I’m Back; Organizational Justice and Cynicism

Catherine T. Kwantes & Michael H. Bond, Organizational justice and autonomy as moderators of the relationship between social and organizational cynicism, Personality and Individual Differences, v. 151, Dec. 2019, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2019.04.046.

Well, it has been more than two months since I blogged about an article. During that absence from the blog, classes started here at the law school. Between individual research consults, library research classes, and lecturing in legal research and writing, I have been so busy with teaching and getting to know our students that there hasn’t been time for much else.

Yes, this is the life of a reference librarian during the late summer and early fall in an academic law library.

The important thing, of course, is getting back on the horse after you fall off. It is also important to internalize lessons learned through lived experience. I wanted to read and blog daily, but that is just not possible.

So the name of this blog has been changed to “Jennifer’s Occasional Read.” The word “occasional” will mean different things depending on the time of year. Today, it means I have an empty calendar for the first time in a long time, and an article I really want to dig into. So blogging starts again today. Will I blog again tomorrow? Who knows? Today is what matters.

Today’s article discusses social cynicism and organizational justice in the workplace and how they contribute to employees’ organizational cynicism and the health of the organization in general.

As with many articles that I have read and blogged about, I did not know anything about this topic before I read it. So the following definitions, gleaned from the article, are helpful:

  • Cynicism is the “belief that humans are self-serving, self-centered, and not to be trusted.” It can be both a personality trait and a world view.
  • Social cynicism is the result of a person having “low interpersonal trust.”
  • Organizational cynicism is when an employee has a negative attitude toward the organization he or she works for. It manifests itself in various ways, including the employee feeling that the “organization lacks integrity,” which can move the employee to “engage in disparaging and critical behaviors toward the organization.”
  • Organizational justice is the belief that the workplace treats employees fairly. An organization’s “justice climate” is determined by three factors:
    • Distributive justice (“perceptions of equity of what an employee does for an organization and what s/he receives in return.”)
    • Interactional justice (how employees feel they are treated at work)
    • Procedural justice (implementation of workplace procedures to ensure that employees are treated fairly)

The authors were interested in exploring the link between social cynicism and organizational cynicism, and determining whether/how perceptions of organizational justice can moderate organizational cynicism. They studied two types of employees, full-time and part-time, and found that, while social cynicism “impacts” organizational cynicism, “there are steps that organizations can take to minimize this relationship and enhance healthy organizational life.”

According to the findings of the study, a lack of distributive justice has an especially profound impact on the organizational cynicism of full-time employees. Those who feel that they are putting more into the organization than they are getting in return showed increased “irritation, tension, and anxiety” when they thought about the organization. Interactional justice, comparatively, may play a slightly larger role in the organizational cynicism of part-time employees. (I am guessing this might be especially true for people who work in the service industry and whose primary role is to deal with customers, but I do not know for sure.) Finally, the study showed the universal impact and benefit of implementing measures to ensure procedural justice in the workplace, as it has “a direct effect on reducing organizational cynicism” in both full-time and part-time employees.

This was a difficult article to read. I am, of course, a bit of of practice after taking a few months off from this exercise. But I also found that, without committing to mind the exact definitions of the terms of art used, I was having a hard time getting the point. It all just seemed like words on a page. I had to go back and, very deliberately, understand what was meant by the different kinds of justice. Once that was clear, the rest of the discussion fell into place very easily.

This is what we do all the time as librarians. I am always telling my students to look up words in order to gain an innate sense of their contextual meaning. I forgot to take my own advice, at least in the beginning! But, again, I am out of practice in reading articles outside my field. That is one of the many reasons why this exercise is so valuable, and I need to do it more often.

Finally, why would I even choose to read an article like this? I am very interested in organizational psychology and culture, especially in libraries since I work in one. It seems like all the libraries are doing studies and surveys and improvement projects related to workplace culture these days! But what, exactly, does that mean and entail? The reading I have been doing has shown me that it is important to be able to observe a workplace and understand all the variables that comprise cultural phenomena, especially if someone is interested in changing culture for the better. Therefore, this article taught me that there is more than one kind of organizational justice, and that combating cynicism and dissatisfaction for all members of an organization requires considering various types of justice, including distributive, interactional, and procedural.

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