Research: When Managers Are Overworked, They Treat Employees Less Fairly

In our paper, we sought to develop a more rigorous understanding of whether and why overworked bosses are less likely to treat employees fairly. The second survey, completed at the end of the workday, asked them about the extent to which they had prioritized their core work tasks over fairness toward employees that day and the extent to which they had acted fairly towards employees based on the four fairness aspects outlined above. A second study explored a slightly different question: Are managers with persistently heavier workloads more likely to treat their employees unfairly compared to those with persistently lighter workloads? We surveyed 166 managers in India about their workload over the previous three months, and whether they prioritized technical tasks over fairness tasks during this period. Using these three independent data sources, we found that bosses with heavier workloads prioritized core technical tasks over treating employees fairly, and as a result, were less likely to be reported as acting fairly by their employees. Supporting our argument that managers are only “Pushed” to de-prioritize fairness when they are overworked, managers with lighter workloads acted fairly regardless of such rewards. Interestingly, in organizations where fairness was rewarded, overworked bosses were more likely to act fairly and perform well on other work tasks, compared to those in organizations where fairness was less explicitly rewarded. Try cementing time with your employees into your schedule so that you’re less susceptible to the effects of workload. Our studies suggest that organizations can also nudge bosses to balance technical tasks and fair treatment by rewarding and celebrating managers who act fairly.


Smart Building Research
Creating smart, global office portfolios. Passionate about urban and city planning. Curious about Internet of Things. Smart Building Advocates.