Work-related stress – poor organisational justice

This guidance can help employers create a positive and fair workplace and may help control the risks of work-related stress from a lack of organisational justice.


Psychosocial hazards

Psychosocial hazards are factors in the design or management of work that increase the risk of work-related stress and can lead to psychological or physical harm. Examples of psychosocial hazards might include poor supervisor support or high job demands.

Employees are likely to be exposed to a combination of psychosocial hazards. Some hazards might always be present at work, while others only occasionally. There is a greater risk of work-related stress when psychosocial hazards combine and act together, so employers should not consider hazards in isolation.

Psychosocial hazards do not necessarily reveal the causes of work-related stress. Causes are likely to be specific to the employee, work or workplace. Senior management should identify which psychosocial hazards negatively affect employees' health and well-being and take appropriate action to control the impact of those hazards.

Organisational justice

Organisational justice refers to employees' sense of fairness at work and includes procedural justice and interactional justice.

Procedural justice is the fairness of the processes those in positions of authority use to reach specific outcomes or decisions.

Interactional justice is the extent to which employees are informed fairly (informational fairness) and the extent to which they are treated with dignity and respect (interpersonal fairness).

It is important for employers to promote a positive and fair working environment because the experience of injustice can become a risk to employees' psychological health. A sense of organisational justice or fairness generally results in higher levels of engagement, trust, satisfaction, loyalty, creativity and cooperation. Working in a fair and transparent environment can also help employees cope with the challenges of their job.

When organisational justice can be a hazard

Some of the situations that may lead to poor organisational justice or a sense of unfairness include:

  • lack of, or inadequate, policies and procedures
  • lack of transparency of how decisions are made
  • favouritism, nepotism, bias and lack of impartiality in decision making
  • lack of communication regarding organisational direction, strategy, objectives and planning
  • excluding affected people from consultation and decision-making processes
  • failing to address inappropriate or harmful behaviour, poor performance or misconduct
  • discrimination, harassment and unequal treatment of employees
  • employees or managers believing that rules do not apply to them and failing to follow policies, guidelines and procedures, without accountability

Procedural fairness

The following risk control actions can help ensure that employees regard procedures as fair:

  • Foster a work environment characterised by respect, equity, fairness and openness.
  • Design procedures so they consistently apply to all employees and work groups in an unbiased way. For example, develop a structured performance review process and implement it so all employees are reviewed using consistent and transparent criteria.
  • Ensure key performance indicators are based on criteria that is within the control of the employees.
  • Carry out procedures the same way each time, for example, job selection and performance management.
  • Ensure decision makers are impartial and that they collect unbiased and accurate information to guide their decisions.
  • Take time to listen to the concerns of all employees affected by a procedure.
  • Create ways that make it possible for employees to seek additional information or clarification about any procedures or decisions, if needed.
  • Appoint or promote employees based on performance, using valid and reliable selection and recruitment methods.
  • Provide employees with a mechanism to appeal the result of a procedure.
  • Where an employee might consider work practices to be unfair, encourage them to access the appeal process.
  • Regularly review the effectiveness of procedures to ensure they meet their objectives.

Informational fairness

The following risk control actions can help ensure there is fair communication and information sharing within an organisation:

  • Communicate organisational policies and procedures to all employees, both at induction and ongoing, and keep checking that all employees are aware of the policies and procedures.
  • Create ways for employees to have input into decisions that directly affect them, and encourage them to do so.
  • Ensure policies and procedures are readily accessible to all employees.
  • Engage employees at all levels of the organisation during the development of policies and procedures.
  • Communicate with employees about the reasons for changes to policies or procedures.
  • Communicate the reasons for decisions and the background of decisions. People are more likely to accept a decision, even if unfavourable, if they know the reasons and the intended purpose.
  • Use ongoing communication mechanisms such as team meetings, all-staff meetings, internal newsletters, emails, intranets or notice boards.
  • Implement a system that allows all employees to have input into broader organisational issues, for example a mechanism for receiving and responding to suggestions.

Interpersonal fairness

Interpersonal fairness refers to the way all employees interact with each other and with their managers. The following risk control actions can help ensure there is a shared sense of interpersonal or relational fairness within an organisation:

  • Treat all employees with respect, dignity and courtesy at all times.
  • Ensure that management structures across the organisation and reporting lines within work teams are clear. This will help employees know who they are accountable to and where they can go for help with work problems.
  • Ensure that employees have a current role or position description which includes the role purpose, reporting relationships and the key duties expected of them.
  • Ensure that direct supervisors provide feedback to their employees on their performance so they are aware of how well they are performing and that their role expectations align with those of their managers.
  • Use performance reviews as an opportunity to discuss employees' skill development and to provide constructive advice for future performance.
  • When investigating any interpersonal conflict or misconduct issues, ensure all parties have equal opportunity to respond to allegations and are treated respectfully.
  • Advise parties regarding the outcome of any investigations, to the extent possible and appropriate without breaching privacy and confidentiality.
  • Train managers in how to have difficult conversations with their employees.

Managing poor performance

Managing performance is often associated with experiences of unfairness. The following risk control actions can help create a fair approach to performance management:

  • All supervisors treat all employees with respect, dignity and civility at all times.
  • Inform all employees of the processes used to manage poor performance.
  • Provide employees with evidence for decisions made about their work performance.
  • Allow employees to have input in the performance feedback process, for example, allow employees to respond to issues raised about their work performance.
  • Keep discussions focused on improving work tasks or behaviours that are within the employee’s control.
  • Train all supervisors not to focus on blame but rather to use the performance improvement process as an opportunity for learning and improvement.
  •  When having difficult conversations, choose the meeting time and location carefully to maintain privacy and confidentiality and allow the employee time for reflection and support afterwards.
  • Ensure grievance and complaint-handling procedures are available and applied fairly to all employees.
  • Encourage employees to include a support person in performance management meetings.

Provide support

Practical or emotional support from supervisors and colleagues can have a positive impact on employees' perception of fairness.

Work-related stress and your legal duties

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable. This responsibility includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work and an obligation to consult with employees and HSRs on matters that directly affect or are likely to affect their health or safety, including hazards and risks associated with work-related stress.

Employees also have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, the health and safety of people in the workplace and to co-operate with their employer.

More about your legal obligations

Related pages

This information is from 'Preventing and managing work-related stress: A guide for employers'. The complete guide is available in two formats.

Website version PDF guide