Being fair is exhausting. That’s the assessment from a study out of Michigan State University (MSU), which shows how fairness in workplace decisions can mentally and emotionally wear down bosses.
“Structured, rule-bound fairness, known as procedural justice, is a double-edged sword for managers,” said Russell E. Johnson, an assistant professor of management at MSU. “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.”
Eighty-two bosses were surveyed twice a day for a few weeks, and the researchers found that those who reported mental fatigue from procedural fairness situations were less cooperative and socially engaging with employees the following 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.”
The reason procedural justice is mentally fatiguing, Johnson said, is because bosses have to conform to fairness rules (e.g., suppressing personal biases, being consistent, and letting employees voice concerns).
“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.
Burnout will always be a challenge for fair managers, Johnson said, but they should create situations that allow them to cope with it better. Suggestions include getting enough sleep, taking short mental breaks throughout a workday, eating a healthy diet, and completely separating work and home life.
If you’re a boss, how do you overcome burnout? Please share your ideas with us in the comments section.