Treat Us Fairly and We Won’t Complain: Multilevel Effects of Procedural Justice on Complaining Behavior in Team Meetings


One reason for ineffective meetings is complaining behavior. Complaining statements emphasize negative aspects which cannot be changed and often portraying the team as a victim. Whereas several studies have highlighted the detrimental consequences of complaining, less is known about the antecedents of this counterproductive behavior during team interactions. This study addresses this research gap by providing starting points for managing complaining behavior in meetings. Through the lens of social exchange theory, we argue how individual justice perceptions and team-level justice climate create a social context for more or less complaining during meetings. Furthermore, we explore how team members’ satisfaction with their supervisor mediates the relationship between procedural justice and complaining. 305 employees nested in 54 teams completed a survey concerning their justice perceptions and supervisor satisfaction. Moreover, we videotaped regular meetings of these teams and used an independent observer approach to code actual occurrences of complaining behavior. Multilevel results show that team-level procedural justice climate—but not individual justice perceptions—inhibits complaining behavior in meetings. Team-level supervisor satisfaction mediated the relationship between procedural justice climate and complaining. We discuss research implications for understanding and preventing specific counterproductive work behaviors in the team context and practical implications for managing effective meetings.

Share and Cite:

Schulte, E. , Lehmann-Willenbrock, N. and Kauffeld, S. (2015) Treat Us Fairly and We Won’t Complain: Multilevel Effects of Procedural Justice on Complaining Behavior in Team Meetings. Psychology, 6, 1795-1810. doi: 10.4236/psych.2015.614176.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Funder, D. C. (2007). Psychology as the Science of Self-Reports and Finger Movements: Whatever Happened to Actual Behavior? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 396-403.
[2] Beck, S. J., & Keyton, J. (2009). Perceiving Strategic Meeting Interaction. Small Group Research, 40, 223-246.
[3] Belkin, L. (2007). Time Wasted? Perhaps It’s Well Spent. The New York Times.
[4] Bliese, P. D. (2000). Within-Group Agreement, Non-Independence, and Reliability: Implications for Data Aggregation and Analysis. In K. J. Klein, & S. W. J. Kozlowski (Eds.), Multilevel Theory, Research, and Methods in Organizations. Foundations, Extensions, and New Directions (pp. 249-381). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
[5] Bowling, N. A., & Gruys, M. L. (2010). Overlooked Issues in the Conceptualization and Measurement of Counterproductive Work Behavior. Human Resource Management Review, 20, 54-61.
[6] Brockner, J. (2010). A Contemporary Look at Organizational Justice: Multiplying Insult Times Injury. Organization and Management Series. New York: Psychology Press.
[7] Carboni, I., & Ehrlich, K. (2013). The Effect of Relational and Team Characteristics on Individual Performance: A Social Network Perspective. Human Resource Management, 52, 511-535.
[8] Carr, J. Z., Schmidt, A. M., Ford, J. K., & DeShon, R. P. (2003). Climate Perceptions Matter: A Meta-Analytic Path Analysis Relating Molar Climate, Cognitive and Affective States, and Individual Level Work Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 605-619.
[9] Cohen-Charash, Y., & Spector, P. E. (2001). The Role of Justice in Organizations: A Meta-Analysis. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86, 278-321.
[10] Cohen, M. A., Rogelberg, S. G., Allen, J. A., & Luong, A. (2011). Meeting Design Characteristics and Attendee Perceptions of Staff/Team meeting Quality. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 15, 90-104.
[11] Cole, N. D., & Latham, G. P. (1997). Effects of Training in Procedural Justice on Perceptions of Disciplinary Fairness by Unionized Employees and Disciplinary Subject Matter Experts. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 699-705.
[12] Colquitt, J. A. (2001). On the Dimensionality of Organizational Justice: A Construct Validation of a Measure. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 386-400.
[13] Colquitt, J. A., Conlon, D. E., Wesson, M. J., Porter, C. O., & Ng, K. Y. (2001). Justice at the Millennium: A Meta-Analytic Review of 25 Years of Organizational Justice Research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 425-445.
[14] Colquitt, J. A., Noe, R. A., & Jackson, C. L. (2002). Justice in Teams: Antecedents and Consequences of Procedural Justice Climate. Personnel Psychology, 55, 83-109.
[15] Colquitt, J. A., Scott, B. A., Rodell, J. B., Long, D. M., Zapata, C. P., Conlon, D. E., & Wesson, M. J. (2013). Justice at the Millennium, a Decade Later: A Meta-Analytic Test of Social Exchange and Affect-Based Perspectives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98, 199-236.
