Monday, June 16, 2008

But it's not Fair!

Thanks to Scott Eblin for pointing me a recent Washing Post article on the subject of fairness in the workplace, called "Sense of Fairness Affects Outlook, Decisions".

Here's an excerpt:

A pair of psychologists recently evaluated hundreds of employees at a large North American university that was in the grip of painful change. The researchers wanted to find out whether there were factors that explained why some employees successfully weathered the transition and reengaged with their jobs, while others spiraled into cynicism and exhaustion -- the classic signs of burnout.
Burnout has been long associated with being overworked and underpaid, but psychologists Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter found that these were not the crucial factors. The single biggest difference between employees who suffered burnout and those who did not was the whether they thought that they were being treated unfairly or fairly.

"These fairness issues can be huge," said Maslach, a social psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley. "Issues around fairness are highly linked to the anger and cynicism that are linked to burnout."
When a worker suffers burnout, she added: "You feel you have been treated with disrespect. It generates enormous personal anger for small things because of what it implies."
Affected workers report more mental health problems. Their work can suffer, creating a vicious cycle of a shrinking workplace, burnout and poor work. One study showed that nurses suffering burnout provided their patients with inferior care.

Leiter, co-author of the study, which looked at 992 employees at the troubled university, said people who sensed they were being treated unfairly were twice as likely to burn out as employees who did not. Leiter and Maslach were particularly interested in people who showed some risk factors for burnout but not others: people who were enthusiastic but exhausted, for example, or who felt energetic but psychologically disconnected from their jobs.

The implications for leaders: consistantly treat ALL of your employees with dignity and respect. If you have to take tough measures, then do it, but do it in a way that everybody takes their "fair share" of the burden. In return, you'll team will be more likely to tough it and and stand behind you.


Breanne said...

This is very interesting. This is compounded by people's internal definition of entitlement. There are those who feel that equal treatment isn't "fair" and they deserve more than the average person. For instance, a customer who spends exponential dollars higher than the average customer expects a greater level of service. An loyal employee with 20 years of service expects greater rewards/respect than a 1-2 year employee.

Tricky situation, but your final point is right on- treating EVERYONE with dignity and respect is the best policy!

Totally Consumed said...

Breanne hit the nail on the head with her comment. The PERCEPTION of fair treatment and TRULY fair and respectful treatment are two different things. Therein lies the real conundrum.