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Theoretical Models

Organizational justice theory

Organizational justice theory was originally proposed by Greenberg (1987), who distinguished between two forms of justice: procedural and distributive. Procedural justice can be distinguished from distributive justice in that procedural justice is the fairness associated with the processes for resource allocation in the workplace. In contrast, distributive justice is the fairness associated with the actual resource allocation among employees in the workplace. Organizational justice theory is applied widely across a variety of areas of research in I-O psychology (e.g., Colquitt, Conlon, Wesson, Porter & Ng, 2001) and has been particularly foundational for much of the research in the applicant reactions field. When applied to applicant reactions research, procedural justice refers to the fairness associated with the hiring procedures and distributive justice refers to the fairness associated with the hiring decision.

The increasing academic attention that the applicant reactions research area has garnered since 1990 has been greatly enhanced by the development and publication of Gilliland’s (1993) theoretical ‘Model of applicants’ reactions to employment selection systems’. What makes this model especially compelling is the idea that it blends the theoretical nuances of the literature on organizational justice and selection with the practical context and implications that applicants and hiring personnel face in the field.

At its highest level, the model focuses on the two key aspects of organizational justice that Greenberg (1987) identified. As previously mentioned, procedural justice refers to perceptions of the fairness of the way that individuals are treated. In other words, ‘Am I being treated fairly?’ Second, distributive justice refers to perceptions of fairness in one’s outcomes to a given decision. In other words, ‘Am I getting the outcome I deserve?’ A key point of Gilliland’s (1993) model is that although a fair outcome is important to applicants, as has been consistently observed in the literature (Ryan & Ployhart, 2000), the use of a fair processes matter a lot to applicants as well.

Procedural justice The aspect of Gilliland’s (1993) model which has driven a great deal of research is the notion of 10 procedural justice rules which were developed by Leventhal (1980) and had been captured in previous research on applicant reactions (e.g., Arvey & Sackett, 1993; Schuler, 1993). Categorizing and embedding each of the 10 procedural justice rules into the context of selection systems allowed future researchers to remain tied to the literature, theory and practice at the same time. Following Greenberg (1990), the three categories of procedural justice rules include formal characteristics, explanations, and interpersonal treatment.

Table 4.1 Gilliland’s (1993) 10 selection procedural justice rules.

Justice Rules


Formal Characteristics


Opportunity to perform




The extent to which a test is thought to measure aspects of the actual job situation.

Giving applicants a chance to express themselves before a decision is made.

The ability of applicants to challenge or modify the decision-making process.

Ensuring consistency across all candidates for the selection procedures.



Selection information Honesty

Provision of both timely and useful information.

Giving applicants a justification for a given decision. Truthfulness of information given to applicants during the selection process.

Interpersonal Treatment

Interpersonal effectiveness of the administrator(s) Two-way communication

Propriety of questions

Respect and warmth given to applicants during the selection process.

The opportunity that applicants have to offer input or to have their views considered during the selection process.

Being asked appropriate and non-prejudicial statements during the selection process.

Source: Truxillo, D. M., Bauer, T. N., & McCarthy, J. (2015). Applicant fairness reactions to the selection process. In R. Cropanzano & M. Ambrose (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Justice in the Workplace. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Reproduced with permission.

Table 4.1 summarizes the 10 selection procedural justice rules. Under the formal characteristics heading are job-relatedness, opportunity to perform, reconsideration opportunity and consistency of administration. Job-relatedness refers to the extent to which a selection procedure, or set of procedures, is perceived to measure aspects of the job the applicant is applying to do. Opportunity to perform refers to the perception of applicants that they are able to express themselves and show what they can do before a final selection decision is made. Reconsideration opportunity refers to the ability of applicants to appeal a selection decision, either at a given hurdle or at the end of the process. Consistency refers to all job applicants being equally treated throughout the selection process.

Under the explanation heading are feedback, selection information and honesty. Feedback refers to the perception that applicants are provided with both timely and useful information about their application. Selection information refers to the perception of the reasons given for a selection decision. Finally, honesty refers to the perception that applicants are given accurate and truthful information about their application process and status.

Under the interpersonal treatment heading are interpersonal effectiveness of administrator, two-way communication and propriety of questions. Interpersonal effectiveness of the administrator(s) refers to the perception of the warmth and respect that those administering the selection procedure(s) show applicants. Two-way communication refers to the applicants’ ability to voice concerns, perspectives or input throughout the hiring process.

And propriety of questions refers to the perception that administrators, such as interviewers, ask appropriate and non-prejudicial questions during the selection process.

Distributive justice The distributive justice rules included in Gilliland’s (1993) model are equity, equality and needs. The idea is that applicants may hold different views regarding which rules constitute ‘fair’ outcomes. If applicants focus on equity, then their focus is on the fact that people should receive rewards that are consistent with the inputs they contribute in a distribution situation in comparison to a reference comparison other. Equality, on the other hand, refers to the idea that everyone should receive an equal chance of receiving the outcome, regardless of their effort or inputs. Finally, needs distribution refers to the idea that rewards should be distributed based on the individuals’ situation rather than solely on merit. Examples of this include affirmative action programmes or for those needing accommodations to perform the job.