[16] Colquitt, J. A., Zapata-Phelan, C. P., & Roberson, Q. M. (2005). Justice in Teams: A Review of Fairness Effects in Collective Contexts. Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, 24, 53-94.
[17] Cropanzano, R., & Mitchell, M. S. (2005). Social Exchange Theory: An Interdisciplinary Review. Journal of Management, 31, 874-900.
[18] Cropanzano, R., Li, A., & Benson, L. (2011). Peer Justice and Teamwork Process. Group & Organization Management, 36, 567-596.
[19] Cropanzano, R., Prehar, C. A., & Chen, P. Y. (2002). Using Social Exchange Theory to Distinguish Procedural from Interactional Justice. Group & Organization Management, 27, 324-351.
[20] Dalal, R. S. (2005). A Meta-Analysis of the Relationship between Organizational Citizenship Behavior and Counterproductive Work Behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 1241-1255.
[21] DeConinck, J. B., & Stilwell, C. (2004). Incorporating Organizational Justice, Role States, Pay Satisfaction and Supervisor Satisfaction in a Model of Turnover Intentions. Journal of Business Research, 57, 225-231.
[22] Dunlop, P. D., & Lee, K. (2004). Workplace Deviance, Organizational Citizenship Behavior, and Business Unit Performance: The Bad Apples Do Spoil the Whole Barrel. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25, 67-80.
[23] Ehrhart, M. G. (2004). Leadership and Procedural Justice Climate as Antecedents of Unit-Level Organizational Citizenship Behavior. Personnel Psychology, 57, 61-94.
[24] Eisenberger, R., Karagonlar, G., Stinglhamber, F., Neves, P., Becker, T. E., Gonzalez-Morales, M. G., & Steiger-Mueller, M. (2010). Leader-Member Exchange and Affective Organizational Commitment: The Contribution of Supervisor’s Organizational Embodiment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 1085-1103.
[25] Fleiss, J. L., Nee, J. C., & Landis, J. R. (1979). Large Sample Variance of Kappa in the Case of Different Sets of Raters. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 974-977.
[26] Fortin, M. (2008). Perspectives on Organizational Justice: Concept Clarification, Social Context Integration, Time and Links with Morality. International Journal of Management Reviews, 10, 93-126.
[27] Fox, S., Spector, P. E., & Miles, D. (2001). Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB) in Response to Job Stressors and Organizational Justice: Some Mediator and Moderator Tests for Autonomy and Emotions. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 59, 291-309.
[28] Gibney, R., Zagenczyk, T. J., & Masters, M. F. (2009). The Negative Aspects of Social Exchange: An Introduction to Perceived Organizational Obstruction. Group & Organization Management, 34, 665-697.
[29] Glick, W. H. (1985). Conceptualizing and Measuring Organizational and Psychological Climate: Pitfalls in Multilevel Research. Academy of Management Review, 10, 601-616.
[30] Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1975). Development of the Job Diagnostic Survey. Journal of Applied Psychology, 60, 159-170.
[31] Ho, V. T. (2012). Interpersonal Counterproductive Work Behaviors: Distinguishing between Person-Focused versus Task-Focused Behaviors and Their Antecedents. Journal of Business and Psychology, 27, 467-482.
[32] Ilgen, D. R., Hollenbeck, J. R., Johnson, M., & Jundt, D. (2005). Teams in Organizations: From Input-Process-Output Models to IMOI Models. Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 517-543.
[33] Kauffeld, S., & Lehmann-Willenbrock, N. (2012). Meetings Matter: Effects of Team Meetings on Team and Organizational Success. Small Group Research, 43, 130-158.
[34] Kauffeld, S., & Meyers, R. A. (2009). Complaint and Solution-Oriented Circles: Interaction Patterns in Work Group Discussions. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 18, 267-294.
[35] Kelloway, E. K., Francis, L., Prosser, M., & Cameron, J. E. (2010). Counterproductive Work Behavior as Protest. Human Resource Management Review, 20, 18-25.
[36] Kinicki, A. J., McKee-Ryan, F. M., Schriesheim, C. A., & Carson, K. P. (2002). Assessing the Construct Validity of the Job Descriptive Index: A Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 14-32.
[37] Kowalski, R. M. (1996). Complaints and Complaining Functions, Antecedents, and Consequences. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 179-195.
[38] Kuenzi, M., & Schminke, M. (2009). Assembling Fragments into a Lens: A Review, Critique, and Proposed Research Agenda for the Organizational Work Climate Literature. Journal of Management, 35, 634-717.
[39] Lau, V. C. S., Au, W. T., & Ho, J. M. C. (2003). A Qualitative and Quantitative Review of Antecedents of Counterproductive Behavior in Organizations. Journal of Business and Psychology, 18, 73-99.
