As many academics and practitioners know, there are many factors which contribute to failed change initiatives. One of the key reasons for change failure is the inability of leaders to gain the trust of employees, convince them to support change and to commit the energy and effort necessary to implement it. [1] Yet leaders and managers may not necessarily be familiar with the concept of organisational justice and its impact on the outcomes of organisational change.

Organisational justice theory provides a framework which helps to explore and integrate the outcomes of organisational change with the methods used to achieve it, and perceptions about the treatment of those people who were affected by this change.

Perceptions of organisational justice can be described as the degree to which employees believe in the fairness of the outcomes of organisational decisions (distributive justice), the fairness of procedures used to make them (procedural justice) and the fairness of treatment of those affected (interactional justice which includes interpersonal and informational aspects). [2]

There is enough evidence in current research to argue that perceived organisational (in)justice has a significant impact on individuals’ actions and reactions within organisations and shapes individuals’ attitudes and behaviours. Numerous studies established that perceived injustice affects not only individuals’ ability to cope with work demands, but also reduces their organisational commitment and fuels emotional distress, resentment, withdrawal attitudes and turnover intentions. [3]

Understanding employees’ perceptions of organisational justice by senior management is particularly important during the organisational change because change cannot succeed without the acceptance and support from employees.

Based on the findings of the research undertaken over the past five decades [4], academics argued that employees should perceive that new responsibilities, authority and levels of pay are fair outcomes of organisational change (distributive justice). If they do not perceive these outcomes as fair, this may result in a lack of support for the organisational change. However, fair outcomes will not, by themselves, guarantee the success of change. In order to support organisational change, employees should perceive that procedures used to determine who-gets-what outcomes, not just the outcomes themselves, are fair (procedural justice). This can be achieved by employees having a voice in the decision making process and an influence over the outcome, and by the presence of fair (consistent, accurate and ethical) process criteria. In difficult times when some members of staff are retained, while others are made redundant, employees should agree that the criteria informing these decisions are fair in order to accept and support change. Therefore, procedural justice can be also defined as fairness in the process of decision making.

Many authors [5] highlighted the importance of interactional justice (the perceived fairness of the interpersonal and informational treatment received in a decision process) during organisational change. They argued that management should provide clear and accurate information on those decisions that have consequences for employees; show respect and dignity for employees when making decisions about change; and demonstrate neutrality, honesty and a lack of bias if they wish to secure employees’ trust in order to ensure the success of organisational change. Failure of management to provide sufficient information about change will create a perception of injustice and unnecessary barriers to organisational change. It was also established that the interaction between line managers and their reports appeared to be important in relation to the generation of perceptions of fairness about treatment, and that there are clear inter-dependencies between justification and sensitivity.

Studies of psychological contracts in the public sector [6] found that there is a strong common pattern of higher expectations regarding the fair and personal treatment and quality of information about any changes effecting jobs and terms and conditions of employment. At the same time, those high expectations of public sector employees are more likely to be unmet, resulting in perceived injustice, a breach of psychological contract with the organisation, withdrawal and a reduction in performance.

Over the past five decades there has been an ongoing discussion among academics about the nature of relationships between the different aspects of organisational justice and hierarchy of importance of perceptions of justice. Numerous studies [7] established that both distributive and procedural fairness (which includes interactional justice) are not only important predictors of the acceptance of outcomes, but they also predict that employees will accept adverse outcomes if they are given procedural justice.

Many authors [8] acknowledged the important contribution of organisational justice to effective change management and to mitigating possible resistance to change in particular. Because organisational change involves changes in policies, processes and resource allocations, issues of fairness and justice are inherent in change programmes. If the top management of an organisation succeeds in creating a perception of fairness during the period of change, they will secure the trust, loyalty and commitment of their staff to the organisation as a whole – even despite difficult decisions and personal sacrifices people may have to make. The commitment and cooperation of middle managers, who are expected to implement the required changes and keep the business going – no matter what, is particularly important.

