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Work Engagement: The Roles of Organizational Justice and Leadership Style in Predicting Engagement
Among Employees
Diana L. Strom, Karen L. Sears and Kristine M. Kelly
Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 2014 21: 71 originally published online 23 April 2013
DOI: 10.1177/1548051813485437

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Journal of Leadership &

Work Engagement: The Roles of


Organizational Studies
2014, Vol. 21(1) 7182
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Organizational Justice and Leadership Reprints and permissions:
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Style in Predicting Engagement Among DOI: 10.1177/1548051813485437


jlo.sagepub.com

Employees

Diana L. Strom1, Karen L. Sears1, and Kristine M. Kelly1

Abstract
The primary objective of this research was to examine both transactional and transformational leadership styles as serving
in the role of moderators in the relationship between organizational justice and work engagement. An online survey was
administered to 348 respondents. Results supported the hypothesis that the positive relationship that both distributive and
procedural justice held to work engagement would be more pronounced among employees experiencing low transactional
leadership than among employees experiencing high transactional leadership. This set of results is consistent with the
principles of leader fairness theory, which suggests that a low transactional leadership style elicits uncertainty about ones
social self in the context of the workplace, and this state of uncertainty incites an employees intensified desire to seek
justice-related information.

Keywords
organizational justice, transactional leadership, transformational leadership, work engagement, leader fairness theory,
uncertainty management

The most productive and functional companies are com- 2006, p. 702). Vigor is characterized by high levels of
posed of valuable employees who are entirelyphysically, energy, mental resilience while working, persistence when
cognitively, and emotionallyengaged in their work. faced with difficulties, and a willingness to invest effort in
Developing and retaining these kinds of employees could ones work. Dedication refers to a sense of inspiration,
save U.S. companies an estimated $300 billion per year in pride, significance, enthusiasm, and challenge at work.
lost productivity (Bates, 2004). To encourage employee Absorption is being happy, fully concentrated, and deeply
engagement, organizations must focus on cultivating a engrossed in ones work, with trouble detaching from work
work environment supportive of employees, keeping them (Schaufeli et al., 2006). Scholars are currently involved in
motivated and positive, not just about their own jobs but building an empirical basis for legitimizing engagement
also about the organization as a whole. By offering high- (Macey & Schneider, 2008). For instance, engagement has
quality leadership in a sensible and orderly work envi- been empirically linked to desired outcomes such as com-
ronment, an organization may enhance desired levels of mitment, health, job performance, lower absenteeism, and
employee engagement. The current investigation was job satisfaction (Hakanen, Bakker, & Schaufeli, 2006;
designed to examine the joint roles of organizational justice Halbesleben, 2010; Hallberg & Schaufeli, 2006; Saks,
and leadership behavior in predicting work engagement. 2006; Schaufeli, Taris, & Van Rhenen, 2008). The primary
Work engagement has, in recent years, increasingly objective of the current study was to contribute to the
gained status as a legitimate construct among academic engagement literature by examining two social contextual
scholars (Bakker & Schaufeli, 2008). Proponents of this ris- variables predicting engagement, specifically organizational
ing concept tout its ability to predict positive employee out- justice and leadership style.
comes, organizational success, and financial performance
(Saks, 2006). Among the most often cited definitions of 1
Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL, USA
work engagement is that offered by Schaufeli and col-
Corresponding Author:
leagues, describing work engagement as a positive, fulfill- Karen L. Sears, Department of Psychology, Western Illinois University,
ing work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, 100 University Circle, Macomb, IL 61455, USA.
dedication, and absorption (Schaufeli, Bakker, & Salanova, Email: K-Sears@wiu.edu

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72 Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 21(1)