[40] LeBreton, J. M., & Senter, J. L. (2008). Answers to 20 Questions about Interrater Reliability and Interrater Agreement. Organizational Research Methods, 11, 815-852.
[41] Lehmann-Willenbrock, N., & Kauffeld, S. (2010). The Downside of Communication: Complaining Cycles in Group Discussions. In S. Schuman (Ed.), The Handbook for Working with Difficult Groups. How They Are Difficult, Why They Are Difficult, What You Can Do (pp. 33-54). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.
[42] Lehmann-Willenbrock, N., Allen, J. A., & Kauffeld, S. (2013). A Sequential Analysis of Procedural Meeting Communication: How Teams Facilitate Their Meetings. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 41, 365-388.
[43] Lehmann-Willenbrock, N., Allen, J. A., & Meinecke, A. (2014). Observing Culture: Differences in U.S.-American and German Team Meeting Behaviors. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 17, 252-271.
[44] Lehmann-Willenbrock, N., Meyers, R. A., Kauffeld, S., Neininger, A., & Henschel, A. (2011). Verbal Interaction Sequences and Group Mood: Exploring the Role of Team Planning Communication. Small Group Research, 42, 639-668.
[45] Li, A., & Cropanzano, R. (2009). Fairness at the Group Level: Justice Climate and Intraunit Justice Climate. Journal of Management, 35, 564-599.
[46] Liao, H., & Rupp, D. E. (2005). The Impact of Justice Climate and Justice Orientation on Work Outcomes: A Cross-Level Multifoci Framework. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 242-256.
[47] Lievens, F., Chasteen, C. S., Day, E. A., & Christiansen, N. D. (2006). Large-Scale Investigation of the Role of Trait Activation Theory for Understanding Assessment Center Convergent and Discriminant Validity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 247-258.
[48] Liker, J. K., & Meier, D. (2006). The Toyota Way Fieldbook: A Practical Guide for Implementing Toyota’s 4Ps. New York, London: McGraw-Hill.
[49] Lind, E. A., Kanfer, R., & Earley, P. C. (1990). Voice, Control, and Procedural Justice: Instrumental and Noninstrumental Concerns in Fairness Judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 952-959.
[50] Maier, G. W., Streicher, B., Jonas, E., & Woschée, R. (2007). Assessment of Justice in Organizations: The Validity of a German Version of the Questionnaire by Colquitt (2001). Diagnostica, 53, 97-108.
[51] Mangold (2010). INTERACT Quick Start Manual V2.4. (Mangold International GmbH, Ed.).
[52] Mathieu, J., Maynard, M. T., Rapp, T., & Gilson, L. (2008). Team Effectiveness 1997-2007: A Review Advancements and a Glimpse into the Future. Journal of Management, 34, 410-476.
[53] Meinecke, A. L., & Lehmann-Willenbrock, N. (2015). Social Dynamics at Work: Meetings as a Gateway. In J. A. Allen, N. Lehmann-Willenbrock, & S. G. Rogelberg (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Meeting Science (pp. 325-356). New York: Cambridge University Press.
[54] Mossholder, K. W., Bennett, N., & Martin, C. L. (1998). A Multilevel Analysis of Procedural Justice Context. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 19, 131-141.<131::AID-JOB878>3.0.CO;2-P
[55] Mount, M., Ilies, R., & Johnson, E. (2006). Relationship of Personality Traits and Counterproductive Work Behaviors: The Mediating Effects of Job Satisfaction. Personnel Psychology, 59, 591-622.
[56] Muthén, L., & Muthén, B. (1998-2010). Mplus User’s Guide (6th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.
[57] Naumann, S., & Bennett, N. (2000). A Case for Procedural Justice Climate: Development and Test of a Multilevel Model. Academy of Management Journal, 43, 881-889.
[58] O’Boyle, E. H., Forsyth, D. R., & O’Boyle, A. S. (2011). Bad Apples or Bad Barrels: An Examination of Group- and Organizational-Level Effects in the Study of Counterproductive Work Behavior. Group & Organization Management, 36, 39-69.
[59] Patterson, M., Warr, P., & West, M. (2004). Organizational Climate and Company Productivity: The Role of Employee Affect and Employee Level. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 77, 193-216.
[60] Phillips, J. M., Douthitt, E. A., & Hyland, M. M. (2001). The Role of Justice in Team Member Satisfaction with the Leader and Attachment to the Team. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 316-325.
[61] Pirola-Merlo, A., Härtel, C., Mann, L., & Hirst, G. (2002). How Leaders Influence the Impact of Affective Events on Team Climate and Performance in R&D Teams. The Leadership Quarterly, 13, 561-581.
