When Will Employees Embrace Managers' Technological Innovations? The Mediating Effects of Employees' Perceptions of Fairness on Their Willingness to Accept Change and its Legitimacy


  • The authors are indebted to JPIM editor Anthony Di Benedetto and anonymous reviewers for their many helpful insights and suggestions in improving this paper. The research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant #71202029; grant #71202150; grant #71173191) and Humanities and Social Science Projects Organized by Ministry of Education of China (grant #12YJC630076; grant #11YJC630036).


Innovation researchers have thoroughly discussed how attitudes toward innovation influence people's intentions to use it. Most prior research tried to explore employees' acceptance of technological change through the lens of change initiators; however, using a manager's or the “great man's” perspective to explain change recipients' reaction to an innovation is indirect and peripheral. This paper argues that innovation should be studied directly from the perspective of change recipients, and that their perceptions of fairness in the wake of an innovation become a key factor in their willingness to accept it. More specifically, this paper argues that the recipients' fairness perceptions mediate the impact of innovation characteristics (operationalized as “usefulness” and “ease of use”) and implementation approach on their acceptance and belief in the legitimacy of the innovation. Two studies investigated the hypothesized mediating effects of procedural fairness/outcome fairness. The field study was conducted in a real-world technological innovation setting, but raised questions about whether the causal effect of the mediating model really existed. The scenario study was conducted in a semi-experimental condition which had high internal validity and guaranteed the cause–effect relation. Hence, the research design of the two studies complemented each other. The multiple regression analyses using the criteria proposed by Baron and Kenny were used to test the mediating models in the paper. Moreover, both Sobel tests and bootstrapping methods were used to guarantee that the mediating paths do exist among the independent variables, mediators, and the dependent variables. Both the field study and the scenario study showed that most of our hypotheses were supported, and change recipients had strong psychological reactions to the innovation and how the innovation was implemented in terms of fairness perceptions. Change recipients' perception of procedural and outcome fairness mediated the impact of innovation characteristics and implementation approach on their acceptance of the innovation and the perceived legitimacy of the innovation. The results disclosed that the change recipients' fairness perceptions were a key step for their sense-making process of an innovation and its implementation. The results also indicated that studying change from recipients' perspective, as well as trying to understand their fairness perceptions, can broaden our knowledge about change. Other theoretical and practical implications were also discussed.