Win Your People

Fostering a Culture of Fairness: A Manager's Guide

Fairness at work is a surefire way to keep your people engaged

Use this guide to set a culture of fairness in your team and see your people soar to newer heights of performance and engagement.


• What is Organizational Justice?

• The Internal Mechanisms of Organizational Justice

• What Happens if it’s Missing?

• Types of Organizational Justice

• Strategies to promote fariness at work

• Additional Resources

• Frequently Asked Questions

If someone puts a gun to my head and asks for ONLY one thing that can ruin a team’s spirits, I’ll go for unfairness at the workplace – hands down.

In my experience, a single thought of unfairness can wreak havoc on a person’s spirit to contribute.

I’ve seen countless examples where even a tiny perceived unfairness has resulted in reactions like quiet quitting, counterproductive activities, stress, and even quitting the job altogether.

And organizational justice at work has become a rare commodity now. According to Gartner, more than 80% of employees think they’re not being treated fairly at work!

Read it again. More than 80%.

Time to have a real hard look at your team culture.

Are your people among that 80% or the rare 20%?

That’s why I aim to equip you with practical strategies to help you steer clear of the harms of injustice at work.

What is Organizational Justice?

Let’s start with the basics.

While defining organizational justice, I see people making it a tangled headphone cord. Let’s not do that.

For this blog post, let’s define organizational justice as your team members’ “perception of fairness at work”.

Simple enough? Great.

And let me emphasize the word ‘perception’ here. No matter how fair a manager you are, if they perceive you as unfair, you’ll automatically become eligible for all the repercussions that come with unfairness at work.

Oh, don’t get me started on the perks of getting the honorable label of an unfair manager! 

So while striving for a fairness culture at work, keep an eye on your people’s perception of your fairness as the boss.


The Internal Mechanisms of Organizational Justice

How Do People Form Their Perception of Fairness?

I find it necessary to explain how people reach their verdict of being treated fairly or unfairly at work.

Once you know this, you’ll automatically be able to smell whenever there’s trouble. It’ll enable you to preempt an untoward situation.

So here’s how people gauge fairness for themselves at work.

There are 3 calculations that people run in their heads to get an idea of fairness.

  1. Inputs Vs. Outputs – Are my rewards (benefits, recognition, opportunities) in proportion to my inputs (efforts, contributions, sacrifices)?
  2. Current Self Vs. Past Self – What I’m getting is equal, more, or lesser than I used to get.
  3. Self Vs. Others – How does my Inputs-Outputs ratio compare with others’ Inputs-Outputs ratio?

This quick math happens on the go, often while they’re driving or scrolling their phones on the toilet seat.

What Do People Do in Case of Perceived Injustice?

Someone in your team did her maths and found out there’s unfairness.


Now what? Here’s what she might do:

  • Change Inputs: To make an unfair situation fair, she can try to lower her inputs to the extent she feels what she’s giving is in line with what she’s getting
  • Change Outcome: She can also try to increase her outcomes by asking for a raise, seeking a promotion, and demanding better benefits.
  • Engage in negative behaviors: Here’s where it gets tougher for you. Now she’s working against the common goal to feel better for the unfairness that she thinks took place.
  • Leave: She can decide to leave the situation by quitting her job.

Again, it’s all about perceptions. Your team members will not come to you to discuss their math. They’ll just sue you in their own mind courts, run a trial, and give a verdict.

Most of the time, you’ll see a change in their behavior only if you look closely. You’d be able to know the exact problem only if you know this thought process.

What Happens if it's Missing?

Now, what goes down when fairness decides to take a hike?

It’s not a pretty sight, dear managers.

Let me quickly state only a few direct results of injustice that can plague your team.

The list can go miles down but you get the idea.

No manager wants any of this.

Types of Organizational Justice

Researchers agree on three subtypes or dimensions of organizational justice. Here they are:


1. Distributive Justice: Perceived fairness of outcomes especially extrinsic rewards like pay, bonuses, and promotions.

Picture this: You’re a sales manager and in charge of a certain area. While you smash your sales target, another manager, Sam, does only 75% of it. A coworker strolls by your office and casually remarks that Sam and you both have received an excellent rating this year.

Mayday. Distributive justice has been violated.


2. Procedural Justice: Perceived fairness of the processes used to determine outcomes.

What on earth made your boss give equal ratings to you and Sam?

How did he arrive at this decision?

Unfair decisions that leave you wondering are violating procedural justice making work feel like a rigged game.


3. Interactional Justice: Perceived fairness of interpersonal treatment.

Your boss publicly berated you for coming in late yesterday. You think it was pure tongue-lashing with zero listening and not an iota of constructive feedback in it.

He’s violating interactional justice now.

Strategies to Promote Fairness at Work

Instead of sharing my personal experiences, I dived into a sea of justice research to bring you the top practical actions that you can take at your end to ensure everyone’s with you on the fairness front.

Here we go.

Let them speak

A classic research on procedural fairness perceptions suggests you hear your people during a process that affects their jobs. Having been heard by their manager, people are more likely to have a positive perception that procedural justice has been served.

It’s probably the easiest and cheapest of all methods. Right? And give them a justification for your decisions.

They’ll feel elated.

Boost and exercise your EQ

Managers’ ability to manage their own and the team’s emotions enhances the perception of fairness in employees. Keep the emotional climate positive in your team.

To do that, you might need to level up your own emotional intelligence. There’s no harm in further developing yourself, innit? Sign up for a training that’s focused on improving leaders’ EQ or find a coach to help you do that.

This ability will surely come in handy at many other points along your managerial journey.

Foster a culture of trust

With a culture of trust in place, the chances of feeling unfairness will go down among your people. 

Now the next question should be, “How do I ensure they trust me as their leader?”.

Let me save you the trouble. These 5 actions will make you a trusted leader:

  1. Keep your behavior consistent across situations
  2. Walk your talk
  3. Involve them in decision-making
  4. Give accurate information and communicate openly
  5. Have a genuine and visible concern for your people

Talk and then walk your talk

Never miss an opportunity to tell your people that fairness is one of your top priorities. Let them know you for being fair. Using a statement like “I’m an equal opportunity leader” as your email signature can be one way of letting them know.

Now that everyone knows you’re for fairness and equity, start wearing the three-type fairness lens (distributive-procedural-interactional) all the time so that you never commit unfairness at work.

Audit yourself

To get a better view of your fairness as a manager, you can:

  • Self-audit your recent decisions on all three fairness dimensions.
  • Get candid feedback from your people by freeing them of any consequences.
  • Ask your colleagues how fair they think you are with your people.
  • Try getting informal feedback from people up in the hierarchy.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for any nugget of feedback that comes your way.


Fairness at work isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have for a thriving workplace.

It needs to be your priority #1.

Anything lesser than that will spell trouble for you because you won’t be able to achieve the results being expected from you.

Managers who are fair are the ones poised for exponential growth with the help of a loyal team. Others may find themselves taking the long route.

Which path do you aspire to take?


Need help creating a personal strategy to make fairness an essential element of your team?

Drop me a line at and I’ll take it from there.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Justice enables you to get the best from every team member. When you ensure fairness, you create an environment primed for your team to thrive and for your success as a leader.

1. Distributive justice: fairness of outcomes
2. Procedural justice: fairness in processes
3. Interactional justice: respectful interactions

A good example could be sitting in 1:1s with your people to explain to them why they got a certain score in their performance review and how they can further improve next year.

Interactional justice. Treating people with respect doesn’t require major policy changes.

• Stressed employees
• Counterproductive behaviors
• Poor mental and physical health
• A feeling of alienation at work, and
• Knowledge-hiding

Read More