Influence of Vicarious Justice on Work Behavior: Role of Affect & Retributive Intent.

AuthorPurang, Pooja


Recent research has acknowledged the importance of employee work behaviors as they shape the context in which task activities and processes are performed in an organization (Dalal, 2005). These work behaviors can be broadly categorized as task performance, organizational citizenship behavior and counterproductive work behavior. Job attitudes, organizational justice perceptions and individual dispositions have been identified as antecedents of work behavior. Most research that has examined perceptions of justice have studied effects of procedural justice (Kim & Mauborgne, 1996; Tepper, Lockhart & Hoobler, 2001), distributive and interpersonal justice (Colquitt, LePine, Piccolo, Zapata & Rich, 2012) as direct experiences of individuals. But research highlights that justice judgments can be based on others' experiences as well not only on personal experiences (O'Reilly & Aquino 2011; Blader, Wiesenfeld, Fortin & Wheeler-Smith, 2013) as individuals may observe more instances than direct experience. Third parties may be disturbed by the mistreatment fearing a threat of such treatment befalling them or they may internalize the harm caused to the other (Skarlicki, O'Reilly & Kulik, 2015). Also, the deontic model of justice provides that third parties react to unfairness with moral anger and are motivated to punish the wrongdoer for violating moral norms (Folger, 2001; Skarlicki et al, 2015). Prior research on third party perspectives has examined aspects like emotional reactions (Trevino & Ball, 1992), cooperative behavior (De Cremer & van Hiel, 2006), satisfaction with the supervisor (Huang, Ryan & Mujtaba, 2015), victim empathy/derogation (Kray & Lind, 2002a), and interpersonal deviant behavior (Zoghbi-Manrique-de-lara & Suarez-Acosta, 2014). Although, theoretical frameworks (O'Reilly & Aquino, 2011; Skarlicki et al, 2015; Dhanani & LaPalme, 2019) explaining reactions to vicarious mistreatment suggest desire to punish the transgressor to restore justice, the influence on counterproductive work behavior (henceforth CWB) and in-role behavior have not been typically examined. Also, while emotions are invoked as the process by which negative outcomes occur emotional reactions have not been tested as mediators (Dhanani & LaPalme, 2019).

This paper proposes to study effect of vicarious justice perceptions on CWB and in-role behavior with negative and positive affect and revenge motives as mediators. This paper contributes by examining third party perceptions as antecedents of behavior that can have tremendous costs or impact productivity of the organization. Understanding how coworkers behave in response to treatment meted out by peers is important as employees hear or learn about many more events than they personally experience. Often the felt injustice can guide attitudes and behaviors and poison the climate of the workplace. Thus, organizations need to design practices to establish or restore justice in the eyes of the observers to stop deviance and encourage performance. Also, while previous research has mentioned affective reactions as underlying processes by which justice effects occur, the mediating role of affect and desire for revenge have largely been inferred, and not tested. Further, most research on vicarious justice has focused on mistreatment at work, but the question remains: does justice make one feel good similar to how injustice makes one feel bad?

Specifically, this paper examines three research questions. First, in line with prior work, does vicarious justice shape behavior intentions at work namely CWB and in-role behavior? Second, do affect and revenge motives mediate the relationship between vicarious justice and behavior intentions? Third, does vicarious justice make people feel good similar to how injustice makes them feel bad? To answer these questions two experimental studies were conducted to investigate the effects of vicarious justice on CWB or in-role behavior. Also, to avoid interaction of different forms of justice in influencing outcomes only one dimension of justice was manipulated in one vignette. In study 1 interpersonal justice (treated with politeness, respect and dignity or not) was manipulated while in study 2 procedural justice (fairness of processes) was manipulated. Based on literature different outcomes were examined with different dimensions of justice. As interpersonal justice is an important antecedent of deviant behavior (Ferris, Spencer, Brown & Heller, 2012; Jones, 2009) study 1 examined the effect of vicarious justice (interpersonal) on CWB directed at the source of unfairness. Also, as research shows people attempt to reciprocate procedural justice with in-role behavior (Kim & Mauborgne, 1996), in study 2 in-role behavior was examined as the outcome of vicarious justice (procedural). Further attempts were made to counter any false-positive errors by developing the hypotheses a priori based on theoretical predictions and using multiple studies to examine the hypotheses (Murayama, Pekrun & Fiedler, 2014).