The fledgling state of the work engagement literature But why, and in what manner, does leadership style
offers relatively little empirical data from which to draw in influence justices relationship to work engagement?
an investigation of social contextual antecedents. Some Leader fairness theory argues that certain leader styles pro-
scholars have suggested that organizational features are voke self-focus, or a heightened attention to ones own
more influential in inducing a state of engagement than are needs and motives (De Cremer & Tyler, 2011). If, for
workers personal attributes (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008). instance, a leaders style elicits uncertainty about ones
The key organizational feature of interest in this research is social self in the context of the workplace (e.g., uncertainty
organizational justice. Organizational justice has been an about ones standing, status, or reputation within the work
established area of research for several decades. Two dis- group), this state of uncertainty incites an employees inten-
tinct forms of justice identified in the literature are distribu- sified desire to seek justice-related information. De Cremer
tive justice, referring to employees views that the rewards and colleagues suggest that workers view distributive and
distributed by ones organization are fair, and procedural procedural justice as critical sources of information about
justice, referring to employees views that the processes by their status within the work environment. Any resulting
which organizations decide to distribute rewards are fair employee reactionsuch as work engagementwill be, as
(Cohen-Charash & Spector, 2001). A third dimension of a consequence of uncertainty, more strongly related to per-
organizational justice, known as interactional justice, is not ceptions of distributive or procedural justice.
addressed for purposes of this study. In a similar vein, uncertainty management theory posits
Organizational justice has an established reputation as that, under a state of uncertainty (lacking direct and explicit
predicting a wide range of organizational and personal out- information regarding some aspect of ones workplace),
comes including, but not limited to, job satisfaction, organi- people react more strongly to variations of justice (Lind &
zational citizenship behavior, organizational commitment, Van den Bos, 2002). The reasoning is that uncertainty
counterproductive work behaviors, organizational with- serves as a source of anxiety that the individual needs to
drawal, and job performance (Cohen-Charash & Spector, resolve, and thus a search for fairness information is acti-
2001). Of most relevance to the current research, two recent vated to regain a sense of predictability and trust in the
studies have provided empirical evidence that organiza- social environment (Lind & Van den Bos, 2002).
tional justice is one of several antecedents of work engage- Experimental research has demonstrated this effect by
ment (Moliner, Martinez-Tur, Ramos, Peiro, & Cropanzano, inducing uncertainty (e.g., induced questions about the
2008; Saks, 2006). Organizational leaders may be in a key trustworthiness of an authority figure and questions about
position to maintain a just work environment that promotes distributive fairness among group members) and reported
norms for employees constructive efforts in promoting that those participants in the uncertainty groups were influ-
organizational functioning, such as work engagement enced by justice information, more so than participants who
(Brown & Trevino, 2006). were provided more explicit and relevant information (Van
On seeking an established theoretical framework for den Bos, Wilke, & Lind, 1998). The positive consequences
explaining how peoples reactions to justice may vary of fair treatment in uncertain contexts enhance positive
depending on a leaders behavioral style, we came on leader affect, increase trust, and generate more support for organi-
fairness theory, also dubbed the contingency approach to zational policies and decision making (Lind & Van den
leadership and fairness (De Cremer, 2006; De Cremer & Bos, 2002; See, 2009). The current study adopts the prem-
Tyler, 2005, 2011). This theory posits that a leaders style ises of both leader fairness and uncertainty management
will direct employees attention either toward or away from theories to explore whether the leader fairness effect extends
matters of organizational justice. Leadership styles that to a particular form of employee behavior, namely, work
cause employees to focus on justice will strengthen jus- engagement.
tices effect on an employees resulting behavior, whereas Which leadership styles, arising naturally in real organi-
those leadership styles that channel employees attention zational settings, would provoke a heightened sense of
away from justice issues will, in contrast, diminish the jus- uncertainty and the motive to seek justice information? To
ticebehavior relationship. This interactive effect for justice address this question, we turned to the literature on transac-
and leadership has been demonstrated in its influence on tional and transformational leadership. A fundamental fea-
several employee responses, including group cooperation ture of most work relationships between the employee and
(De Cremer & Tyler, 2005), employee emotions (De the organization is transactional leadership. Transactional
Cremer, 2006), and employee self-esteem (De Cremer, leadership refers to the exchange relationship between leader
van Knippenberg, van Knippenberg, Mullenders, & and employee, in which each party is involved to meet their
Stinglhamber, 2005). Applying leader fairness theory to the respective self-interests. Each partys interests are met by
current study, we reasoned that although justice may, in clarifying employee responsibilities, leaders expectations,
general, be positively related to work engagement, a leaders and benefits for compliance (Bass, 1999; Pillai, Schriesheim,
behavioral style will modify the effect of justice on & Williams, 1999). This type of leadership style is founded
engagement. on the principle of social exchange, in which the relationship