However, it can be argued that, due to their unique place within the organisational structure, middle managers are both on the giving and the receiving ends of organisational justice. Their own experiences, perceptions and emotions will influence how they are able to fulfil their roles as change intermediaries and whether they will create trust and enthusiasm or cynicism and resistance among employees during an organisational change. When middle managers have to make sense of and implement a change they did not plan; negotiate the details of change implementation with others who are equally removed from the strategic decision making; and often deal with the sense of compromise or injustice within their department, this can leave them with little choice but to resist that change. [9]

In fact, many academics and practitioners cited middle managers as recurrent sources of resistance and negative attitudes, and significant barriers to the success of organisational change. [10] However, when Fenton-O’Creevy surveyed over one thousand executives in the UK in 2001, he established that the attitudes of middle managers were as positive as those of senior managers despite all the constraints and pressures of their role. [11] Balogun (2003:81) argued, that the heavy burden carried by middle managers ‘ may make them appear to be resistant foot-draggers, when in reality they are struggling to cope and are confused about priorities’. [12]

While it is true that organisations are unable to control many external reasons for change initiatives involving restructuring and downsizing, leaders can use their internal policies, processes and systems (over which they do have full control) to harness the positive attitudes of their staff to support them in order to secure the success of organisational change.


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[1] Kimberley, N. and Hartel, C.E.J. (2007), ‘ Building a Climate of Trust during Organizational Change: The Mediating Role of Justice Perceptions and Emotion’, in Hartel, C.E.J., Ashkanasy, N.M. and Wilfred J. Zerbe W.J. (ed.) Functionality, Intentionality and Morality (Research on Emotion in Organizations, Volume 3), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.237-264.

[2] See, for example:

– Ribbers, I.L. (2009) ‘Trust, Cynicism, and Organizational Change: The Role of Management’. Paper published on ;

– Cropanzano, R., Bowen, D. E. and Gilliland, S. W. (2007). ‘The management of organizational justice’. Academy of Management Perspectives, 21, 34–48;

– Greenberg, J. (1990). Organizational justice: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Journal of Management, 16(2), 399.

[3] See, for example:

– Vermunt, R. and Steensma, H. (2001). ‘Stress and justice in organizations: an exploration into justice processes with the aim to find mechanisms to reduce stress’. In Cropanzano, R. (Ed.), Justice in the Workplace: From Theory to Practice. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2, 27–48;

– Tepper, B. J. (2001). ‘Health consequences of organizational injustice: tests of main and interactive effects’.Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86, 197–215.;

– Masterson, S. S., Lewis, K., Goldman, B. M. and Taylor, M. S. (2000). ‘Integrating justice and social exchange: the differing effects of fair procedures and treatment on work relationships’. Academy of Management Journal, 43, 738–48;

– Cohen-Charash, Y. and Spector, P. E. (2001). ‘The role of justice in organizations: a meta-analysis’. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86, 278–321;

– Johnson, J. L. and O’Leary-Kelly, A. M. (2003). ‘The effects of psychological contract breach and organizational cynicism: not all social exchanges violations are created equal’. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 24, 627–47;

– Kickul, J., Lester, S. W. and Finkl, J. (2002). ‘Promise breaking during radical organizational change: do justice interventions make a difference?’. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23, 469–88.

[4] See, for example:

– Reichers, A. E., Wanous, J. P., & Austin, J. T. (1997). ‘Understanding and managing cynicism about organizational change’. Acadamy of Management Executive, 11(2), 48-59;

– Novelli, L., Kirkman, B. L. and Shapiro, D. L. (1995). Effective implementation of organizational change: An organizational justice perspective. Journal of organizational behaviour, 15-37;

– Thibaut, J., and Walker, L. (1975). Procedural justice: A psychological analysis. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum;

– Poole, W. (2007). ‘Organizational Justice as a framework for understanding union-management relations in education.’ Canadian Journal of Education 30(3):725-748;

– Dietz, G. and Fortin, M. (2007). ‘Trust and Justice in the formation of joint consultative committees.’ International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18(7): 1159-1181.

