Mitigating Workplace Mistreatment Research Weaknesses through Measuring Organizational Justice

By December 19, 2017Academic Papers








Mitigating Workplace Mistreatment Research Weaknesses through Measuring Organizational Justice











Mitigating Workplace Mistreatment Research Weaknesses through Measuring Organizational Justice


In 1989, suicide was the third leading cause of death in the workplace for all employees and by 1993; suicide had become the second leading cause of death on-the-job for all employees (Neuman & Baron, 1998). This indicates the emergence of workplace mistreatment and victimization is an organizational problem. These incidents are usually unreported due to shame or fear that no action will be taken or fear of retaliation (Gon, 2012). That being said, workplace mistreatment research is aimed at determining the causes behind these issues and how to mitigate them. Unfortunately, the research methodologies used are riddled with various weaknesses that render the data unreliable. However, these weaknesses may be mitigated by the strengths of measuring organizational justice. This paper analyses the weaknesses of workplace mistreatment research and how these are mitigated by measuring organizational justice through an exploration of academic research and literature.

  1. Weaknesses of Workplace Mistreatment Research in Context

These weaknesses are divided into four main issues; conceptual, contextual, relational and methodological. They are discussed in the following paragraphs.

Relational issues;

These issues regard how the employees relate to each other, their employer(s) and also the researchers collecting the data.

  • Colleagues

In situations where there is workplace mistreatment, there exists a target and perpetrator. However, these can interchange as victims seek to retaliate when subjected to workplace mistreatment (Hershcovis & Reich, 2013). This creates difficulty in the collection of reliable data because the interviewee is likely to see him/herself as the victim regardless of whether or not he/she is actually the perpetrator. According to Hershcovis & Reich (2013), focus on these two labels does not make it apparent that workplace mistreatment is a cycle in which the perpetrator and target interchange a number of times. Therefore, other causative factors such as the relationship of the target and the perpetrator, and the individual characteristics of the participants, among others are not considered.

  • Participant and the researcher

Some participants have Social Desirable Response (SDR) tendencies when giving information to researchers (Douglas & Martinko, 2001). They may therefore downplay harsh events or exaggerate harmless incidences that were intended to victimize the participant.  Further, Aquino & Lamertz (2004) have recognized that just because a person claims that he/she is a victim of workplace mistreatment, this is not always the case. This is attributed to the exaggeration of occurrences by some study participants. This is a hindrance as it derails the research activities from identifying the true victims and the causes of their victimization in the workplace.

  • Employer-employee

Organizational culture determines the quality of the data collected when research is being done on workplace mistreatment. This involves how employees relate to each other. Certain organizational cultures render research on workplace mistreatment as unreliable. Aquino & Lamertz (2004) identify one where punitive measures, coercive force and expression of low levels of aggression are used by the employer as motivating factors for their staff. This illustrates that the victims may not perceive this as abusive. This is also demonstrated in high power distance and collectivist cultures that are based on honor among employees (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Aquino & Lamertz (2004) explain that data from such surveys would show that there are neither victims nor perpetrators of workplace mistreatment. This espouses inherent weaknesses when research is done in such organizations, therefore rendering it unlikely that the victims will be identified and the causes mitigated.

Methodological issues

These are issues that occur due to the method of collecting data that the researchers choose to use when conducting their study.

  • Use of flawed research methodologies
  • (Douglas & Martinko, 2001) posit that using methods such as questionnaire and sampling bring about the collection of inconsistent data when research is being done. This is because it is difficult to determine the accuracy of the data provided since the sample may be small as is sometimes the case in the method of sampling. This makes the collected data unreliable. Also, in the case of questionnaires, the lack of proximity between the researcher and the participant brings about the possibility of inaccuracy in the data provided. It would also be difficult to identify whether or not there is exchange of roles time and time again between the perpetrator and the victim as is explained by Hershcovis & Reich, (2013). The repeated exchange of roles is thus unidentified when such methods are used. This is a critical challenge to the successful emergence of workplace mistreatment research.


