Bringing "The Beholder" center stage: On the propensity to perceive overall fairness

Scholars have long acknowledged that perceptions of justice and fairness are “in the eye of the beholder.” Unfortunately, few attempts have been made to identify the substantive constructs that reside within that subjectivity. As a result, it is difficult to know whether low employee-rated fairness reflects managers who are truly violating justice rules, or whether it instead points to employees who are unusually strict in their perceptions. Drawing on fairness heuristic theory and conceptualizations of personality, we introduce fairness propensity—a tendency to view events, people, and organizations as fair. We theorize that fairness propensity is predicted—in part—by life narrative themes and trait dispositions that are communal in nature, given the relevance of fairness to relationships. We further theorize that fairness propensity shapes perceptions of overall fairness by influencing both “fairness anchors”—the first impressions of how fair authorities are—and perceptions of adherence to justice rules. A field study using employees from multiple organizations supported these predictions, even when controlling for other personality variables in the justice domain. We discuss the implications of fairness propensity for future research in the justice literature

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CC BY-NC-ND 4.0