Fair Treatment Cultivates a Sense of Belonging 

Think of the last time you felt really mad. What was it about? Chances are, you experienced some type of injustice. In fact, most people’s top response to what makes them angry in life and at work is ‘unfair treatment’ (Törestad, 1990). There is a place for directed anger that can inspire action to make necessary change. But generally, it’s nice to work in a place that doesn’t make you frustrated daily.  

This is where fairness comes in. We all want and expect to be treated fairly. But fairness isn’t always the norm. In fact, it is understood to be a strength that can lead to exceptional job satisfaction, productivity, and organizational commitment (Gillet, Colombat, Michinov, Pronost, & Fouquereau, 2013).

While fairness can come from the systems and procedures in place, it also comes from how you treat others. This interpersonal trust is translated through the dignity and respect you afford others in your interactions (Greenberg, 2009).  Research at the VIA Institute of Character has even identified fairness as a globally valued character strength where one relies on moral values and compassion to care for other people.

So why should you work to cultivate fairness as a strength? Well for one, it will probably lead to less frustration and anger in your workplace. When people experience injustice, they have higher psychological stress (Francis & Barling, 2005), react aggressively (Folger & Baron, 1996), and may even try to sabotage their organizations (Ambrose, Seabright, & Schminke, 2002).

But more than this, treating others with fairness can enhance positive outcomes at work.  By treating people with dignity and respect you are communicating that they belong to the organization. This sense of belonging is immensely powerful, and once felt, leads to employees participating in organizational citizenship behavior, or going above and beyond on the job (Kyei-Poku, 2014). In other words, the more inclusive your behavior, the more others feel valued and the more they do for the organization.

This fair treatment also enhances trust at work. If you treat others fairly and justly, they are able to trust in your benevolence and expect fair treatment in the future. This trust facilitates the flow of information-sharing, fluidity, and cooperation in the organization (Cuddy, Kohut, & Neffinger, 2013).

Not only that, but treating others fairly can lead to benefits for you as well. When others see you as treating them fairly, they give you higher status and hold you in high esteem and respect (Blader & Chen, 2012; Magee & Galinsky, 2008). In other words, fair treatment goes both ways.

So, what can you do to develop fairness?

1. Listen:

Ok, we’ve heard this before. But really, the best way to demonstrate your respect for someone is to seek to understand their ideas, needs, and aspirations. This means conscientiously conveying interest by using eye contact and by authentically responding to what you hear. In other words, don’t just listen, but also focus on the other person’s experience instead of your own and treat them with compassion in hearing their experiences.

2. Look for common connections:

The way we identify ourselves affects how we behave toward others. The more you identify with your work group or colleagues, the more motivated you will be to enact justice (Tyler & Smith, 1998). Ask questions, listen thoughtfully, and empathetically try to understand another’s experience and you will start to find it easy to act fairly.

3. Recognize and act on common goals:

Look for opportunities that can serve to benefit your whole work team or even organization. The more you consider the interests of the collective, the more you are communicating that the needs and aspirations of others are as valuable as your own.

Hopefully these few simple steps can support you in developing your own sense of fairness and enable excellence for both you and your organization.


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Blader, S. L., Chen, Y. R. (2012). Differentiating the effects of status and power: a justice perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 994-1014.

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Gillet, N., Colombat, P., Michinov, E., Pronost, A., & Fouquereau, E. (2013). Procedural justice, supervisor autonomy support, work satisfaction, organizational identification and job performance: The mediating role of need satisfaction and perceived organizational support. Journal Of Advanced Nursing, 69(11), 2560-2571.

Greenberg, J. (2009). Promote procedural and interactional justice to enhance individual and organizational outcomes. In E. A. Locke (Ed.), Handbook of principles of organizational behavior: Indispensable knowledge for evidence-based management, 2nd edition (pp. 85-104). West Sussex, United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Kyei-Poku, I. (2014). The benefits of belongingness and interactional fairness to interpersonal citizenship behavior. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 35(8), 691-709. doi:10.1108/LODJ-09-2012-0117

Magee J. C., Galinsky A.D. (2008). Social hierarchy: The self-reinforcing nature of power and status. Academy of Management Ann, 2, 351-398.

Törestad, B. (1990), What is anger provoking? A psychophysical study of perceived causes of anger. Aggressive Behavior, 16: 9–26. doi: 10.1002/1098-2337(1990)16:1<9::AID-AB2480160103>3.0.CO;2-R

Tyler, T. R., & Smith, H. J. (1998). Social justice and social movements. In D. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (Vol. 4, pp. 595-629). Boston, MA: McGraw –Hill.