We only have justice in the sense that there are means for both the aggrieved and accused to be judged fairly. Or, in the least, to feel that they have a chance of being judged fairly. And this is as true in our culture and courtrooms as it is in business organizations.

Granted, this is far from a primary concern in businesses - they are more focused, they have to handle less cultural issues, and you can (arguably) opt out of an organization perceived to be unfair with greater ease than your nation. The breadth of justice I’m concerned with is not nearly as important or heavy as the systemic harassment and exclusion of women and minorities, which has already produced plenty of writing far beyond my caliber.

Generally speaking, if an organization is lacking a system which allows employees both the proper path forward and recourse when they feel that they have been wronged by the advancement process, they will resort to a type of honor based justice which is still permissible in the Professional setting. Asshole behavior, passive aggressive comments, detachment, and ostracizing others all become fair play, and it can be toxic. Since an organization is much less robust than a community, and has far fewer ties between participants, this corrosiveness is quite dangerous even if it goes unchecked for a limited time.

I have succumbed to plenty of honor based measurements, especially when I have felt that my path for organizational advancement was unclear or seemingly arbitrary. Lack of errors, number of tickets closed, number of contributions. These drivers are potentially positive, but can be damaging when improperly applied. Think of how Wells Fargo managed to create mass corruption and deceit when solely focused upon their sales goals. When engineers are solely competing on these types of metrics, either the company has failed to counterbalance them with more humanistic goals, given engineers no direction for advancement or stated a framework for advancement and invalidated it through their their actual advancements.

In my opinion, organizational violence is neither physical nor overt, so the toll is harder to measure. It is mental and emotional. It is people crying in the bathroom. It is coming home from work drained instead of being energized. Sometimes these outcomes will be related to the difficulty of the actual work, but too often they are related to the interpersonal dynamics of the workplace itself. What’s more memorable to me is the bullshit that has come from other humans in the workplace rather than code that just won’t work.

Building a just system in business is complicated, because there are less motivators for a leader to do so. Their accountability is generally limited, and they are hard pressed to make an argument that taking the time and effort to build the system will be beneficial in terms of decreased turnover and higher employee engagement. As an employee it seems a risk worth taking, as I stand to derive all the benefit at a fraction of the cost. For a leader, it is far more of a gamble.