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on employment

4.1. Focus on relationship

Guideline for employment problems / COMMUNICATING: 4.1 Focus on relationships

Interventions and evidence explained

Most plausible interventions explained

Procedural justice has been found to be an important predictor of commitment to work organizations, the effort which employees put into doing their required duties, the likelihood that employees will stay with their organizations, the acceptance of and compliance with organizational rules, and the extent to which employees engage in extra role activities on behalf of their organizations (Blader and Tyler, p. 107). Research supports the conclusion that organizational commitment is affected more by procedural justice than by distributive justice, and this is especially true in collectivistic societies (Chang, p. 262-263). 

Throughout the years, there has been much discussion on procedural justice and fairness. The main focus has been on reaching fair [distributive] outcomes. On the other hand, employees demonstrate a concern with their relationship to their work organizations because that relationship affects how they feel about themselves [their identity]. Further, they appear to evaluate that relationship with regard to the ways decisions are made and how they are treated by the organization [the quality of relationships between people within an organisation]. Therefore, the question arises in the literature whether people perceive treatment with consideration and politeness to be more important than fair distributive outcomes (Balder and Tyler, p. 109). Therefore, the interventions to be tested are:

Selected interventions for comparison (defined as a PICO question)

For creating understanding in conflicts between employees/ subordinates, is employers/supervisors focusing interaction and information-sharing solely on material outcomes more effective than focusing on relationships, for their wellbeing?

Search strategy

The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, Taylor & Francis, and ResearchGate.

For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: organizational, justice, procedural, distributive, interpersonal, interactional, outcomes, relationship

Assessment and grading of evidence

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

Quality of evidence and research gap

Understanding between parties in an employment dispute has not been widely researched. Only few measures to prevent employment conflicts have been tested in the available literature. Therefore, targeted randomized controlled trials that focus on specific interventions to enhance understanding between employer and employee should be developed.

According to the HiiL Actionable Recommendations document and the GRADE approach, overall evidence is graded as low.

Comparing the two interventions

Desirable outcomes of the interventions

Material outcomes
Relationship (treatment and identity)
One study indicates that [focusing more on material outcomes such as] pay and benefits provide a better explanation of satisfaction with [the employer or] organization than process justice. “It is interesting to point out that the only measure significantly related to organization satisfaction is perception of equity with respect to immediate supervisor for pay and benefits” (Tremblay et al., p. 11).
Perceived fairness by employees depends on the relationship with the organisation/employer. When employees are treated fairly, it positively affects their view on their own identity.…“fairness is evaluated in [relationships between employee and employee]. … the primary concern is not with the material outcomes one can garner from the group, but with the role the group plays in shaping one’s identity (Tyler and Blader, p. 111). When employees are treated fairly at work, their sense of themselves as employees and as a people is improved. Fair treatment promotes a sense of inclusion in the group and importance to the group. (Blader and Tyler, p. 114)
A company/organisation can influence how employees can identify in a positive way, as people’s identity depends on group membership and the value and emotional significance attached to that membership. A person’s social identity refers to his/her knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership. An organization can act as a focal and salient social category with which employees can identify” (He et al., p. 24).
When employees identify strongly with their organisation/employer, it can result in better employee engagement and greater perceived personal success. “[Employee organizational identification] OID occurs when organizational membership is salient to meeting an employee’s self-definitional need and when an employee ties his/her self-image to the defining essence of the organization (He et al., p. 4). OID affects pro-organization behavior with the purpose of preserving the collective interests of the organization, such as enhancing organizational performance and status. These pro-organization behaviors include job attachment, extra-role behaviors, job performance, and so on. OID is positioned to affect employee engagement because OID will enable individuals to view, and internalize, an organization’s success as his/her personal success.Employees with higher OID tend to enjoy increased engagement with their work because they view doing so is mutually beneficial” (He et al., p. 4).
Focusing on a higher level of employee moral identity leads to more generosity, caring and honesty. … “employees with a strong MI [employee moral identity] tend to define their self-concepts with some typical virtuous characteristics, and tend to behave in accordance with these virtues, such as being generous, helpful, hardworking, caring, and honest” (He et al., p. 52).

Undesirable outcomes of the intervention

Material outcomes
Relationship (treatment and identity)
Focusing on material outcomes is not the preferred way to predict job satisfaction. “Process justice is a better predictor of employment satisfaction than distributive justice” (Tremblay et. al p. 11).
As an employee, focusing too much on your identity in a group setting might lead to anxiety and guilt. “A strong collective identity leads employees to define themselves and others in terms of the groups they belong to. The collective level also determines the standards that employees use to guide their actions, which are the social norms, values, and goals endorsed by the companies the employees belong to. Collective-oriented employees experience a felt obligation to behave in ways consistent with group prototypes. Favorable self-evaluations at the collective level involve affirmative responses to questions like “Am I successfully fulfilling the roles and responsibilities prescribed by my group membership?” and “Are my groups successful?” Failure to successfully enact one’s roles leads to anxiety and guilt—two aversive states that people attempt to avoid” (Johnson et al., p. 232).
Employees with strong individual identities find pay and career development important, however this does not define their well-being in an employment context. “People are motivated by personal values and pursuits that maximize their own welfare. In work contexts self-beneficial outcomes, such as pay and career development opportunities, are salient for employees with strong individual identities. [However,] the concerns of these employees are not limited solely to instrumental interests, since socioemotional outcomes like recognition, respect, and power are also important” (Johnson et al., p. 231).

Balance of Outcomes

Taking into account the balance of outcomes, it is clear that focusing on relationships can significantly improve the well-being of the employee. This also applies to material outcomes, however less effective if relationships are not included. It is also important to mention that when employees identify with their organisation/employer on a high level, it can result in better employee engagement and better perceived personal success. Too much pressure on role-identity can lead to anxiety and guilt.


Taking into account the balance of outcomes and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: Interaction and information-sharing by the employer and employee should focus on their relationship (this includes treatment and identity), rather than only on material outcomes.

Table of Contents

4. Recommendations on COMMUNICATING
4.1 Focus on relationships