Focusing on over 5,800 workers in Sweden using data collected between 2008 and 2014, the study looked into whether perceptions of procedural justice – ie processes for calculating rewards, pay, promotions and assignments – were related to overall levels of health.
Researchers discovered that when perceptions of fairness changed, this impacted how employees rated their health. For instance, those who felt they experienced greater levels of fairness seemed to feel healthier.
This suggests that fairness in the workplace is a vital part of psychological wellbeing for workers, and that moves towards greater fairness can then boost employee health.
“Our study provides a thorough examination of how fairness at the workplace and health of employees is related over time,” said Dr Constanze Eib who conducted the study. Dr Eib is a lecturer in organisational behaviour at UEA’s Norwich Business School.
“The findings can help raise awareness among employers and authorities that fairness at work but also health is important to consider to increase satisfaction, wellbeing and productivity in the workplace and wider society.”
To improve perceptions of fairness at work, Eib suggested employers make sure people feel their views are considered, consult them about future changes and conduct all decisions in an unbiased manner.
“People who feel fairly treated are not only more likely to be motivated at work and go the extra mile for their organisation, but they are also more likely to be healthy, have an active lifestyle and feel positive,” he said.
Sir Cary Cooper, president of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and a professor at Manchester Business School agreed with these sentiments in a blog post on the CIPD’s website.
“If an organisation does not make it clear why someone gets a promotion and why someone gets more pay than another person doing the same job, that is procedural injustice – there is no procedure and we don't know what is going on.”
Since unfairness or perceived unfairness is a factor which can lead to stress, this can then cause problems with both mental and physical health, he added.
“It is about being transparent about what it will take to get promoted, to get more money, to be allowed flexible working when you apply for it. The more transparent a business is, the more likely it is to minimise the procedural injustice issues.”
The study also implied that the reverse was true – that the health status of an employee has a connection with how workers feel they are treated. However, this required further research before the connection could be confirmed, the researchers added.
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How employees experience fairness in the workplace can directly affect their health, according to a study conducted by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Stockholm University.