Fairness Matters

Sense of Fairness Affects Outlook, Decisions

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.

Their research on fairness dovetails with work by other researchers showing that humans care a great deal about how they are being treated relative to others. In many ways, fairness seems to matter more than absolute measures of how well they are faring — people seem willing to endure tough times if they have the sense the burden is being shared equally, but they quickly become resentful if they feel they are being singled out for poor treatment.

If the sum is $100, for example, the first person might offer to give away $25 and keep $75 for himself. If the second person agrees, the money is divided accordingly. But if the second person rejects the deal, neither one gets anything.

If people cared only about absolute rewards, then Person B ought to accept whatever Person A offers, because getting even $1 is better than nothing. But experiments show that many people will reject the deal if they feel the first person is dividing the money unfairly.

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One thought on “Fairness Matters

  1. Since the Department of Defense started serious management improvement efforts (back in the 1960’s) it has many thousands of successful projects. If any of these really worked, military management would be efficient, and we wouldn’t be trying new variations of the same old themes.

    This is smoke and mirror management, 40 years of doing variations on the same few basic program concepts (cut waste, avoid errors, set and accomplish management goals). After these successful applications, we find that managers are still doing what they did before – and that is not improvement.

    The primary direction of a real improvement is based on realization that managers can’t change management by an add-on program. They are really going to have to change how they manage.
    Real improvement starts with management, with something to gain through the efforts of others – and management improvement can be measured as the cost of gaining performance through an organized effort. How much does it cost to gain performance through a military organization? The long-term cost has been going up, not down!


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