Business man looking distressed and worried

Being a fair boss can make you sick

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Being a fair boss can put your mental health at risk.

This is according to a study out of Michigan State University, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, which found that fair bosses make for happier employees and a more productive workplace, but not necessarily happier bosses themselves.

MSU’s Russell E. Johnson, assistant professor of management, found making fair decisions can wear supervisors down mentally and emotionally and lead to burnout.

And, according to the Mayo Clinic, burnout can have serious health effects that include:

    Excessive stress
    Fatigue
    Insomnia
    A negative spillover into personal relationships or home life
    Depression
    Anxiety
    Alcohol or substance abuse
    Heart disease
    High cholesterol
    Type 2 diabetes, especially in women
    Stroke
    Obesity
    Vulnerability to illnesses

Scary. Better just to do like Solomon and tell ‘em to cut the baby in half.

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

To make a fair decision, you have to listen to everyone, set aside personal biases, weigh the possible outcomes and try to make everyone happy. People want to be heard and may feel like you’re playing favourites – which will impact their attitudes. All that can be exhausting.

Researchers surveyed 82 managers twice daily over a few weeks and found that “[Those] who reported mental fatigue from situations involving procedural fairness were less cooperative and socially engaging with other workers the next day.”

Johnson said, “Managers who are mentally fatigued are more prone to making mistakes and it is more difficult for them to control deviant or counterproductive impulses. Several studies have even found that mentally fatigued employees are more likely to steal and cheat.

“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.”

Burnout is inevitable, he said. Encouraging, isn’t it?

He did offer the following tips for countering the burnout: “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.” Don’t forget that mindfulness meditation can be helpful too.

The Mayo Clinic, meanwhile, recommends the following tips for dealing with job burnout:

    -“Manage the stressors that contribute to job burnout. Once you’ve identified what’s fueling your feelings of job burnout, you can make a plan to address the issues.” Can you tell your employees to grow up and deal with their problems like adults? (Probably not.)
    - “Evaluate your options. Discuss specific concerns with your supervisor.”
    - “Adjust your attitude. If you’ve become cynical at work, consider ways to improve your outlook.”
    - “Seek support. Whether you reach out to co-workers, friends, loved ones or others, support and collaboration may help you cope with job stress and feelings of burnout. If you have access to an employee assistance program (EAP), take advantage of the available services.”
    - “Assess your interests, skills and passions. An honest assessment can help you decide whether you should consider an alternative job, such as one that’s less demanding or one that better matches your interests or core values.”
    - “Get some exercise. Regular physical activity, like walking or biking, can help you to better deal with stress. It can also help get your mind off work and focus on something else.”

Being fair is hard work. Give yourself a break.

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