How being the ‘nice guy’ is hurting bosses

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Fairness is fast gaining the spotlight as a big workplace issue, with disagreements over what it means between employees and supervisors. Most employees have issues with the way staff are treated at their companies, recent research by Lancaster University shows.
  • 59% of employees believe rules are not applied consistently
  • 49% believe rewards are not distributed fairly
  • 49% feel the basis of policies designed to make decisions fair aren’t clear to employees
But how do these policies designed to keep the workplace fair affect bosses? Negatively, Michigan State University research shows. Supervisors who try hard to make their offices fair might have happier workers, but they often burn themselves out in the process.

"Structured, rule-bound fairness, known as procedural justice, is a double-edged sword for managers," said Russell Johnson, MSU 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."

Corporate HR professionals are particularly prone to these issues, since it’s HR’s job to be involved in situations that negotiate procedural fairness. The study monitored 82 bosses twice a day for several weeks, and recorded when they reported mental fatigue from such situations. The researchers also noted that in following days, that fatigue resulted in less cooperative and socially engaging bosses.

When dealing with issues of fairness, HR professionals must realistically expect to approach burnout, Johnson said. "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," he said.
 

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