Public relations and organizational justice: More fairness or just more cooperation?
This article brings together two established fields of organizational study, organizational justice (OJ) and public relations (PR), in a search for potential benefits. The ‘fair process effect’ says that people tend to behave more cooperatively and prosocially when they perceive fairness in a situation, and less cooperatively when they perceive unfairness. Scholars have stressed the potential benefits of understanding perceptions of fairness in a range of contexts including policing, sport refereeing, management and teaching. Some have also challenged OJ scholars to use that field’s understanding of what people find to be fair to better help the victims of injustice.The article reports that PR and OJ have developed bodies of knowledge that enhance organizations’ capacity to influence change for greater fairness, but both fields have been criticized because their knowledge has more often been applied to increasing the perception of fairness (resulting in greater stakeholder cooperation with organizations and their decisions), than to increasing fair outcomes for a range of stakeholders. The article also shows that PR could benefit in several ways from a deeper understanding of OJ, and that OJ could be very usefully integrated in tertiary PR and professional inservice courses. First, OJ may provide a meta-language and evidence basis for planning, framing and evaluating organizational communication and processes that would help PR focus on the frames and drivers of fairness. Second, PR, like OJ, needs a better understanding of power if it is to recognize subtle forms of domination and exercise influence that advances fairness for the most vulnerable. Third, OJ highlights the importance of independence in decision making if those affected by decisions are to trust decision makers and perceive decisions to be fair. Stakeholder mistrust limits PR agency and capacity to advance fairness, but independence would represent a profound shift from the existing paradigm of relations that PR practitioners have with organizations, as employees or consultants. The article introduces PR to OJ’s impressive body of empirical evidence from organizations, and sophisticated theories and models to frame and clarify concepts for advancing practice and scholarship of fairness. Although it may be tempting to apply the power of procedural and interactional justice effects to influence perceptions of fairness and reactions to privately determined decisions, the article cautions that stakeholders will best be served where PR ensures that multiple voices are heard and acted on in matters of distribution.