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Striving for Fairness Can Burn Out Managers

 Striving for Fairness Can Burn Out ManagersNew research suggests fair bosses make their employees happier and their companies more productive, but may burn themselves out.

Michigan State University investigators found the act of carefully monitoring the fairness of workplace decisions wears down supervisors mentally and emotionally.

“Structured, rule-bound fairness, known as procedural justice, is a double-edged sword for managers,” said Russell E. Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor of management.

“While beneficial for their employees and the organization, it’s an especially draining activity for managers. In fact, we found it had negative effects for managers that spilled over to the next workday.”

In the study, researchers surveyed 82 bosses twice a day for a few weeks. Managers who reported mental fatigue from situations involving procedural fairness were less cooperative and socially engaging with other workers the next day.

“Managers who are mentally fatigued are more prone to making mistakes and it is more difficult for them to control deviant or counterproductive impulses,” Johnson said.

“Several studies have even found that mentally fatigued employees are more likely to steal and cheat.”

Johnson said procedural justice is mentally fatiguing is because it requires managers to conform to particular fairness rules, such as suppressing personal biases, being consistent over time and across subordinates, and allowing subordinates to voice their concerns.

Employees may be concerned about not having personal input into a decision, skeptical about whether accurate information was used to make decisions, or resentful over not receiving the same consideration as another more favored employee.

“Essentially managers have to run around making sure their subordinates’ perceptions remain positive, whether the threat to the atmosphere of the workplace is real or imagined. Dealing with all of this uncertainty and ambiguity is depleting,” Johnson said.

“Managers who are fair cannot realistically avoid some burnout,” he added. “They just need to create situations in which they are better prepared to cope with the fatigue and overcome it.”

Tips for managers include getting sufficient sleep, taking short mental breaks during the workday, adhering to a healthy diet, and detaching from work completely when outside of the office — for example, not reading email or memos at home after 7 p.m.

The study has been published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Source: Michigan State University

Office manager photo by shutterstock.

Striving for Fairness Can Burn Out Managers

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Striving for Fairness Can Burn Out Managers. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 25 Mar 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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