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Strom et al. 73

between leader and employee is based largely on an under- personal disposition (Bono & Judge, 2004). Transformational
standing that performance is provided in exchange for eco- leadership attempts to align employee values, beliefs, and
nomic gain. In a social exchange, obligations placed on both attitudes with that of the collective interest of the organi-
parties are clearly specified and typically are shorter term in zation, creating a workforce committed to and working
nature (Blau, 1964). Transactional leaders may take on dif- toward a singular vision (Bass, 1999). Tims, Bakker, and
ferent roles, such as the roles of monitor, coordinator, or Xanthopoulou (2011) reported that transformational lead-
director, depending on the situational conditions (Quinn, ership related positively with work engagement through
1988), and may arise in part as a result of personal disposi- the mediating variable of optimism. Four specific dimen-
tion (Bono & Judge, 2004). Elements of transactional lead- sions distinguish the transformational leaders actions:
ership include contingent reward, wherein desired employee idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual
actions are rewarded and, in contrast, undesired actions are stimulation, and individualized consideration. Idealized
punished, and active management-by-exception, referring to influence involves invoking admiration, respect, and trust
a leaders active monitoring of employee performance and from ones subordinates so that they wish to follow by
correcting if the employee fails to meet standards (Bass, example. Inspirational motivation means creating an
1999; Bass & Avolio, 1993). We argue that an important appealing future vision of optimism, meaning, and enthu-
function served by transactionally oriented leaders is the siasm. Intellectual stimulation includes challenging ones
provision of direct and unambiguous information about followers to modify their way of thinking and supporting
organizational goals and personal rewards. Therefore, cast those creative methods and new ideas. Finally, individual-
within the frameworks of leader fairness and uncertainty ized consideration means attending to the needs of
management theories, a leader high in the transactional style employees through coaching, mentoring, and communi-
would satisfy employees need for information about the cating effectively (Bass, 1999; Bass & Avolio, 1993).
social self within the context of the workplace. In contrast, a Employee reports of transformational leadership in the
leader low in the transactional style would trigger an workplace have been demonstrated as positively related to
employees sense of uncertainty and the need to seek addi- job performance, organizational citizenship behavior,
tional information in order to determine ones status in trust, effort, commitment, motivation, satisfaction, organi-
relation to the work environment and would therefore dem- zational effectiveness, and productivity and have been
onstrate more intense reactions toward perceptions of dis- negatively correlated with work stress and employees
tributive and procedural justice. Applying this rationale to intentions to quit (Barbuto & Burbach, 2006; Judge &
the roles that organizational justice and transactional leader- Piccolo, 2004; Yukl, 1998).
ship play in determining work engagement, we make the fol- We turn attention again to leader fairness theory, which
lowing predictions: predicts a more pronounced justice effect on work-related
outcomes, depending on the nature of the leadership style.
Hypothesis 1: The positive relationship between distrib- To review, leader fairness theory argues that certain leader
utive justice and work engagement will be stronger styles provoke self-focus, or a heightened attention to ones
for employees reporting low, as compared to high, own motives for action. Several scholars, including those in
transactional leadership. the behavioral ethics domain, have claimed that transforma-
Hypothesis 2: The positive relationship between proce- tional leaders are likely to channel employees attention
dural justice and work engagement will be stronger toward transcendent principles of moral values, ethics, and
for employees reporting low, as compared to high, justice (Brown & Trevino, 2003; Brown, Trevino, &
transactional leadership. Harrison, 2005; De Cremer, 2006; Trevino, Weaver, &
Reynolds, 2006). Indeed, De Cremer (2006) reported a
In the tradition of the seminal work by Bass and others, stronger positive relationship between procedural justice
yet another style of leadership has been identified and is of and employees emotional responses when the leadership
interest for the purpose of the current research: transfor- style was high in transformational behavior. Extending this
mational leadership (Bass & Avolio, 1993). A transfor- reasoning to the current model, it follows that leaders high
mational leader is one who stimulates and inspires in transformational style would promote a stronger relation-
employees to embrace the goals and ideals of the organi- ship between justice and work engagement due to employ-
zation and to forego their own self-interest and personal ees heightened consideration of justice and ethical issues,
motives in favor of the organizations collective interests. whereas, in contrast, leaders low in transformational style
Transformational leadership focuses on a leaders ability would diminish such a relationship because employees
to interact, understand, and support employees beyond the self-focus would not be directed toward justice to the same
standard employment exchange. Transformational leaders degree. The following predictions regarding the roles that
may potentially take on roles such as that of facilitator, organizational justice and transformational leadership play
mentor, and innovator, depending on situational condi- in determining work engagement arise from this theoretical
tions (Quinn, 1988) and may arise in part as a result of analysis:

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74 Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 21(1)

Hypothesis 3: The positive relationship between distrib- Likert-type scale, from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly
utive justice and work engagement will be stronger agree). On this measure, higher scores indicated higher lev-
for employees reporting high, as compared to low, els of perceived distributive justice. Examples of items
transformational leadership. included, My work schedule is fair and I think that my
Hypothesis 4: The positive relationship between proce- level of pay is fair. Niehoff and Moorman (1993) reported
dural justice and work engagement will be stronger a Cronbachs alpha of .90 for this scale.
for employees reporting high, as compared to low, Items developed by Kausto, Elo, Lipponen, and
transformational leadership. Elovainio (2005) were used to measure procedural justice.
The four items were answered on a 5-point scale, from
1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). On this measure,
Method higher scores indicated higher levels of procedural justice.
Participants Examples of items in this scale included, Procedures are
designed to generate standards so that decisions can be
Participants were 356 individuals from across the United made with consistency and Procedures are designed to
States. On examining this data set, drawn from a large pool hear the concerns of all those affected by the decision.
of anonymous respondents, we identified and eliminated Cronbachs alpha for the scale has been reported in prior
the data from a subset of noneligible respondents because research to be .82 (Kausto et al., 2005).
they reported that they were currently retired or unem-
ployed (despite instructions stating current employment Leadership Style. To measure the leadership behavior of par-
was an eligibility requirement). The remaining set of data ticipants direct supervisors, the Multidimensional Leader-
was obtained from 348 eligible respondents, including 225 ship Questionnaire was used (Bass & Avolio, 1990).
men and 120 women (3 individuals did not report gender). Responses were rated on a Likert-type scale ranging from
In this sample, 76% reported being Caucasian, 7% African 0 (never) to 4 (frequently, if not always). The 28 items mea-
American, 7% Hispanic, 1% Asian, and 7% Other. Of these sured transactional leadership (8 items; comprising the
participants, 75% reported working full-time, with 16% dimensions contingent reward and management-by-
working part-time. Those who reported the size of their exception active) and transformational leadership (20 items;
organization indicated that 31% worked for a large organi- comprising the dimensions idealized influence, inspira-
zation (employing more than 1,000 people), 25% for a tional motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individu-
medium organization (employing 100-1,000 employees), alized consideration). An example of a transactional
and 41% for a small organization (employing less than 100 leadership item was, Provides me with assistance in
employees). exchange for my efforts. An example of a transformational
leadership items was, Talks about his/her most important
values and beliefs.
Materials
Employee Engagement. To measure employee engagement,
Procedure
the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES) was used
(Schaufeli et al., 2006). The UWES includes three dimen- An email was sent to a randomly generated group of 10,000
sions of engagementvigor (6 items), dedication (5 items), individuals via their Internet service provider informing
and absorption (6 items)to comprise a 17-item measure. them of the nature of the study and inviting them to partici-
Examples include, At my work, I feel bursting with pate in this optional survey about their workplace experi-
energy (vigor), I find the work that I do full of meaning ences. Specifically, the soliciting email to potential recruits
and purpose (dedication), and Time flies when I am read as follows:
working (absorption). Responses were rated on a scale
ranging from 0 (never) to 6 (always, every day). Higher Because of your valued membership, [Internet Service
aggregate scores indicate higher levels of engagement. The Provider] on behalf of [University] would like to offer you the
UWES has been shown to have internal consistencies opportunity to participate in this survey and get your feedback.
ranging between .80 and .90. The three dimensions of We realize how busy you are and we want you to know that
your feedback provides valuable information. It should take
engagementvigor, dedication, and absorptionhave also
you approximately 15 minutes to complete this questionnaire
been shown to correlate negatively with the three dimen- once your eligibility is determined. If you qualify for this
sions of burnoutexhaustion, cynicism, and efficacy survey, your own workplace experiences will aid in the effort
(Schaufeli et al., 2006). to better understand workplace environments. We would like
to assure you that this is for research purposes only and does
Distributive and Procedural Justice. To measure distributive not involve sales of any kind, now or in the future. Your
justice, we used a 5-item scale constructed by Niehoff and individual answers will remain strictly confidential. Thank you
Moorman (1993). The questions were answered on a 5-point in advance for your participation.

