Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Justice: Perception and Reality—Which costs less?

My last post here involved the Human Resources and Mission: Discussion Blog for Catholic Colleges and Universities, and I considered a discussion there about health care and its possible extension to part-timers—including most adjunct and contingent faculty—at Catholic institutions.

This blog has a whole bunch of cute little clueless trios. 

This post involves the same Discussion Blog, and the particular topic now is Organizational Justice: A Core Competency for Catholic Colleges and Universities,” again written by Gary L. Miller, who has been working at DePaul University since 2003 in a number of human resources roles.

First, read the following, which is from the bottom of Mr. Miller’s essay. It’s a helpful summary of what he views as some key concepts, trends, and documents. (I have provided a link to Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus annus, and you will be quizzed on it next week. But, for right now, just try to listen and stop worrying about grades all the time. Learning should be fun)

The title of this column suggests that organizational justice should be a core competency for Catholic colleges and universities. In Centesimus annus, the Blessed Pope John Paul II states that “the purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavoring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society.” While Catholic colleges and universities are not business firms, they can serve as models for employers of what it means to be a “community of persons”

Ok, that seems clear, so now consider the substance of the post, which is largely an interview conducted by Mr. Miller with Jed Babbin, an HR specialist.*

Mr. Miller introduces the topic this way: “Over the next few years, workforce trends will create new management challenges,” one of which being that “employee engagement levels are at record lows.”

Is that true? I’m not sure. Certainly the sharp uptick in the formation of adcon faculty unions, and the activity of adcon advocacy groups, would indicate that our “engagement levels” are at record highs.

Probably not what he means.

Anyway, if you work in the Human Resources department at DePaul, you probably do know something about the general topic,  given that the number of part-time faculty there has just about doubled between 1995 and 2009.

 “Low engagement levels,” in Mr. Miller’s view, “could translate into turnover,” as the economy recovers, and “record numbers of older workers will be retiring,” as a result of which, “the challenge to recruit and retain talent will intensify.”

As that challenge intensifies, then, “considerations for organizational justice,” will become  “central to any effective management response.”

Consider, in this regard, “the rise in the number of credit hours taught by adjunct faculty,” and also the fact that “some have asked…if these contingent faculty are being equitably paid.”

Yes, that does sound familiar.

But, in case you believe that “the contentious issues … center around compensation,” think again, and you’ll yourself asking if “these justice concerns are fueled by issues independent of actual compensation?”

Now, Mr. Babbin responds, and I must paraphrase, because the considerations are lengthy and technical. I gather, though, that I may safely report that organizational justice is a relatively new topic, that a lot of it involves perceptions, and perceptions are sort of about what people think about things as opposed to how things actually are.

So, for instance, there are studies indicating that if you behave in a manner that other people think rude or deceitful, other people might well come to the conclusion that you are in fact rude or deceitful.

One of the studies brought up by Mr. Babbin suggested that there is connection between the way that communication was “used to inform employees of an impending pay cut,” on the one hand, and the rate at which those employees resigned.

And there’s more!

That same study showed that the way managers told employees about an impending pay cut even affected the “rate of theft by those who stayed.”

So, as Mr. Miller asks, during the course of the interview, are these perceptions “as significant as, say, actual pay levels?”

Amazingly. one gathers, from Mr. Babbin’s response, “these drivers” substantially influence how folks think about “actual outcomes.”

Mr. Babbin also wants us to remember that we’re “talking about perceptions, not necessarily reality.”

Are you following this? Does it seem a bit sleazy? Because it sure does to me. Anyway, more tomorrow, about something that really needs a “religious exemption.”

* This Jed Babbin, by the way, is not the Jed Babbin who was an Undersecretary of Defense for George H.W. Bush and is a current editor for American Spectator.

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