Study: Workplace injustices affect employee performance

A study authored by a management professor and others found that continuous perceived injustices in the workplace could lead to employees leaving their jobs, and the potential psychological damage and emotional exhaustion could affect employees’ performance.

Michael Cole, an assistant professor of management in the Neeley School of Business, said the study found a relationship between employees’ view of interoffice injustice and their emotional exhaustion, which led to a lack of organizational commitment. When employees feel abused, they become run-down and depressed about work. This can lead them to not give full effort toward their job and sometimes even voluntarily leave the organization, Cole said.

The findings of the study are based on data obtained from 869 military personnel and civil servants. Pentagon officials told Cole that the Pentagon was losing employees, who were leaving on their own accord, specifically within the Air Force.

“Think about an Air Force pilot and what it costs to train an individual to fly a jet, who then turns around and moves and goes and flies for American Airlines,” Cole said. “They’re having a real turnover issue.”

Cole said he joined a group of consultants who were brought in to help the Pentagon find what it was doing wrong. The results showed that employees responded negatively to supervisors who did not offer enough positive reinforcement.

Cole has since submitted his findings to the internationally circulated Journal of Management Studies. He said the article will be available online in PDF format through the journal’s Web site in October.

Joep Cornelissen, general editor of the Journal of Management Studies, wrote in an e-mail that Cole’s article should be exciting to scholars and others interested in workplace conditions.

“Theoretically and methodically it is one of the first studies examining different perceptions of justice,” Cornelissen wrote.

Garry Bruton, management professor and academic coordinator of the Neeley Entrepreneurship Program, said Cole is respected for his work concerning interpersonal relationships.

“(Cole) does very high-quality work, and the Journal of Management Studies is a great journal,” Bruton said.

The journal’s acceptance rate for article submissions is lower than 10 percent, Bruton said.

Not everyone is a good leader, Cole said. The study analyzes the negative things superiors do instead of the positive, Cole said.

“For every instance of where a supervisor maybe provides the recognition and the pat on the back when it should be there, there is another supervisor who’s really just a bad boss,” Cole said.

The idea behind the study was to examine perceived injustices, Cole said. This includes both interpersonal and procedural interactions with supervisors, he said. When a person feels that he or she has been treated unfairly repeatedly, it can affect the person’s motivation in the workplace, Cole said.

“Think of a time when you felt unfairly treated in the workplace and the ensuing consequences of that,” Cole said. “Say that occurred, I don’t know, let’s say three times, four times a week, over six months. Would you start to question whether or not this is the job you should stay in? Can you deal with all of those negative stressors?”

Cole said people’s reactions vary. Some will push through and cope, but most will start to suffer psychologically from the perceived abuse, he said.

From this study, no specific feature was found to contribute more, or less, to employees’ emotional health, but Cole said that could be the subject of a future study. Scholars could eventually determine if certain character traits better equip employees to handle the pressures of perceived injustice in the workplace, he said.