and Present) Is Prologue: Interactions Between Justice Levels and Trajectories Predicting Behavioral Reciprocity,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Rubenstein discusses the events and circumstance that inspired his research:]
We began this paper by considering the nature of how people experience fairness in the workplace. Certainly any instance of fair or unfair treatment can have an effect on employee’s attitudes and behavior in the future, but we were also interested in how the past can differently shape employee’s interpretation of the present. For instance, imagine two employees who think their organization is moderately fair. Previous studies would expect them to have similar attitudes and be equal organizational citizens in the future. However, we wondered whether past fairness experiences—specifically, the trajectory of experienced justice in the past, if has been getting better, worse, or staying the same—could color the interpretation of the present differently for these employees.
Our results, which are arguably the first that specifically examine how employees behaviorally reciprocate to this interactive pattern of past and present treatment, show that indeed the past is prologue when it comes to justice. We examined how present justice levels and trajectories over time interacted to predict helping behavior as well as future employee turnover behavior. That is, two employees who rate the exact same levels of current fairness at work may reciprocate differently (in terms of helping other employees and even their decision to remain a member of the organization) because of potentially different past trends of experienced justice. We found that the highest levels of helping, and the lowest levels of turnover were for those employees with high current levels of perceived fairness, along with a positive past trajectory. It seems that employees are most willing to reciprocate to their organizations when things are currently quite fair AND if things have been getting progressively better over time.
I think this research will spur new studies that consider the dynamic nature of organizational phenomena, and the value in looking at variables’ change over time. I feel the methodology of change modeling has only recently caught up to the theory, and a lot of fascinating contributions can be made regarding how growth and decline in phenomena (thoughts, feelings, behaviors) affect individuals, teams, and organizations as a whole.
I think new scholars looking at organizational justice can continue to take a dynamic look at its change over time, both in the short and long term. My main advice would be to brush up on research methods, such as latent growth modeling and structural equation modeling. We all have lots of questions, and its is important that researchers be equipped with the methodological tools to test those questions.
I think the most influential piece of scholarship I have read recently was Alvesson, M., & Sandberg, J. 2011. Generating research questions through problematization. Academy of Management Review, 36: 247–271. An important part of framing your study is not just “gap-filling”, but demonstrating how your study solves a problem, and this paper does a good job of explaining how to do this.