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Does social business drain managers energy?


I wrote recently about the crucial role fairness plays in the performance levels of employees, and by virtue their employers.  It was based upon a study linking being treated fairly, and having a good level of trust that fairness would be applied, was fundamental to good employee engagement, which, as we all know, is fundamental to strong performances at work.

Suffice to say, I suspect most bosses believe themselves to be fair people, and who knows, maybe they are.  A new study should make compulsory reading for organizations that try and promote fairness and transparency.

The study, published by Michigan State University, highlights that whilst fair bosses are undoubtedly a positive factor in the workplace, their efforts may be having unintended consequences on their personal performance.

The research quizzed a sample of managers twice a day over a period of a few weeks.  The questions aimed to delve into both what the managers were doing, but also how they felt whilst doing it, and, crucially, how this then affected their behaviour the following day.

It emerged that when the bosses were actively monitoring fairness in the workplace and ensuring that it took place found themselves worn down both mentally and emotionally.  This resulted in less cooperative behaviour the following day, and even less social engagement with colleagues.

“Structured, rule-bound fairness, known as procedural justice, is a double-edged sword for managers,” said Professor Russell Johnson of the Michigan State University business school. “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.

The research suggested that monitoring procedural fairness in this way was exhausting because it required the managers to live by the standards expected of others, even if that meant suppressing personal thoughts on the matter.  It also required them to actively listen to the concerns of their team and act consistently.

“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.”

The paper went on to talk about the importance of giving employees an input into decisions, and allaying fears that decisions were made with inaccurate information.

“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.

It concludes by suggesting that some degree of burnout is inevitable for managers hoping to ensure fairness in the workplace and that the only recourse is to cope better with the fatigue that will come.  Whilst the tips they mention are no doubt fine ones, it’s interesting to note that many of the tasks they describe as promoting (and policing) fairness at work, are also ones that sit at the heart of social business.  Making sure information flows freely, that decisions receive varied inputs and feedback is plentiful are all things that are prevalent in a social business.

Obviously technology plays a big role in helping to manage the workload for such tasks, as does the distribution of those tasks throughout the workforce, but the research nevertheless underlines the importance of these roles in the workplace and on ensuring that employees are well looked after mentally and physically.

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