  • Framing of Question(s)

The framing of the questions by the researcher(s) is a determining factor when it comes to the accuracy of the answers given. Douglas and Martinko (2001) explain that questions requiring subjective answers tend to promote bias by the participant. This is well explained in Deci & Ryan’s (2000) discourse on culture issues within the workplace where the use of subjective questions usually makes the participant think of him/herself as the victim whether reasonably or unreasonably. This creates room for the collection of inaccurate data that may lead to further inaccurate conclusions.

Contextual issues

This concerns the conditions under which the research is undertaken. This may involve time the study is being undertaken and also the culture of the organization which is under scrutiny. These two factors are determining factors when it comes to the reliability of the data collected by the researchers.

  • Institutionalized victimization

This is a norm whereby colleagues accept victimization from each other. This victimization among colleagues becomes validated because there is limited active or anticipatory action taken by management to stop it. A study by Aquino & Thau (2009) highlights one such case. The research demonstrated that employees bullied within the organization expressed dissatisfaction with policies maintained by their organization’s leadership. Many employees are therefore likely to take up this norm. Similarly, most of them will not see it as mistreatment, but will take it in stride and give effect to the cycle of interchanging the perpetrator and victim (Aquino & Thau, 2009). This weakens the research on workplace victimization as there is likely to be few or none of the employees accepting the status of the victim and therefore with no victims in the data collected, the research is inconclusive.

  • The Period of Measurement

The period of measurement is another contextual factor that determines the integrity of data collected for the purpose of workplace mistreatment research. Hershcovis & Reich’s (2013) study found that serious incidents of victimization are more memorable than less serious ones to staffs. Similarly, the research demonstrated that employees tend to exaggerate such occurrences as time goes by. This makes it difficult to accurately determine the frequency of such occurrences and their causes. In such situations, the data collected is likely to be faulty. This reflects a scenario that bears difference from the actual happenings (Hershcovis & Reich, 2013).


Conceptual issues

When research is being done, the concept of the study denotes what is real (ontology) and how we know it is real (epistemology) (Wicks and Whiteford, 2006). As such certain thesis is created by the researchers who embark to find out whether or not it is true. To do this they set out to research on it using a framework that is predetermined by them. This is a determining factor when it comes to the accuracy (or lack of it) where the collected data is concerned.

  • Rigid concepts in the framework
  • When research is being done on workplace mistreatment, employees are usually interviewed on the basis of three facets or traits to determine organizational justice. These aspects include; distributive justice, procedural justice and interactional justice, interpersonal justice and informational justice (Cropanzano, Byrne, Bobocel & Rupp, 2001). Ambrose & Schminke (2009), noted that although individuals are able to express their perceptions of specific justice when asked, they tend to think in terms of general justice impressions. Further, these facets have been found to be overlapping in the perception of the participants (Colquitt et al., 2001). Therefore, overall justice perceptions are what employees usually use in determining organizational justice. This renders the data divided and collected in accordance to these facets unreliable as specific aspects are ill considered in the research. These facets are rigid and do not allow for findings to emerge, which is an important factor when doing research (Wicks and Whiteford, 2006).
  1. Measuring Organizational Justice

Research that  determines organizational justice gives an opportunity for research on workplace mistreatment research and also advances it. This is because it resolves the contextual, conceptual, methodological and relational issues that plague workplace mistreatment research.

Resolution of Relational Issues

  • Labels of the Perpetrator and Target
  • (Mccardle, 2015) posits that when employees feel that they are being treated unfairly, they react by eliciting feelings of anger, frustration and desire to seek retribution. Therefore, measuring organizational justice would reveal these feelings of the employees, thus making up for the weaknesses of the workplace mistreatment research. When the employees are asked about what they find unfair in the organization, they are able to express this without the need to refer to the labels of victim and perpetrator, as is recognized in Hershcovis & Reich (2013) where the victim may also have been a perpetrator previously.
  • Reliance on Sources
  • More than one data source should be implemented in determining whether actual victimization takes place in the workplace hence reducing reliance on one source of data. (Cropanzano, Byrne, Bobocel & Rupp, 2001) points out the effectiveness of relying on more than one source to determine organizational injustice. Using more than one source could point out whether or not there is unfair treatment in the workplace. One claim from what is experienced by one person may be confirmed or nullified by the objective observations of other participants. Colquitt (2001) highlights that doing further research validates the measure of organizational justice and prevents source bias thus reducing the impact of individual bias. Therefore, this helps in the advancement of workplace mistreatment research as it negates the impact of the source bias on the studies done. This gives way for further research on emerging factors from the research done previously.