In the following section, literature about third party perspectives, reactions to vicarious experiences and mechanisms by which these reactions occur have been discussed to present the rationale for potential mediators.

Vicarious Justice

Vicarious justice experiences are instances of fair/unfair treatment of another employee (distributive/procedural/ interpersonal) witnessed by the focal person (Huang et al., 2015). These are perceptions that lie outside the dyad of victim and transgressor. Third party perspectives are important for organizations because for every victim there are a large number of third parties e.g. coworkers, friends and others, who get information from sources like the organizational grapevine and social media. These perspectives can influence the victim's reaction to the mistreatment or members learn vicariously about the treatment they can expect (Skarlicki & Kulik, 2005). Furthermore, fairness perceptions of authority figures or institutions are not based only on personal experiences but also on collective experiences (Lind, Kray & Thompson, 1998), as people consider others experiences when forming process judgments (van den Bos & Lind, 2001) and evaluations of employing organizations (Colquitt, Zapata-Phelan & Roberson, 2005).

Third parties may be concerned about other's treatment for a host of reasons. They may sometimes be worried about similar mistreatment befalling them or they may internalize the harm caused to someone else (Skarlicki et al., 2015). Another reason could be ascribed to moral outrage based on the deontic model of justice; one experiences emotionally charged reactions to events that violate moral norms of social conduct and one is motivated to address the injustice even when one is not receiving the ill-treatment (Folger & Cropanzano, 2001). Further, the adaptationist perspective explains that third party reactions to unfairness have an evolutionary basis and are centered on feelings and cognitions of right and wrong. The evolutionary foundation of reciprocity begets cooperation for cooperative behavior and social sanctioning to curb unfair behavior (Skarlicki et al., 2015).

Studies on the impact of other's treatment have shown mixed results. Lind et al. (1998) argue that people respond to injustices to others; however, widespread acceptance of injustice reports may be difficult in the absence of some personal experience with injustice. Other researchers have (van den Bos & Lind, 2001) found participants' awareness of others' unfair experiences lowered fairness perceptions, as much as having an unfair experience oneself with greater relevance to fair procedures than who receives unfairness. Observing unfair experiences of others resulted in negative evaluations of groups by highly identifying group members (Okimoto, 2009), reduced work performance and commitment to the organization (Brockner et al, 1987), and high levels of emotional labor (Spencer & Rupp, 2009). Also, observers of punishment of unethical behavior reported more positive emotions and justice evaluations (Trevino & Ball, 1992) and vicarious justice perceptions positively influenced individual's satisfaction with authority and intentions to cooperate (Huang et al., 2015). Research using economic game paradigm suggests punishing the transgressor and helping the victim as complementary third-party reactions (Skarlicki et al., 2015). Thus, we can see that third parties are not unconcerned objective observers but have varied and complex reactions and therefore, understanding third party perspectives of justice and its effect on work behavior would give us greater insights into how justice effects unfold in a work setting.

Impact of Vicarious Justice on Work Behaviors

CWBs are actions of organizational members that are counter to the organization's legitimate interests and because of high costs, both economic and psychological, are important for researchers and practitioners. Research has shown perceived unfairness as an antecedent of CWB, however most of this research focuses on victim's reactions to mistreatment and not of third parties. Perceived injustice results in CWB because employees who feel mistreated reduce their cooperative behaviors or engage in deviant behaviors to avoid further exploitation. Based on the principle of reciprocity (Skarlicki et al., 2015) similar reactions can be expected from third parties who may respond with CWB towards the source of the transgression. Dhanani and LaPalme (2019) in their dual process model of vicarious mistreatment propose that emotionally laden heuristic decision-making in response to mistreatment leads to retributive and restorative behavioral outcomes. Further, recent research (Zogbhi-Manrique-de-Lara & Suarez-Acosta, 2014) found interpersonal injustice to peers by a supervisor results in interpersonal deviant behavior directed towards other peers. We can therefore conclude that...

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