[5] See, for example:

– Luo, Y. (2007). ‘The Independent and Interactive Roles of Procedural, Distributive and Interactional Justice in Strategic Alliances.’ Academy of Management Journal 50(3): 644-664;

– Kernan, M. C., and Hanges, P. J. (2002). Survivor reactions to reorganization: Antecedents and consequences of procedural, interpersonal, and informational justice. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 916–928;

– Thornhill, A. and Saunders, M. (2003) ‘Exploring employees reactions to strategic change over time: The utilisation…’, Irish Journal of Management, 24(1), pp 66-86;

– Novelli, L., Kirkman, B. L. and Shapiro, D. L. (1995). Effective implementation of organizational change: An organizational justice perspective. Journal of organizational behaviour, 15-37;

– Bies, R. J., and Moag, J. S. (1986). ‘Interactional justice: Communication criteria of fairness’. In Lewicki, R.J., Sheppard, B.H., and Bazerman, M. (Eds) Research in Negotiation in Organizations, 1, 43-55;

– Wu, C. and Neubert, M.J. (2007) ‘Transformational leadership, cohesion perceptions, and employee cynicism about organizational change: the mediating role of justice perceptions’. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 43, pp. 327-351.

[6] See, for example:

– Wooldridge, E. (2001). Understanding the Psychological Contract in the Public Sector. London: Public Management and Policy Association;

– Willems, I., Janvier, R. and Henderickx, E. (2004). ‘The Unique Nature of Psychological Contract in the Public Sector: An Exploration’. Paper presented at the EGPA Annual Conference, Ljubljana, 2004.

[7] See, for example:

– Walker, L., Lind, E. and Thibaut, J. (1979). ‘The Relationship between Procedural and Distributive Justice’. Virginia Law Review 65(8): 1401-1420;

– Fryxell, G. and Gordon, M. (1989). ‘Workplace Justice and Job satisfaction as Predictors with Union and Management.’ Academy of Management Journal 32(4): 851-866;

– Kim, W. and Mauborgne, R. (1991). ‘Implementing Global Strategies: The role of procedural justice.’ Strategic Management Journal 12: 125-143;

– McFarlin, D.B. and Sweeney, D.B. (1992). ‘Distributive and Procedural Justice as Predictors in Satisfaction with Personal and Organisational Outcomes.’ Academy of Management Journal 35(3): 626-637;

– Blancero, D (1995). ‘Non-union Grievance Systems: System characteristics and fairness perceptions.’ Academy of management Journal: 84-88;

– Brockner, J. and Wiesenfeld, B. (1996). ‘An integrative framework for explaining reactions to decisions: Interactive effects of outcomes and procedures’. Psychological Bulletin 120(2): 189-208;

– Luo, Y. (2007). ‘The Independent and Interactive Roles of Procedural, Distributive and Interactional Justice in Strategic Alliances.’ Academy of Management Journal 50(3): 644-664.

[8] See, for example:

– Covin, T.J. and Kilmann, R.H. (1990). ‘Participant Perceptions of Positive and Negative Influences on Large-Scale Change.’ Group and Organization Studies 15(2): 233-248;

– Kim, W. and Mauborgne, R. (1997). ‘Fair Process: Managing in the Knowledge Economy.’ Harvard Business Review July-August: 65-75;

– Van der Heyden, L., Blondel, C. and Carlock, R. (2005). ‘Fair process: Striving for Justice in Family Business.’ Family Business Review 18(1): 1-21;

– Cobb, A., Folger, R. and Wooten, K. (1995). ‘The role justice play in organisational change’. Public Administration Quarterly 19(2): 135-151.

[9] See: Balogun, J. and Johnson, G. (2004). ‘Organizational Restructuring and Middle Manager Sensemaking.’ Academy of Management Journal, 47,523-49.

[10] See, for example:

– Verespej, M.A. (1990). ‘When you put the team in charge.’ Industry Week, 239, pp. 29-32.;

– Buchanan, D. and Preston, D. (1991). ‘Life in the cell: supervision and teamwork in ‘manufacturing systems engineering’ environment.’ Human Resource management Journal, 2, pp.55-76;

– Ashton, C. (1992). ‘The dawn of a new era.’ Total Quality Management, 4(4), pp. 215-219.

[11] Fenton-O’Creevy, (2001). ‘Employee involvement and the middle manager: saboteur or scapegoat?’ Human Resource Management Journal, 11(1), pp. 24-40.

[12] Balogun, J. (2003). ‘From Blaming the Middle to Harnessing its Potential: Creating Change Intermediaries’. British Journal of Management, 14, 69-83.