That’s not fair! On the difference between distributive and procedural justice.


In organizational settings, we don’t always get what we want. But sometimes it’s not actually about the outcome.


There are two interdependent forms of justice (also called fairness). Distributive justice is about the outcome. For example, did we get the merit increase we thought we deserved?

Alternatively, procedural justice is about the process underlying how the outcome is determined. How did they decide who got the merit increase? What factors went into the decision? Did others get an increase? Why?


As it turns out, research clearly illustrates that procedural justice can overcome distributive justice. Meaning, even though people might be upset by the outcome, these concerns can be partially dispelled once they understand the process.


If you’re worried about upsetting your employees (and you will, eventually), start focusing on the procedure. Communicate with transparency. Leave room for discussion. Although not everyone deserves the same outcome, everyone does deserve to know the process.


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