MSU Study: Managers that Play Fair Face Burnout


tBosses who strive for fairness in the workplace are more likely to experience mental fatigue or burnout, says a new study from Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business.

t“Structured, rule-bound fairness, known as procedural justice, is a double-edged sword for managers,” says Russell E. Johnson, assistant professor of management, who led the study. “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.”

tThe study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, 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.

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

tJohnson’s advice for managers that play fair? Prepare yourself to cope with and overcome fatigue by getting proper sleep, taking short mental breaks during the workday, and refraining from work problems outside of the office.

tIn other research news, a new study from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research suggests that mentally challenging jobs have the potential to enhance workers’ mental functioning after retirement.

tAfter following more than 4,000 participants between 1992 and 2010, researchers found that those whose work required greater mental demand — such as analyzing data, developing objectives and strategies, making decisions, solving problems, evaluating information, and thinking creatively — were more likely to have slower declines in memory after retiring than people who had worked in jobs with fewer mental demands.

t“It's likely that being exposed to new experiences or more mentally complex job duties may benefit not only newer workers but more seasoned employees as well,” said Jessica Faul, an assistant research scientist the institute. “Employers should strive to increase mental engagement at work and, if possible, outside of work as well, by emphasizing life-long learning activities.”