Methodological issues resolved

Measuring organizational justice employs methodologies that are better and result in accurate data, when compared to those used to determine workplace mistreatment research.

  • Alternate Modes of Study
  • (Cropanzano, Byrne, Bobocel & Rupp, 2001) explains that the use of other modes of study helps improve the data taken by widening the scope of the research. Use of methods such as laboratory experiments, and field studies helps widen the scope of the research being done and gives the researchers better control over the studies. Further it enables the researcher(s) to focus on the idea that they have so that they can disprove it or confirm it. This helps improve research done on workplace mistreatment by lengthening the research period thereby making the data more reliable. These methods can therefore advance research on workplace mistreatment by widening their horizons.
  • Objective Question
  • Use of objective questions aids in providing accurate data that is free from bias. These questions do not give the participant a chance to assess them and use bias, instead they only ask for what is observable (Ambrose & Schminke, 2009). This therefore makes it the better method of asking questions rather than subjective questions. This is attributed to the understanding that subjective questions allow the participant to answer based on emotions and how they interpreted the action. This helps in advancing research on workplace mistreatment research in that the objective questions are not riddled by source bias as they are based on what is observable.
  • Overall Justice
  • Overall justice is a reliable method of determining organizational justice. Ambrose & Schminke’s (2009) observed that participants tend to use overall justice in determining specific facets of justice such as procedural. Their study suggests that overall justice determination may allow organizations to assess justice and fairness in a shorter time using a less tedious method. This is based on the reduced need to divide assessment of organizational justice into four facets. This is especially useful in organizational contexts that are characterised by heterogeneous staff populations. For instance, some of the staff may not realize that they are being ill-treated but may find the treatment unjust thereby enable them to speak out about it.

Contextual issues resolved

  • Length of Study
  • The period of the measurement of organizational justice among employees is reasonably long so as to avoid reliance on data that is influenced by the prevailing emotions of the participants. (Gon, 2012) observed that research methods with strict time frames are unable to encompass the emerging issues that may crop up during the study. For instance, during in-person interviews, additional time may be needed depending on the complexity of the questions and the level of understanding of the participant to make up for these and other occurrences. This suggests that using methods of data collections, which take a longer time or taking data in accordance to incidents as they occur, provide more accurate data. This therefore reduces the influence of memory and other biases on the occurrence of events, hence furthers workplace bullying research in that these methods are better hence gain accurate data.
  • Identification of Organizational Culture
  • Identification of the organizational culture is necessary for identifying how employees perceive fairness and thus assessing organizational justice. This is done so as to determine whether the norms that are practised in the company are in promotion of workplace mistreatment or not. Deci & Ryan’s (2000) study points out that identifying the culture of the organization is essential in determining the extent of victimization in the workplace. This would demonstrate whether the management in question has taken steps to eliminate a predatory environment in the workplace (Aquino & Lamertz, 2004). This methodology makes it easier to identify targets and victims. Since the targets are sometimes unaware that they are being mistreated in the workplace, measuring organizational justice would determine this since it encompasses more data that subsequently involves workplace mistreatment.

Resolution of Conceptual Issues

  • Statistical separation of constructs

This is a method where individual and group constructs are separated so as to mitigate the group influences on the person (Kenny and la Voie, 1985). This helps determine mistreatment of the person and the group separately, hence it removes issues such as institutionalized mistreatment where the whole group does not think that it is being mistreated as was the case in Glomb and Liao’s (2003) study. This negates the workplace mistreatment research weakness of being unable to move from institutionalized victimization hence being unable to identify bullying at work. This would also advance research on workplace mistreatment because the two constructs now separated would bring up a lot of data that may bring up unexpected results (Kenny and la Voie, 1985).

  • Conclusion
  • As much as workplace mistreatment research is riddled with a lot of problems, there is still room for improvement. Organizational Justice and its methodologies thus emerge as remedies to the failures of workplace mistreatment research. These perspectives are reflected in studies by Hershcovis & Reich (2013) and others.










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