Performance assessment arrangements & justice in employer-employee relations.

AuthorJoseph, Jerome
PositionReport - Abstract


Questions of justice keep arising in the performance assessment arrangements and practices domain in employer-employee relations dynamics in organizations. Employers seeking to align performance assessment with the 'results and returns' refrain, propagate the view that "a person deserves an outcome if he/she has met the preconditions for obtaining it" (Lerner et al., 1976). Employees, on the contrary, compare outcomes with 'similar others' and are skeptical of the' rules and conventions' which produced the outcomes (Hareli, 1999) very much in line with equity theory which suggests that employees evaluate fairness in the context of performance assessment practices by comparing their own 'contribution to reward' ratio to that of similarly situated others (Adams, 1963; Adams, 1965; Homans, 1974; Walster et al, 1978). Rawls (1971:4) recognizes this concern when he acknowledges that "although a society is a cooperative venture for mutual advantage, it is typically marked by a conflict as well as by an identity of interests".

The Rawlsian view of justice is founded on the premise that the crafting of just institutions is a prerequisite for the dispensing of justice--"justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought" (Rawls 1971:3). Justice can also be viewed from an alternative perspective as proposed by Sen (2009: ix), that the aim of a theory of justice "is to clarify how we can proceed to address questions of enhancing justice and removing injustice, rather than to offer resolutions of questions about the nature of perfect justice." In a sense, therefore, it can be hypothesized that the employee perspective on the performance assessment and justice front, which often amplifies into resentment and resistance, is triggered by the contradiction between the employer claims of a "perfectly just institution" and the lived experiences of organizational injustice.

Just as considerations of justice are important in social relations, organizations are not exempt from justice concerns "We argue that to the extent that business organizations are an artifact of social cooperation and are central to distributing the fruits of that cooperation by way of fair wages, they can be considered as important justice delivery instruments within a society. In other words, business organizations play an important role in helping societies operationalize (or indirectly deliver) their notions of justice" (Shrivastava et al., 2016:101). It can be argued, therefore, that the delivery of organizational functionalities cannot be divorced from the dispensation of justice. What is needed is a theoretical positioning which can guide both practice and research in the justice delivery arena of business organizations. It is with this in view that this paper seeks to engage with the debate Amartya Sen (2009) initiated with John Rawls (1971). The next section, therefore, proposes to examine research findings related to performance assessment and justice as a first step towards bringing the Rawls-Sen debate into play in order to identify a more sustainable theoretical positioning on the issue.

Theoretical Positioning

Performance assessment has become central to the intensification of employee resource productivity (Judge & Ferris, 1993; Cardy & Dobbins, 1994; Chen & Kuo, 2004). Its functional centrality is crafted through individual employee role-organizational goal alignment (Guest, 1997; Fletcher, 2001) with the quantification of performance assessment as means (Ilgen et al., 1979) and cost reduction oriented profit enhancement as ends (Cleveland et al., 1989; Holbrook, 2002). However, instead of enhancing performance, performance assessment not only diminishes ability to perform (Hendry et al., 2000:46) but also violates human and professional dignity and respect in performance realizations (Skarlicki & Folger., 1997). In addition performance assessment reinforces power relationships which are often perceived as being open to abuse (Townley, 1993) and enhanced hierarchical dominance also negatively impacts the nurturing of a quality oriented collective culture (Grint, 1993; Soltani et al., 2006). The power dynamics induces a form of false managerial consciousness wherein the resultant employee disaffection leading to intention to quit is dismissed as unrelated to outcome of inequity concerns (Dobbins et al., 1990). Studies also suggest that the tendency of subjects towards comparative and relative evaluation of the fairness of performance review outcomes is considered by managements as a threat to system compliance (Salimaki et al., 2009; Scott et al., 2009).

Research, in the context of the assertion of managerial prerogatives through performance assessment systems, points towards subjectivities of distortions (DeNisi & Williams, 1988; Longenecker et al., 1987) in the design of measures, in implementation, and in distributive outcomes policies (Folger & Cropanzano, 1998) in both the private and public sectors (George, 1986; Meyer, 1991). The implicit undercurrents are further muddied by the performance reviewer evaluations being biased by cognitive and motivational factors (Longenecker et al., 1987; DeNisi & Williams 1988) combined with reviewer inaccuracies in ratings (Longenecker., 1987; Folger et al., 1992), thus rendering the findings of measurement based performance assessment questionable in the eyes of the reviewed.