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Strom et al. 75

If members who met the eligibility criteria (between Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations for
the ages of 18 and 65, currently employed) wished to par- all Variables.
ticipate, they then clicked on the given web link and were M SD 1 2 3 4 5
directed to the online questionnaire. This methodology
offered the ability to solicit participation from a diverse 1. DJ 14.57 3.77 (.87)
group of people, unrestricted by age, race, or geographical 2. PJ 16.63 5.15 .71** (.89)
location within the United States. Arrangements to contact 3. Transact 25.67 6.28 .32** .46** (.78)
potential recruits via the Internet service provider were 4. Transform 65.22 19.81 .54** .66** .74** (.97)
made through personal contacts with a former student 5. Engage 91.51 24.70 .44** .52** .32** .44** (.96)
(now employee of the Internet service provider) of a Note. Internal consistency reliabilities (Cronbachs alpha) for scales
research team member and involved no monetary or other are provided along the diagonal in parentheses. DJ = Distributive
incentive in exchange for that opportunity to contact Justice; PJ = Procedural Justice; Transact = Transactional Leadership;
Transform = Transformational Leadership; Engage = Engagement.
recruits. The survey was available online to participants
**p < .01.
for 3 weeks, after which the survey was closed. Of the
10,000 individuals contacted about the study, usable data
were obtained from 348 Internet service customers, thus To test the hypotheses, leadership behavior was exam-
yielding a response rate of 3.48%. Given the research ined as a potential moderator of the relationship between
teams reliance on a third party to solicit participation in distributive and procedural justice, respectively, and work
the manner described herein, no means was available to engagement. To explore the predicted leadership moderator
compare the demographic composition of respondents effects for transactional leadership (Hypotheses 1 and 2),
versus nonrespondents. hierarchical regression analyses were conducted, corre-
Because self-report measures were collected on a single sponding to distributive and procedural justices, respec-
occasion from the employee himself or herself, steps were tively. For example, to examine Hypothesis 1, the simple
taken to attempt to reduce the potential influences of social effect of distributive justice was added in the first step.
desirability and common method bias. In this vein, we fol- Transactional leadership was added in the second step.
lowed the data collection procedures recommended by Finally, the product of distributive justice and transactional
Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, and Podsakoff (2003) by, leadership was added in the third step. (In separate analyses,
first, assuring participants that all submitted information the control variables of age, gender, and length of employ-
would remain anonymous and confidential and, second, ment were added in an initial first step as control variables.
that the responses would be used strictly for research pur- This set of analyses is not reported herein because the over-
poses. The instructions, repeated throughout the survey, all pattern of results and interpretations were not influenced
emphasized the importance of supplying honest answers by the use of control variables in the regression analyses.)
and the sole objective of using the responses for research. This same analysis was repeated to test Hypothesis 2, sub-
Moreover, in the middle of the survey, a sense of psycho- stituting in procedural justice. Prior to creating the interac-
logical separation was created (to reduce potential for com- tion term, the predictors (distributive justice and procedural
mon method bias) through the insertion of an additional justice) and the moderators (transactional leadership) were
page in the survey, between the leadership and engagement centered by subtracting each value from its respective mean,
measures, which repeated the survey instructions and in order to reduce multicollinearity and achieve better esti-
reemphasized issues of anonymity and the need for honest mates of the interaction term (Aiken & West, 1991; Cohen,
answers. Cohen, West, & Aiken, 2003). A significant regression
weight for an interaction term would indicate that transac-
tional leadership serves as a moderator of the association
Results between that form of justice and work engagement.
The means, standard deviations, intercorrelations, and inter- Table 2 presents R2, change statistics, and regression
nal consistency reliability values for the major variables coefficients for the regression of engagement on distribu-
used in the study are reported in Table 1. Internal consis- tive justice and transactional leadership, thereby testing
tency reliabilities for all of the scales were above the com- Hypothesis 1 (predicting that the positive relationship
monly accepted threshold of .70, as recommended by between distributive justice and work engagement will be
Churchill (1979) and Nunnally (1978). The two forms of stronger for employees reporting low, as compared to high,
justice were correlated at r = .71, p < .01. Both forms of transactional leadership). Table 3 presents R2, change statis-
justice were significantly related to engagement (r = .44 and tics, and regression coefficients for the regression of
.52, both ps < .01, for distributive justice and procedural jus- engagement on procedural justice and transactional leader-
tice, respectively). Moreover, both transactional leadership ship, thereby testing Hypothesis 2 (predicting that the posi-
(r = .32, p < .01) and transformational leadership (r = .44, tive relationship between procedural justice and work
p < .01) were significantly correlated with engagement. engagement will be stronger for employees reporting low,