[62] Preacher, K. J., Zyphur, M. J., & Zhang, Z. (2010). A General Multilevel SEM Framework for Assessing Multilevel Mediation. Psychological Methods, 15, 209-233.
[63] Price, K. H., Harrison, D. A., & Gavin, J. H. (2006). Withholding Inputs in Team Contexts: Member Composition, Interaction Processes, Evaluation Structure, and Social Loafing. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 1375-1384.
[64] Rogelberg, S. G., Allen, J. A., Shanock, L. R., Scott, C. W., & Shuffler, M. (2010). Employee Satisfaction with Meetings: A Contemporary Facet of Job Satisfaction. Human Resource Management, 49, 149-172.
[65] Rogelberg, S. G., Leach, D., Warr, P., & Burnfield, J. (2006). “Not Another Meeting!” Are Meeting Time Demands Related to Employee Well-Being? Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 83-96.
[66] Rogelberg, S. G., Shanock, L. R., & Scott, C. W. (2012). Wasted Time and Money in Meetings: Increasing Return on Investment. Small Group Research, 43, 236-245.
[67] Rotundo, M., & Spector, P. E. (2010). Counterproductive Work Behavior and Withdrawal. In J. L. Farr, & N. T. Tippins (Eds.), Handbook of Employee Selection (pp. 489-511). New York: Routledge.
[68] Rupp, D. E., & Cropanzano, R. (2002). The Mediating Effects of Social Exchange Relationships in Predicting Workplace Outcomes from Multifoci Organizational Justice. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 89, 925-946.
[69] Salas, E., Shuffler, M. L., Thayer, A. L., Bedwell, W. L., & Lazzara, E. H. (2015). Understanding and Improving Teamwork in Organizations: A Scientifically Based Practical Guide. Human Resource Management, 54, 599-622.
[70] Schmidt, K. H., & Kleinbeck, U. (1999). Job Diagnostic Survey (JDS—deutsche Fassung) [Job Diagnostic Survey, JDS—German Version]. In H. Dunckel (Ed.), Handbuch Psychologischer Arbeitsanalyseverfahren (pp. 205-230). Zürich: Vdf-Hochschulverl.
[71] Schulte, E.-M., Lehmann-Willenbrock, N., & Kauffeld, S. (2013). Age, Forgiveness, and Meeting Behavior: A Multilevel Study. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 28, 928-949.
[72] Scott, C. W., Shanock, L. R., & Rogelberg, S. G. (2012). Meetings at Work: Advancing the Theory and Practice of Meetings. Small Group Research, 43, 127-129.
[73] Shin, Y., Du, J., & Choi, J. N. (2014). Multi-Level Longitudinal Dynamics between Procedural Justice and Interpersonal Helping in Organizational Teams. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30, 513-528.
[74] Simons, T., & Roberson, Q. (2003). Why Managers Should Care about Fairness: The Effects of Aggregate Justice Perceptions on Organizational Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 432-443.
[75] Skarlicki, D. P., & Kulik, C. T. (2005). Third-Party Reactions to Employee (Mis)Treatment: A Justice Perspective. Research in Organizational Behavior, 26, 183-229.
[76] Skarlicki, D. P., & Latham, G. P. (2005). How Can Training Be Used to Foster Organizational Justice? In J. Greenberg, & J. A. Colquitt (Eds.), Handbook of Organizational Justice (pp. 499-522). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
[77] Sonnentag, S. (2001). High Performance and Meeting Participation: An Observational Study in Software Design Teams. Group Dynamics, 5, 3-18.
[78] Sonnentag, S., & Volmer, J. (2009). Individual-Level Predictors of Task-Related Teamwork Processes: The Role of Expertise and Self-Efficacy in Team Meetings. Group & Organization Management, 34, 37-66.
[79] Spell, C. S., & Arnold, T. J. (2007). A Multi-Level Analysis of Organizational Justice Climate, Structure, and Employee Mental Health. Journal of Management, 33, 724-751.
[80] Thau, S., Crossley, C., Bennett, R. J., & Sczesny, S. (2007). The Relationship between Trust, Attachment, and Antisocial Work Behaviors. Human Relations, 60, 1155-1179.
[81] Whitman, D. S., Caleo, S., Carpenter, N. C., Horner, M. T., & Bernerth, J. B. (2012). Fairness at the Collective Level: A Meta-Analytic Examination of the Consequences and Boundary Conditions of Organizational Justice Climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 776-791.
[82] Zapata-Phelan, C. P., Colquitt, J. A., Scott, B. A., & Livingston, B. (2009). Procedural Justice, Interactional Justice, and Task Performance: The Mediating Role of Intrinsic Motivation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 108, 93-105.

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.