Within organizations, employees are sensitive to how the company is treating them and that, in turn, influences their attitudes and behaviors. For example, if employees feel respected and valued, then they are motivated well and contribute positively towards its growth. On the contrary, disgruntled members can start indulging in minor deviant behaviors such as leaving early, working slow, taking long breaks or gossiping to bigger things such as sabotage, abuse, or theft. Similarly families can also be viewed as mini-organizations - a trust-evoking, honest, and psychologically safe environment helps all individuals grow separately as well as collectively.
What then is considered a just and fair environment? One key aspect is distributive justice (how the rights and resources are distributed). As an example in the organizational context, the skills and effort involved in a job profile is expected to be directly proportional to the rewards (monetary and non-monetary). These are the idea of pay dispersion – people with different kinds of jobs get different amounts of money; people with the same kind of job should be evaluated similarly; and people with the same kind of job yet who achieve more for the organization should be compensated more. Instead, if there is office politics and uncertainty in how the rewards are being distributed, dissatisfaction and high employee turnover are immediate.
Next is the idea of procedural justice. These are related to concerns that the processes being followed are transparent irrespective of the final outcomes. The first principles of having a fair conflict resolution is that all parties need to be heard before making a decision. Professor Tom Tyler and Yale Law School along with his colleagues has found that giving disgruntled group members of an organization or a union a chance to be heard regardless of whether it is instrumental (i.e., that affects the decision-making process) or non-instrumental (i.e., that has no weight on the decision-making process) is enough for a process to be viewed as fair.
Furthermore, clear communication about the goals and process goes a long way too. The present Indian government has clearly won the battle on this front by its constant updates - on the vision and progress made - to its citizens through various channels such as social and radio/TV broadcasts. A robust research finding has been that if the process is viewed as fair by all parties, even if the distributive justice (in how resources finally get allocated) isn’t met, there is still satisfaction.
Most of us have heard the proverb ‘with rights come responsibilities’. Typically, it is a reminder to those in power positions to not misuse it. What is equally important to remember and acknowledge is that ‘with responsibilities comes rights’. When a movie wins an Oscar for the Best Picture, why is it that the producers take the trophy home? Simply because they are the ones who have developed the initial idea and kept it safe through getting copyrights, got the money flowing into it, and taken critical decisions at different steps which made the movie. Similarly, in matters of family property allocations even though all heirs might feel they have equal rights, someone who holds the possession and along with it the responsibilities of maintaining it and keeping it safe over the years has clearly more rights.
This notion of fluidity of rights is also well recognized by law and that is why there are mediators and arbitrators. In any case, rules of law are a set of guidelines for orderly function of society and in that they are not absolute commandments. It reflects the collective conscience of the society. What the society considers morally the right thing to do starts getting reflected into law. The ever changing laws on abortion – and whether the unborn child has the right to life or not – is a classic case example. Therefore, ‘what is just and fair’ is not an easy question to answer. And we haven’t even gotten into religion – especially, if you believe in ‘karma catching up’ or actions lead to hell or heaven!
In all this, a few things we could do are to reflect within, be compassionate to others, and respect others’ viewpoints. Be it the relationships of employees with their organization, citizens with their powerful politicians, or between family members, the feeling of being heard and respected can go a long way.