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76 Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 21(1)

Table 2. Summary of Hierarchical Regression Results: Engagement Regressed on Distributive Justice and Transactional Leadership.

Engagement
2
Steps R B SE(B)
Step 1 .18
Distributive Justice 2.71 .36 .43**
Step 2 .04
Distributive Justice 2.28 .37 .36**
Transactional Leadership .77 .22 .20**
Step 3 .02
Distributive Justice 2.02 .38 .32**
Transactional Leadership .83 .22 .22**
Distributive Justice Transactional Leadership .13 .05 .15**
Total R2 .24

*p < .05. **p < .01.

Table 3. Summary of Hierarchical Regression Results: Engagement Regressed on Procedural Justice and Transactional Leadership.

Engagement
2
Steps R B SE(B)
Step 1 .25
Procedural Justice 2.31 .25 .50**
Step 2 .01
Procedural Justice 2.10 .29 .45**
Transactional Leadership .36 .23 .10
Step 3 .01
Procedural Justice 1.96 .29 .42**
Transactional Leadership .40 .23 .10
Procedural Justice Transactional Leadership .08 .03 .12*
Total R2 .27
*p < .05. **p < .01.

as compared to high, transactional leadership). Results


80
showed a significant distributive justice transactional
leadership interaction, as well as a significant procedural 70
justice transactional leadership interaction, in support of
Hypotheses 1 and 2. 60

We needed yet to determine whether the patterns of the 50


Engagement

interactions were consistent with the predictions drawn


from leader fairness theory. To interpret the nature and 40
direction of the interactions, we then used a graphing tech-
30
nique examining the simple slope for engagement regressed
on justice at levels of both low transactional leadership and 20
high transactional leadership (Aiken & West, 1991; Cohen Low Transactional Leadership
10
et al., 2003). The same procedure was conducted first for High Transactional Leadership
distributive justice (Figure 1). The pattern of results dis- 0
played in Figure 1 provides full support for the first hypoth- Low Distributive Justice High Distributive Justice
esis. There was a generally positive linear association
between distributive justice and engagement under condi- Figure 1. Relationship between distributive justice and
tions of both low and high transactional leadership, although engagement under high and low levels of transactional
justice perceptions were more influential in determining leadership.

