Everyone wants their boss to play fair, but new research suggests that while doing so might make employees happy, it's not always so great for the boss. Specifically, bosses who are fair make their workers happier and their companies more productive, but in the end may burn themselves out, according to a new study led by Michigan State University's Russell Johnson.
Researchers found that the act of carefully monitoring the fairness of workplace decisions wears down supervisors both mentally and emotionally. Johnson, an assistant professor of management, said that managers face a double-edged sword in maintaining structured, rule-bound fairness, known as procedural justice.
"While beneficial for their employees and the organization, it's an especially draining activity for managers," he said. "In fact, we found it had negative effects for managers that spilled over to the next workday." [10 Warning Signs Your New Boss Is a Jerk]
As part of 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 less 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.
Procedural justice fatigues managers mentally because it requires them 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, according to Johnson.
"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," he said. "Dealing with all of this uncertainty and ambiguity is depleting."
Knowing this type of burnout can occur, Johnson said it's critical managers create situations in which they are better prepared to cope with fatigue. He suggests several tips, including 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.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was co-authored by Klodiana Lanaj, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, and Christopher Barnes, an assistant professor at the University of Washington. Both were former Michigan State doctoral students.