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Why Organizational Justice Can Have an Enormous Impact on the Workplace

By Edna B. Chun, D.M., Lecturer in the Human Capital Management Program, School of Professional Studies

In recent years, thousands of people have been laid off via email at tech and digital media companies, including Google, Meta, Twitter, and Amazon. It has become all too common for employees to receive these notices without advance warning and after they have already been locked out of their company platforms. As Elizabeth Spiers points out in an opinion piece for The New York Times, there can be great asymmetry between what corporations expect of their employees and how they treat them in return. Recent news stories document how the lack of perceived fairness and equity or “organizational justice” in these processes has influenced employees’ mindsets, negatively altered workplace climate, and impacted the productivity of those remaining.

As HCM professionals, organizational justice directly pertains to the design, development, and administration of programs in recruitment, compensation, performance management, advancement, and employee development, as well as other nonmonetary rewards. 

The field of organizational justice research has achieved prominence in organizational behavior studies over the last few decades. Segments of this research include equality in resource distribution, fairness in organizational processes, and interactional justice, and relate to perceptions of respect, integrity, and dignity. Research findings suggest that the level of organizational justice in a company can impact employee citizenship behavior, commitment, and engagement.

In their final journal reflections for my fall Transforming Total Rewards course in the Human Capital Management (HCM) graduate program, several students cited the concept of organizational justice as the most impactful lesson applicable to their careers.

Jesse Gemberling-Johnson, a master’s student and director of talent recruitment and development at MCFA, reflected on how “designing for organizational justice” in systems, processes, and opportunities will facilitate the attainment of company goals and desired strategic outcomes.

“Throughout the semester, I found myself framing problems, reading case studies, and looking at my own organization through a new lens of organizational justice,” he wrote. “It’s a fresh perspective that permeates nearly every work conversation, offering, or change that we are evaluating.”

Another student, Maria Gerena, senior human resources business partner at Columbia University, described how organizational justice impacts how she approaches her work:

“I immediately recognized how much the perception of fairness affects all aspects of my work,” she wrote. “I’ve learned that the different types of justice–distributive, interactional, and procedural–are best understood when they interact with each other rather than independently. This provides more context for root cause analysis and recommendations.”

The importance of organizational justice for HCM professionals in designing equitable policies and processes is what most stood out for Vincci Ho, a graduate student and financial analyst at Columbia Health.

“Learning about organizational justice has been valuable, especially when designing and implementing policies and procedures,” he wrote. “These concepts are often overlooked in the workplace, but it is crucial that we keep these in mind to make sure our employees are treated fairly, equitably, and with respect. Prioritizing organizational justice can really make a huge impact on the culture and motivation of a team.”

As the perspectives of these HCM graduate students reveal, organizational justice plays a critical role in the systems and processes of total rewards within companies and can make an enormous difference in the workplace. While these reflections describe only a few students’ takeaways, throughout the semester, each member of the class contributed important ideas about how to design and implement leading-edge total rewards programs that foster talent attraction, retention, motivation, and engagement, and create more equitable, inclusive working environments.

About the Transforming Total Rewards Course

In this course, students will focus on how to (re)define total rewards programs—both tangible and intangible. Through rigorous and varied coursework, students will demonstrate the leadership competencies necessary to understand and communicate the advantages and costs of performance-based compensation and benefit programs for a variety of business and industries. Students will also apply integrated talent solution principles to the creation of innovative performance management solutions that combine industry-based people, process, and technology elements.

About the Program

The Columbia University M.S. in Human Capital Management program prepares graduates to be world-class HCM strategists able to address changing needs in building and motivating talented, engaged workforces in the private, public, academic, and not-for-profit sectors. The program is available part-time, full-time, on-campus, and online.