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Strom et al. 77

engagement among those reporting low transactional lead- sources have encouraged the long overdue integration of
ership, in comparison to those reporting high transactional the organizational justice and leadership literatures. The
leadership. Therefore, in keeping with leader fairness the- current study responds to these observations by demonstrat-
ory, respondents operating with little transactional leader- ing that employees are indeed more responsive to perceived
ship, and consequently little information or certainty about levels of justice when their leaders are not transactionally
organizational exchange, demonstrated engagement levels oriented (and therefore are less informative in their actions
that were strongly influenced by perceived degree of dis- within the context of the employment exchange), compared
tributive justice. Those respondents reporting high transac- to employees who are working with a highly transactional
tional leadership (and therefore relatively high certainty leader. In other words, the relationship between organiza-
about organizational exchange) showed a less pro- tional justice and work engagement was stronger when
nounced positive relation between distributive justice and employees reported relatively lower levels of transactional
engagement. leadership.
The pattern of results for the procedural justice trans- This study contributes to a growing literature lending
actional leadership interaction (Hypothesis 2) replicated support to the premise, according to leader fairness and
this same pattern of relationships among constructs, thereby uncertainty management theories, that a fairness judgment
also fully supporting the predictions of leader fairness process is activated by concerns of uncertainty about the
theory. self (De Cremer & Tyler, 2005; Thau, Aquino, & Wittek,
The same set of analyses, for distributive and procedural 2007). Conversely, employees will not be so apt to seek
justices, respectively, was conducted thereafter with trans- justice information in a state of relative certainty about self
formational leadership to examine the justiceleadership within the context of the work setting. To account for this
interactions predicted in Hypotheses 3 and 4. Hypothesis 3 justice and leadership interactive effect, we rely on, first,
(predicting that the positive relationship between distribu- the general principles of leader fairness theory (De Cremer,
tive justice and work engagement will be stronger for employ- 2006; De Cremer & Tyler, 2005, 2011). This theory empha-
ees reporting high, as compared to low, transformational sizes the central role that self-focus and reinforcement of
leadership) was not supported. This analysis yielded a sim- basic needs play in explaining that certain leadership styles
ple effect for distributive justice (b = 1.58; = .25, p < .01) motivate the employee to focus on the self and on needs of
in the final step, but the relation between distributive justice competence and self-confidence (Deci & Ryan, 2000; De
and engagement was not qualified by level of transforma- Cremer & Tyler, 2011). In the specific case of a low trans-
tional leadership (b = .01, = .02, p = .76, for the interac- actional style of leadership, the leader fails to sufficiently
tion term). Incidentally, the transformational leadership clarify employee responsibilities, performance expecta-
main effect was also significant (b = .37, = .31, tions, and rewards for meeting standards (Pillai et al., 1999).
p < .01). Total proportion of variance accounted for in the Our findings suggest that the employees resulting uncer-
fourth, and final, step was R2 = .24. tainty about the social self, that is, ones individual standing
Hypothesis 4 (predicting that the positive relationship within the work context, provokes a focused attention on
between procedural justice and work engagement will be ones own needs and motives and, therefore, a more acute
stronger for employees reporting high, as compared to low, reaction to justice perceptions. In a related line of theory,
transformational leadership) was not supported in that a the employee is said to engage in sense-making, or a cogni-
simple effect for procedural justice emerged as significant tive process of attributing meaning to an event, in this case
in the final step (b = 1.66, = .36, p < .01), but the relation resulting from insufficient employment exchange informa-
between procedural justice and engagement was not quali- tion about his or her status as an organizational member
fied by level of transformational leadership (b = .01, = arising from a low transactional leader (De Cremer et al.,
.01, p = .88, for the interaction term). Once again, the trans- 2010). This pattern of results extends the general principles
formational leadership main effect emerged as significant of leader fairness theory in its application to work engage-
in this analysis (b = .23, = .19, p < .01). Total proportion ment, which has heretofore remained largely unexplored in
of variance accounted for in the fourth, and final, step was its relations to justice and leadership (Saks, 2006).
R2 = .26. To further explain the interactive effect of justice and
leadership on work engagement, we rely on, second, the
general principles of uncertainty management theory (Lind
Discussion
& Van den Bos, 2002). Past research has tended to induce
Several scholars have argued that conceptual progress in certainty in participants with the delivery of information
the organizational justice literature calls for identifying that will influence their beliefs about the social or organiza-
those conditions under which justice is more or less impact- tional context, or about ones own self-views, in an experi-
ful on employees attitudes and behaviors (van Knippenberg, mental context (Lind & Van den Bos, 2002). Extending this
De Cremer, & van Knippenberg, 2007). Moreover, justice literature, the current study demonstrated that, in a naturally

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78 Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 21(1)

