Why justice matters in NFPs – and how to make your workplace fairer for everyone

Have you ever considered how fair or “just” your behaviour at work is?

It matters more than you might think. In fact, research shows that if managers behave fairly their staff are more likely to feel committed to their jobs and perform better overall.

Science for Work, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes evidence-based management advice, explains in a recent article: managers that don’t make justice obvious may lead their teams to believe it doesn’t exist at all.

Which means their teams don’t perform as well.

The article breaks down a 2013 Michigan State University study which combined results from more than 400 individual studies on justice and staff performance.

Justice in the workplace isn’t as simple as avoiding favouritism or discrimination (though that certainly helps!). Newly appointed managers in particular are susceptible to justice ‘shortfalls’, due in part to the pressures they face from leaders demanding results, and new challenges in managing their teams.

But the good news is that justice can be embedded into the culture of your organisation – particularly through the improvement of policies and procedures – which can ultimately improve the impact your not-for-profit organisation is able to make.

What is justice?

Understanding justice is crucial before trying to implement it. The study identifies four ways of understanding justice that will help managers when they actually move to make practices more just and fair:

  1. Distribution of outcomes

One major way we view justice is through the outcomes of a decision. For instance, are pay and acknowledgements distributed evenly among staff?

  1. Procedures before outcomes

Are the processes that lead to decisions consistent, accurate, unbiased and considered – or are those decisions made without full evidence or arbitrarily?

  1. Interpersonal relationships

While implementing decisions, are communications respectful and appropriate?

  1. Information exchange

During the implementation of a decision, are explanations truthful, specific, adequate and timely? Does the manager explain why they used certain procedures, or why outcomes were distributed as they were?

Why is it so important to act these out?

Perception is everything. The research finds that a manager who behaves fairly can encourage employees to then adopt beneficial attitudes and behaviours as well.

On the flip side, counterproductive work behaviours can appear among staff who perceive little justice within their organisation.

A high perception of justice in the workplace can facilitate increased trust, commitment and support, as well as improved interpersonal work relationships.

“Organisational citizenship behaviour” refers to when staff behave altruistically and go above and beyond the scope of their job description. The analysis found that people do this more often when staff perceive organisational decisions and actions as “just”.

When managers treat staff with respect and function transparently, staff will often respond through behaviours like compliance and courtesy.

Additionally, fairness in outcomes was found to be critical to improving task performance.

If a decision is perceived as unjust, staff will be less likely to make an effort. As such, praise and rewards should reflect people’s individual contributions.

Ultimately, staff misbehaviour can result directly from their perception of a manager’s unjust behaviour – giving some new weight to the expression, “you get what you give”!

And like it or not, staff judge the fairness of your entire organisation based on the behaviour of their managers.

That’s why organisations need to make justice and fairness priorities, and embody them in the culture.

Five tips to encourage justice within your NFP:

So, you understand the concept of organisational justice. How do you actually introduce justice into your own behaviour, or encourage it among your organisation’s managers?

1) Recruit for personality traits that indicate a predilection for justice, like emotional stability, emotional intelligence and empathy, when selecting candidates for management positions;

2) Consider delivering behavioural training for existing managers around the four dimensions of justice above – particularly for those who’ve been recently promoted;

3) Incorporate the principles of justice into your organisation’s performance management, feedback and coaching processes. For instance, assess managers on how well they communicate with staff, and coach or train them to improve;

4) In staff surveys, ask questions that measure justice. For instance: do staff feel their manager acts fairly? Do they feel they receive appropriate acknowledgement for their work? Are their managers’ communications respectful and appropriate? Are organisational decisions or changes communicated clearly and in a timely way?

5) Experiment with the findings in other ways: learn about the effects of justice perceptions through developmental feedback, or run an initiative in a team to see if fairer feedback improves individual performance. Then, evaluate the outcomes.

Justice and fairness in your organisation don’t just make people feel good – their practice will make your whole organisation perform even better.

So, is it time you put justice into action at your organisation?

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