on employment

1.5 interactionally just Leadership

Guideline for employment problems / PREVENTING: 1.5 Interactionally just leadership 

Interventions and evidence explained

Most plausible interventions explained

During the orientation process of the available literature, we were able to identify the following interventions for containing employment disputes:

Interactional justice

Interactional justice occurs in informal interactions between employees and an organisation’s management. This includes the interpersonal treatment employees receive. Employees expect fair, honest, courteous, and truthful treatment by the organisation that employs them and/or its agents. Interactional justice is also about the extent to which the management of the organization treats its employees with respect, courtesy, sensitivity, and attentiveness (Rahmawhati et al, p. 42). 

Interactional justice is determined by the interpersonal behavior of management’s representatives (Cohen-Charash and Spector, p. 281). Interactional justice is most likely to occur when decision makers (a) treat individuals with interpersonal dignity [sometimes also referred to as interpersonal justice] and (b) provide subordinates with justifications or explanations. Employees may hold supervisors responsible for interactional justice [outcomes, such as respect, courtesy, sensitivity and attentiveness] (Lavelle, et al, p. 843).

Authoritarian leadership

Authoritarian leadership places emphasis on the asymmetric power between leaders and followers, which allows leaders to dominate and control followers (Jian, Chen, Sun & Yang, Introduction). Authoritarian managers believe they know more than others in their organisations and have the right to get things done in their own way. As a result, they stress ‘‘personal dominance’’ over employees, unify the authority in themselves, and make unilateral decisions. In authoritarian management, leaders exhibit strong control and authority over employees and in turn the group is forced to obey the leader (Jian, Chen, Sun & Yang, Introduction). Authoritarian managers are likely to exercise control by initiating structure, issuing rules, promising rewards for compliance, and threatening punishment for disobedience (Kiazad et al, p. 514).

We compare these two interventions because they both touch on interpersonal treatment between supervisor/employer and subordinate/employee. They are distinct in the following three ways: 

  • Interactional justice focuses on outcomes (such as dignity and justification) for the employee while authoritarian leadership does not.
  • Interactional justice holds supervisors accountable to the employees, authoritarian leadership does not.
  • Interactional justice allows for information sharing between the supervisor and the employee, while authoritarian leadership does not.

Selected interventions for comparison (defined as a PICO question)

For employers and employees looking to contain conflict in the workspace, is applying interactional justice or applying an authoritarian leadership style within the organisation more effective for well-being?

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: employment, disputes, mediation, prevention, justice, organizational, leadership

Assessment and grading of evidence

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

Quality of evidence and research gap

Research that touches on interaction between supervisor and subordinates focuses mostly on different leadership styles and procedural/distributive justice. Research about leadership is predominantly from the perspective of the employer/supervisor. It would be interesting to discover findings from the perspective of the employee/subordinates (in particular how the different leadership styles affect the wellbeing of subordinates). Furthermore, it would be interesting if research could be focused on how the interaction between supervisor and subordinate affects procedural and distributive justice outcomes.

Taking all individual assessments of sources into consideration, according to the HiiL Guideline Approach, the evidence can be graded as low to moderate.

Comparing the two interventions

Desirable outcomes of the interventions

Interactional justice
Authoritarian leadership
Fair treatment (a central element of interactional justice) leads to greater commitment, increased job satisfaction, improved job performances and other outcomes that contribute to de-escalation of potential conflicts. “… employees who perceive fair treatments by authorities [such as supervisors] are more likely to evidence positive actions through greater commitments to the values and goals of the organization; exhibit increased job satisfaction, organizational citizenship behaviors, improved job performances and reduced withdrawal behaviors” (Cohen-Charash & Spector, p. 281-282).
Authoritarian leadership can get things done. “Authoritarian leaders emphasize personal dominance and control over subordinates, and they habitually [are able to get results] in their own ways” (Jiang et al., p. 3).
By focusing on interactional justice, supervisors can increase employees’ commitment to their work, which might reduce the chance of escalating conflicts. “… when employees have a positive perception of their supervisor’s fair treatment, they tend to reciprocate this favorable treatment by displaying more citizenship behaviors [voluntary commitment of the employee to the employer] directed to him/her” (Meyer et al., p. 5-11).
Interactional justice positively impacts the well-being of employees. “… [employees] having good interpersonal relationships with their supervisor represents a key predictor of employees’ well-being which, in turn, improves their job performance.” (Ambrose)
Interactional justice can lead to economic success. A respectful and helping relationship [between employer and employee] increases operational effectiveness leading to the provision of high quality services which fit with the new challenges of quality management and customer satisfaction in SEs [small enterprises] (Borzaga et al., 2011). In this way, by sustaining good relationships between supervisors and their subordinates, SEs contribute to create a sustainable competitive advantage crucial to their economic success (Frumkin & Andre-Clark, 2000). Examining how employees perceive to be treated by managers at the interpersonal level is thus of particular relevance. [Economic success leads to more and better employment opportunities] (Meyer et al., p. 5-11).

Undesirable outcomes of the intervention

Interactional justice
Authoritarian leadership
Wrongly interpreting interactional justice harms the relationship between subordinate and superior. “Because interactional justice is determined by the interpersonal behavior of management’s representatives, interactional justice is considered to be related to cognitive, affective, and behavioral reactions toward these representatives, that is, the direct supervisor or source of justice. Thus, when an employee perceives interactional justice the wrong way (interactional injustice), he/she is predicted to negatively react toward his/her supervisor (or the entity that was interactionally unfair to that person) rather than negatively react toward the organization as a whole.” (Cohen-Charash and Spector)
Authoritarian leadership can lead to employees feeling angry and excluded and employees being counterproductive. “… the perception of unfair interpersonal treatment generates anger, which predicts more active CWB [counterproductive work behaviour]. On the other hand, the perception of not being well informed activates feelings of fear, which, in turn, can predict withdrawal reactions.” (Le Roy et al., p. 1341-1356).
Authoritarian leadership is characterized by poor communication flow between employer and employee, which leads to withdrawal behaviors. “Problems related to poor access to information could be seen as involving more serious problems that, in turn, are perceived as threats. The fear of being rejected by the group may lead to withdrawal behaviors, not in terms of wishing to not be rejected by others, but in rejecting others in advance.” (Le Roy et al., p. 1341-1356).
Employees are important social resources to leaders, they should therefore not be treated in a humiliating manner. “… when employees perceive unfair and humiliating treatment from leaders [who apply an authoritarian leadership approach], they feel a significant loss of valuable resources, which influences the relationship with leaders since employees consider leaders an important social resource in organizations.” (Son, Kim and Kim).

Balance of Outcomes

Taking into account the balance of outcomes, it is clear that Interactional justice has significant benefits to the well-being of the employee. Employers focusing on interactional justice can make a positive difference for employees. Employees will feel a better sense of commitment towards the employer and increased job satisfaction. However, when interactional justice is being perceived wrongly, employees can develop resentment towards employers. Applying an authoritarian leadership approach can potentially be detrimental to employees’ well-being, as it leaves employees feeling angry and excluded. Therefore, the balance is towards applying interactional justice.


Taking into account the balance of outcomes and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For employers and employees looking to contain conflict in the workplace, applying interactional justice is more conducive to well-being than applying an authoritarian leadership style.

Table of Contents

1. Recommendations on PREVENTING
1.5 Internactionally just leadership
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