occurring setting, a leadership style (such as low transac- The present study also speaks to the question of what are
tional leadership) that fails to inform the employee about the conditions under which a justiceleadership interaction
his or her standing vis--vis the employment exchange pro- is not likely to emerge. Here, we did not find that transfor-
cess compels that individual to rely more heavily on cues of mational leadership moderated the relationship between
distributive and procedural justice in influencing their level justice and engagement, as predicted in Hypotheses 3 and 4.
of work engagement (De Cremer et al., 2010). See (2009) In so doing, the current study failed to replicate the transfor-
noted that uncertainty management theory research has mational leadership and justice interaction reported by De
explored two different sources of uncertainty: informational Cremer (2006). Our hypotheses had predicted that, similar
(cognitive) uncertainty and, more recently, personal (self) to the De Cremer study, transformational leadership would
uncertainty (stemming from doubt in self-views or world enhance the relationship between justice and engagement
views). Like leader fairness theory, this line of reasoning due to employees heightened awareness of issues of justice
suggests that a low transactional leader who falls short and ethics under this form of leadership (Brown & Trevino,
in meeting employees informational needs byfor 2003; De Cremer, 2006). It was anticipated that, through
instancefailing to clarify employee responsibilities, lead- the mechanism of idealized influence, employees would
ers expectations, and benefits for compliance, induces a wish to emulate a transformational leader and therefore
diffuse sense of anxiety and a degree of self-doubt in the would be inclined to demonstrate a deontic response to mat-
employee (Lind & Van den Bos, 2002). This employees ters of justice (i.e., reacting strongly to ethical transgres-
work-related behaviors and attitudes are, consequently, sions solely because such actions violate societal norms for
more strongly influenced by perceptions of distributive and appropriate behavior and not because one has any personal
procedural justice. stake in the outcome; Folger, Cropanzano, & Goldman,
Uncertainty management theory has enjoyed support in 2005). Instead, our research found that both transforma-
both experimental and nonexperimental organizational tional leadership and organizational justice each produced
research, which has tended to apply perceptions of justice main effects. We offer three speculative explanations
to a range of employee affective responses and attitudes, addressing the reasons why our study failed to support the
such as positive and negative affect, trust, support for orga- hypotheses suggesting that transformational leadership
nizational policies (Lind & Van den Bos, 2002). The cur- would serve as a moderator. First, the reason may lie in the
rent study contributes to this line of research relating inherent nature of our dependent measure, work engage-
uncertainty and justice perceptions to behavioral outcomes ment, in contrast to those outcome variables used in the De
through its application to work engagement. There are ben- Cremer (2006) study. De Cremer reported that transforma-
efits to a trend of uncertainty management theory applica- tional leadership intensified the relationship that procedural
tion beyond the attitudinal domain (See, 2009). Do the justice held with both the self-esteem and emotions of
principles of this theory hold for work behavior as well? employees. It seems reasonable to expect that ethical behav-
Our findings suggest they do, and that work engagement ior displayed by transformational leadership would promote
may be yet another consequence, aside from emotional and an organizational context in which followers react with
attitudinal reactions, of combining uncertainty with condi- strong emotions toward breaches of normative prescriptions
tions of justice in the workplace. This work is testing and for behavior (Trevino et al., 2006). Work engagement, in
extending the boundaries of uncertainty management the- comparison, is a complex and multidimensional form of
ory principles and is thus offering some insight into the work behavior. As such, the influence of transformational
potential for generalized application of constructs, such leadership, combined with justice, may not affect engage-
as the self and uncertainty, to employees workplace ment in the same manner that it affected the attitudinal and
behavior. emotional outcome variables highlighted in the De Cremer
A potential alternative explanation for the moderator (2006) study. Second, the reason for nonreplication may lie
effect of justice and transactional leadership derives from in the theoretical underpinnings for the initial hypotheses.
the theoretical work on ethical leadership (Brown et al., We had anticipated that transformational leadership would
2005; Brown & Trevino, 2006). Rather than uncertainty, it moderate the justiceengagement relationship because a
may be perceived as low moral standards to which employ- transformational leader would, in part, promote focus on
ees are reacting when dealing with a low-transactional ones own motives for action and the personal benefits to be
leader. Brown and colleagues theorized that ethical leaders derived through the intellectual stimulation and individual-
set clear behavioral standards and hold group members ized consideration components of transformational leader-
accountable for ethical conduct at work, which are two sig- ship (Bass, 1999). However, this focus may be overshadowed
nificant features of transactional leadership. Lacking that by yet another effect of transformational leadershipthe
moral compass in a low-transactional leader, employees tendency for transformational leadership to promote a shift
may turn instead to organizational justice cues in gauging among followers away from self-interests, in favor of col-
their degree of work engagement. lective interests (De Cremer, 2006; Yukl, 1998). That is,

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Strom et al. 79

transformational leaders are, by definition, capable of moti- considerable interest among practitioners and consulting
vating employees to emphasize feelings of social identifica- firms in work engagement (Saks, 2006). The plummeting
tion and affiliation within the work group, thereby numbers of engaged workers in the United States has been
encouraging a more collectivistic orientation (Yukl, 1998). a cause for concern (Bates, 2004). The present findings
Thus, the competing influences of both a heightened focus imply that potential targets for change, in the event of orga-
on personal motives and issues of justice, in addition to an nizational concern about engagement, are the organiza-
intensified collective identity that reduces the desire to seek tional-level factors of justice and leadership. For instance,
justice information, may account for the finding that trans- organizational policies addressing fair distribution of
formational leadership did not operate as a moderator in the rewards, and the procedures by which decisions are made
current research. Third, it may be the case that one or more for extending those rewards, would be worth reviewing and
significant situational variables (e.g., type of job, organiza- updating, with a focus on elements such as equitable distri-
tional culture) were omitted from the model, thus accounting bution of rewards, providing employees a chance to voice
for the failure to find the predicted moderator effect (Eagly, concerns and to appeal decisions, and establishing transpar-
Johannesen-Schmidt, & van Engen, 2003; Yukl, 1999). ent and standardized procedures for enacting policies. In the
The burgeoning literature on work engagement also ben- same vein, human resources practices would be established
efits from the novel contributions of the present research. to provide leadership training to managers, at all levels of
Scholars in this area have described a need for increased the organization, which provides information on transac-
academic attention to the causes and consequences of work tional and transformational styles of leadership, as well as
engagement (Saks, 2006). Our research has implicated two the need for immediate supervisors to be clear in conveying
social contextual variables, justice and style of leadership, reward systems and their own expectations to employees.
as predictors of work engagement. On a conceptual level,
the contextual influences of justice and leadership style
may serve as specific examples of job resources, which
Limitations, Strengths, and Future Research
Bakker and Demerouti (2008) identified as contributing A research project of this nature is not without its limita-
forces to engagement in their job demands-resources model. tions. For instance, the survey design used in this research
Relatedly, Saks (2006) aptly applied the principles of social limits our ability to draw conclusions about causal relation-
exchange theory to explain why people display engagement ships among variables. There is nonetheless a well-devel-
at work (Blau, 1964). Social exchange theory argues that oped literature base on both leader fairness and uncertainty
parties to a social or, in this case, employment exchange management that draws from experimental research, the pre-
experience a reciprocal interdependence that, over the ponderance of which supports the predictions of both theo-
course of time and a series of interactions, may develop into ries. This literature lends some credence to our contention
a more meaningful relationship. Over time, as long as both that we may be looking at causal relationships (De Cremer,
parties adhere to rules of exchangesuch as reciprocity in 2006; Lind & Van den Bos, 2002).
the exchange of benefitsthe employeeemployer rela- Yet another study limitation is the reliance on self-report
tionship may evolve into a trusting, loyal, and mutual com- data in gathering information about justice, leadership, and
mitment. Saks continued by suggesting that one currency engagement from a single individual (the respondent) on a
available to the employee to offer in this social exchange is single occasion. This approach raises questions about com-
work engagement. Employees will choose to engage in mon source bias (Podsakoff et al., 2003). The data collection
response to the economic resources and socioemotional method available to us was of value in that it offered access
benefits they feel they are provided by the employer. Results to a large sample of potential respondents from a variety of
of the current study align well with this theoretical perspec- job positions and industries. The method, however, did not
tive, in that important organizational elements, such as make information gathering from a different source, such as
transactional and transformational leadership, distributive a coworker or supervisoror on separate occasionsfeasi-
justice, and procedural justice, were positively related to ble. Recent debates in the literature suggest that common
work engagement. One may infer from these findings that, method bias, although a concern to be taken seriously, does
in the course of social exchange, employees may very well not automatically overestimate relationships among con-
choose to engage more readily when their organization ful- structs. Rather, the effect of common method bias on
fills its obligations of providing a just, predictable, reward- research results varies considerably, depending on the nature
ing, and motivating environment in which to work. of the constructs in use and the forms of assessment (Spector,
Examination of justice and leadership style as influences 2006). The procedures of the current study did, nonetheless,
on work engagement is valuable not only from a theoretical conform to good measurement and implementation prac-
standpoint, but it is also of practical significance to human tices, for instance, compiling items that minimize item ambi-
resource practitioners who seek understanding as a means guity, using reliable and valid scales, and reducing potential
to promote engagement in the workplace. There is indeed evaluation apprehension by guaranteeing anonymity of