Relationship between procedural and distributive justice Another key component of Gilliland’s (1993) model is the relationship between procedural and distributive justice. There are two key points here. First is the assumption that the outcomes applicants receive (distributive justice) are major components of applicant reactions, but that the fairness of procedures could have an effect on applicant reactions as well. In other words, what was new about Gilliland’s model was that applicants’ reactions could be affected above and beyond these outcomes by the selection process; that is, how they were treated by the selection procedures and the organizational personnel. It is for this reason that subsequent applicant reactions research has generally examined the effects of procedural justice from the applicant’s perspective above and beyond the outcomes the applicants received (e.g., Ryan & Ployhart, 2000). Second, Gilliland’s model notes that procedural and distributive justice may interact, such that the effects of distributive justice may be stronger when procedural justice is high. This is consistent with prior notions of organizational justice (e.g., Brockner & Wiesenfeld, 1996). For example, applicants’ self-perceptions may be more negatively affected by the outcome they receive when they believe that the process was fair. Such interactive effects on self-perceptions have been generally supported by subsequent research (e.g., Bauer, Maertz, Dolen & Campion, 1998).

Critiques and updates of Gilliland’s model Since its development, Gilliland’s model of applicant reactions has been critiqued by several researchers, and many of these critiques have been addressed by subsequent research, which included updated models.

In their review, Ryan and Ployhart (2000) note that a nomological network in the applicant reactions field was missing in that there was a lack of empirical evidence testing the relationships among these variables and applicant perceptions. They also argued that while the justice rules that are central to Gilliland’s model have strong theoretical foundations, they may not be such strong predictors of fairness perceptions since there had been few manipulations of these rules in research up to that point. Additionally, Ryan and Ployhart argue that test-taking attitudes may be important determinants of applicant perceptions. Another critique of Gilliland’s model is that there was a lack of empirical evidence linking justice perceptions to subsequent outcomes for both individuals and organizations. Finally, Ryan and Ployhart argue that the application of organizational justice theory to applicant reactions may differ from applications of justice theory to other research in I-O psychology in that in the selection context, applicants are usually external to the organization. Therefore, applications of organizational justice theory to applicants during selection may be different from how it is applied to employees internal to the organization. In order to address some ofthese issues, Ryan and Ployhart expanded Gilliland’s model.

One of the more notable characteristics of their model is that it distinguishes between different types of applicant perceptions (perceptions of the hiring process, perceptions of the individuals’ affective/cognitive state, perceptions of the hiring decision and overall perceptions of the hiring processes/procedures).

Others sought to further understand Gilliland’s propositions. Bauer and colleagues (2001) empirically confirmed the existence of the 10 procedural justice rules of Gilliland’s model (plus an additional rule: job-relatedness-content), and that these rules could be explained by two higher-order factors focused on the structure of the selection system and how applicants are treated. They also found that the procedural justice rules affected later applicant outcomes (e.g., intentions to take legal action against the organization) beyond the outcomes that applicants received. Building on both Gilliland’s (1993) model and Ryan and Ployhart’s (2000) model, Hausknecht, Day and Thomas (2004) devised another updated model of applicant reactions based on a meta-analytic examination of the literature. Hausknecht and colleagues categorized antecedents of applicant perceptions into four categories: person characteristics, perceived procedure characteristics, job characteristics and organizational context. These antecedents predict applicant perceptions (procedural justice, distributive justice, test anxiety, test motivation, attitudes towards tests and towards selection). In turn, these perceptions predict four categories of outcomes: selection procedure performance, self-perceptions, attitudes and behaviours towards the organization, and work attitudes and behaviours. Furthermore, the links between antecedents and perceptions and the links between perceptions and outcomes are moderated by variables such as job desirability and stage in the selection process. Addressing Ryan and Ployhart’s concern about lack of empirical support for these relationships in applicant reactions research, Hausknecht and colleagues tested these relationships in their metaanalysis of 86 independent samples, finding support for the relationship between justice perceptions and applicant outcomes such as perceptions of the organization.

Finally, some justice rules have proved to be consistently related to applicant attitudes and behaviours. For example, research supports the view that perceived job-relatedness (i.e., whether the selection procedure seems job-related to applicants), consistent treatment of applicants and opportunity to ‘show what you know’ (opportunity to perform; Schleicher, Venkataramani, Morgeson & Campion, 2006) are related to applicant reactions. That said, all the justice rules have been shown to relate to applicant reactions to some degree (Bauer, Truxillo, Sanchez, Craig, Ferrara & Campion, 2001; Hausknecht et al., 2004). The continued challenge for the field is to demonstrate whether the justice rules relate to more ‘hard’ outcomes such as applicant behaviours for although some support in this arena (e.g., job offer acceptance; Harold et al., 2015) has been found, other behaviours proposed by Gilliland’s model, such as actual litigation, have remained almost entirely unexamined.

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