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Doing justice: Human resource managers and the practices of organizational fairness

Jean Mannheimer Forray, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The broad area of interest for this study is the nature of justice in organizational life. More specifically, it focuses on human resource managers and the ways in which their everyday activities create and sustain fair organization for themselves and for others. The linking of justice with human resource management is manifest in an extensive body of theory and research. In general, inquiry concerns the perceptions of employees about the fairness of organizational policies and procedures. My study diverges from this approach in both its theoretical position and its research focus. As a researcher, I maintain a different philosophical position regarding the nature of reality, knowledge, and human nature. In so doing, I offer different conceptualizations of human resource management and justice that shifts attention to each as socially constructed by organizational actors. My project is grounded in a micro-sociological orientation and draws upon two theoretical traditions, ethnomethodology and symbolic interaction. Within this framework or intersubjective approach, I use observations and interviews to describe human resource management as being defined by and through interactivity. In addition, I suggest that certain types of interactions ("justice occasions"), involving the making or applying of organizational policy or procedure, are of particular interest as local interactive sites of doing justice. The specific research question addressed in this study was: What are the verbal practices of human resource managers that serve to create and sustain fair organization as a shared definition of reality? I draw upon observations and interviews to develop the HR managers' understanding of justice as consistency. Then, using audiotaped conversations between HR managers and other organizational members during justice occasions, I document three interactional methods employed by these professionals to establish consistency as a quality of organizational life: (1) Projecting the Future, (2) Recalling the Past, and (3) Defining the Situation. I suggest that these interactional practices are not only how human resource managers do fairness, but that they are defining elements of human resource managing. This research contributes to justice and HRM scholarship by attending to the activities of human resource managers. It extends our knowledge about human resource management by explicating the ways in which HRM is defined and sustained by those who practice it. Further, it demonstrates that fairness, as a quality of organizational experience, is constructed in the everyday activities of organizational life.

Subject Area

Management|Labor relations|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Forray, Jean Mannheimer, "Doing justice: Human resource managers and the practices of organizational fairness" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9823736.