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80 Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 21(1)

respondents answers, all of which recommended to help means by which dysfunctional workplace behavior may be
minimize the effects of common method bias (Podsakoff avoided and positive behaviors may be promoted. We call
et al., 2003). on future research to continue exploring the interaction of
One strength of the present study lies in its data collec- organizational justice and leadership styles and to relate
tion procedure, which enabled us to obtain responses from those predictors to a variety of work-related outcomes.
a diverse sample of workers across the United States. In
contrast to much of the organizational survey research Acknowledgments
reported in the literature, data for the current study are not A message of gratitude goes to Scott Hemenover, Audra Lifka,
restricted to individuals employed at a single company, in a Kimberley McClure, and Teresa North for assistance at stages of
particular job position, or living in a concentrated geo- this project.
graphical location. Rather, respondents represented a wide
array of demographic groups, organizational positions, and Authors Note
industries. The diversity of respondent data offered by our Portions of this research were presented at the 2010 annual meet-
methodology promotes some added confidence in the exter- ing of the Association for Psychological Science in Boston, MA.
nal validity and applicability of findings beyond our The former name of the second author is Karen L. Harris.
employee sample. Another methodological strength, in con-
trast to the numerous past experimental studies investigat- Declaration of Conflicting Interests
ing uncertainty management theory, is our use of field The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
research to test the propositions of that theory. The support to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
for uncertainty management theory in a field context
enhances conclusions drawn from uncertainty management Funding
principles and their application to organizational contexts.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support
Successful support of the key premise that a leaders for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article:
style may be responsible for directing employees attention This research reports on findings from a masters thesis by the
either toward, or away from, matters of organizational jus- first author. Funding support for this project was made available
tice should encourage further investigation in this area. through the Graduate Student Research and Professional
Employment settings appear to be ripe for testing the cen- Development Fund, School of Graduate Studies, Western Illinois
tral elements of leader fairness and uncertainty manage- University.
ment theories. Employees are often faced with a demanding
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250-258. Author Biographies
Tims, M., Bakker, A. B., & Xanthopoulou, D. (2011). Do transfor-
mational leaders enhance their followers daily work engage- Diana L. Strom earned her masters degree in general experimen-
ment? Leadership Quarterly, 22, 121-131. tal psychology, specializing in industrial-organizational psychol-
Trevino, L. K., Weaver, G. R., & Reynolds, S. J. (2006). Behavioral ogy, at Western Illinois University. She is employed at Western
ethics in organizations: A review. Journal of Management, Illinois University as a financial aid adviser manager.
32, 951-990. Karen L. Sears earned her PhD degree from the Department of
Van den Bos, K., Wilke, H. A. M., & Lind, E. A. (1998). When Psychology at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1990.
do we need procedural fairness? The role of trust in authority. She is a professor at Western Illinois University, teaching and
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1449-1458. publishing in the field of industrial-organizational psychology.
van Knippenberg, D., De Cremer, D., & van Knippenberg, B.
(2007). Leadership and fairness: The state of the art. European Kristine M. Kelly earned her PhD degree in experimental psy-
Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 16, 113-140. chology from the University of Tennessee. She is a professor at
Yukl, G. (1998). Leadership in organizations (4th ed.). Englewood Western Illinois University, teaching and publishing in the field of
Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. social psychology.

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