Faced with these problems performance systems managers committed to measurement and quantification turn to further refinement of performance 'analytics'. Attempts to make changes in line with this approach meet with resistance from employees--"new (and presumably improved) appraisal systems are often met with substantial resistance" (Banks & Murphy, 1985:335). However, research suggests that this does not change negative perceptions as far as justice is concerned (Bernadine & Beatty, 1984; Cascio, 1981; Lawler, 1967). Concerns over justice and outcome inequities are linked to negativities related to performance assessment systems (Landy et al., 1978; Taylor et al., 1995; Erdogan, 2002; Jawahar, 2007; Narcisse & Harcourt, 2008; Greenberg, 1990). If there is a perceived fairness deficit, the effectiveness of appraisal feedback becomes negligible (Ilgen et al., 1978).

Since the constructions of performance assessment justice are crafted by employer controlled hierarchies, how these constructions are perceived and experienced by employees also determines employer credibility (Jawahar, 2007; Narcisse & Harcourt, 2008; Landy et al., 1978; Folger & Konovsky, 1989; Tyler, 1987; Bies & Shapiro, 1987; Folger et al., 1989; Taylor et al., 1998). Studies have also established that positive perceptions of equity evoke positive perceptions of the system; high outcome acceptability is linked to perceived fairness of the systems; in fact, positive perceptions of assessment systems also induce tolerance for negative outcomes (Greenberg, 1987; Lau & Moser, 2008; Lind & Tyler, 1988).

Equitable policies and procedures, improving appraiser conduct and provision for appeals enhance perceptions of fairness (Cloutier & Vilhuber, 2008; Scott et al., 2009). However, research clearly shows that whatever changes are brought about in the systems and processes, negativities persist on the outcome inequities front (Cardy & Dobbins, 1994). Research indicates that in order to deal with a persistent sense of outcome inequities among subjects, the discourse in both the world of practice as well as of scholarship has broadened in scope because, as suggested by Dipboye and Portbriand (1981), Greenberg (1986) and Cropanzano, Bowen and Gilliland (2007), engineering positive perceptions of justice tend to evoke positive sentiments towards appraisal processes and outcomes. Empirical studies towards this end have identified distinct justice dimensions --procedural, distributive (Cohen-Charash & Levy, 2001), interactional (Bies & Shapiro, 1987) while Colquitt et al (2001) and others (Ambrose & Shminke, 2009; Jawahar, 2009; Thurston & McNall, 2010) added informational justice as a fourth variant. Colquitt (2001) also validated the four construct model through empirical validation.

The underlying employer logic appears to be that, given the intractability of the dilemma of distributive justice, the game plan appears to be to deploy the concepts and measures of procedural and interactional justice in trying to either reduce outcome negativity or at least to try and induce a "sense" of acceptability of outcome inequities. Consequently, the research line adopted to operationalize procedural justice in to seven process elements serve the purpose of assuaging negative sentiments surrounding outcome inequities which are the main sources of disenchantment (Folger & Bies, 1989). If procedures are perceived as fair, there is evidence of some tolerance even for outcome injustice (Sabeen & Mehboob, 2008); even if rewards are low, higher commitment is likely; if procedures are perceived to be unfair, if rewards are low, lower commitment is likely (Lau & Moser, 2008). Taylor et al. (1995) reported that employees whose managers trained to emphasize due process in their appraisals had more favorable reactions to the appraisal process. Employees blaming organizations for low rewards are less likely to do so if procedures are perceived to be fair (Lau, Wong & Eggleton, 2008). Satisfaction with performance assessment outcomes like pay raises (Cloutier & Vilhuber, 2008; Chiaburu & Lim, 2008), promotions (McFarlin & Sweeney, 1992) and retention (Cloutier & Vilhuber 2008; Chiaburu & Lim, 2008) are impacted by perceptions of fairness related to the criteria which determine the outcomes.

Similar conclusions can be drawn on the interactional justice fronts. 'Behavioral' operationalization of interactional fairness has been found to impact appraisal acceptance and satisfaction (Loi et al., 2009; Thurston & McNall, 2010) and the...

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