This theory stems from social and organizational psychology . The psychologist John Stacey Adams is the one who proposed the theory of equity based on Festinger’s concepts of social comparison and cognitive dissonance .

People tend to compare ourselves to others . With other people’s situations, inside and outside of work . Thus, we form a perception about what is fair or unfair. If the result of the comparison is understood as fair, people are more likely to feel motivated. On the contrary, when they perceive that they are treated unfairly, tension and demotivation appear . By comparing themselves to others, people want to be treated fairly for their contributions to the organization. And beliefs about what is fair and unfair can affect your motivation, attitudes, and therefore behaviors at work.

How does equity theory work?

John Stacey Adams’ equity theory helps explain why payment and conditions alone do not determine motivation. It also explains why giving one person a promotion or pay raise can have a demotivating effect on others. The theory of equity is applicable to every situation in which an exchange takes place . Not only in the workplace . When two people exchange something, there is a chance that one or both of them feel that the exchange was unfair . We perceive what we get from the position (exits) as a consequence of our contributions to the company (inputs). Then we compare our relationship outputs-inputs with the output / input ratio of other people (referents) in a similar situation.

If, as a result of the comparison, we perceive that our output / input ratio is the same as that of the reference persons , we understand that our situation is fair. It is one of equity; if the result is perceived as an unequal relationship, we consider the situation to be unfair: one of inequity . This inequity can be negative, when the balance is detrimental to the individual: or positive, when it is favorable .

From the point of view of equity theory, there are four reference groups for making comparisons:

    • Others-Internal : People, or groups of people , in the individual’s current organization.
  • Others-External : People, or groups of people, in organizations other than the one the individual works.

How is equity restored? Behavioral and cognitive mechanisms

By perceiving inequity, tension is generated that, in turn, prompts the individual to put in place mechanisms that reduce such tension. There are two types of mechanisms that are applied to restore equity: behavioral and cognitive :

Behavioral mechanisms

    • Modify your inputs so that they are balanced with the results: reduce productivity , increase absenteeism, make less effort to achieve quality, …
    • Change the results to match the inputs: steal , request salary increases, …
    • Try to influence others (your references) to increase their contributions.

Cognitive Mechanisms

    • With greater application difficulty, since it involves distorting perceptions, they require less effort than the previous ones.
  • According to equity theory , we can also choose to change our comparison benchmark, comparing ourselves to other people, other relationships, other companies, etc. Or we can choose to leave the relationship when it really “does not make up for us” and the balance always tips towards the other party.

Different types of responses

Three types of individuals have been categorized according to their response to inequity:

    • Benevolent : They tolerate negative equity situations. They show altruistic tendencies , expecting to receive little in return.
  • Untitled: In contrast to the previous ones, these are considered with the right superior to the overcompensation . They think they are worth it. They have a high threshold of inequity, accepting positive inequity without feeling guilty.

Limitations of the theory

However, the theory of equity , although it has been supported in some studies, also presents certain problems or limitations . On the one hand, in reality little is known about why we choose some references or others to compare ourselves . On the other hand, it is not always easy to calculate or determine what contributions they make to us and what contributions we make in the context of a relationship. In addition, it is also not known exactly how these comparison or contribution calculation processes change over time, or why they change.

Elle Mcdonald

I am Elle Mcdonald Specializations in Psychology . Graduated in psychology from the University of Tennessee in 2000. Diploma of Advanced Studies in the Department of Personality, Evaluation and psychological treatments with excellent results.

First Level of Master in Clinical Psychology at the Center for Behavioral Therapists (recognized with a scientific-professional nature by the College of Psychologists)

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