September 05, 2006

Corinne BenderskyLOS ANGELES - UCLA Anderson Assistant Professor Corinne Bendersky’s research focuses on various aspects of organizational conflict management and negotiation. While at a professional conference, she got to talking with Olin School of Business Assistant Professor Chris Long about their mutual interest in managerial control systems. At the same time Professor Bendersky was collecting data on a related topic with Professor Calvin Morrill at UC Irvine. All three decided to collaborate together.

The resulting paper was presented at the Academy of Management’s annual conference in the conflict management division and was awarded the prestigious Best Empirical Paper prize. The reviewers at the conference unanimously agreed it was the best paper they had read this year and it was subsequently nominated for the Best New Directions paper award as well. More than just an award, the recognition validates the work itself and sends a message to the authors that their research is significant.

“I’m absolutely thrilled and encouraged,” Bendersky said. “It’s a strong signal that the paper will eventually be published in a high visibility outlet and will make a contribution to the field.”

The paper investigates the relationship between managerial styles and the perceptions of managerial fairness held by subordinates. Bendersky said they started with some basic understandings of how employees perceived fairness by their bosses found in existing research. But, she said, there was not enough context to those perceptions. “So, we went in with some general questions about how the context of how people are managed affects their perception of fairness,” she said. These perceptions of fairness are based on such things as rewards, on managerial decision making and on interpersonal treatment of subordinates by managers.

It would be easy to assume that each subordinate comes to his or her own conclusions regarding the fairness of their managers, with each focusing on their own perception of fairness. But the research demonstrated otherwise.

“We found that people managed in different ways, focused on different types of fairness,” Bendersky said. “But that perception was systematic across all people managed by the same person.” In other words, perception of fairness is a reaction to the style in which you are being managed.

The next step for Bendersky and her co-author is collecting another round of data, then submitting the paper for publication. Already, the work is having an impact.

“I think there are already applicable lessons to be shared in the classroom and in the workplace,” Bendersky said. “Managers need to realize that the way they manage focuses their subordinate's attention on certain aspects of fairness. Attending appropriately to those concerns can generate high levels of employee performance and violating them can be extremely costly.”

Lying In The Bed That You Make: How Subordinates Monitor Their Supervisor’s Efforts to Promote Fairness (Abstract)
We argue that subordinates develop expectations about specific types of fairness commensurate with the managerial controls they encounter and engage in particular fairness monitoring behaviors to evaluate whether their managers fulfill or violate their fairness expectations.  In the first of two survey studies, we observe that subordinates who encounter market controls conduct distributive fairness monitoring and subordinates who encounter bureaucratic controls conduct procedural and interactional fairness monitoring.  In our second survey study, we observe that managers who effectively attend to their subordinates’ fairness expectations enjoy higher levels of aggregate subordinate organizational commitment and collective esteem than those who do not.

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