Are Managers Too Busy to Be Fair? Probably, a Florida International University Study Reveals

MIAMI–(BUSINESS WIRE)–lt;a href=”” target=”_blank”gt;#FIUBusinesslt;/agt;–Employees often complain that managers don’t treat them fairly, meet
with them, listen to their concerns, or update them about decisions. New
research from Florida
International University’s College of Business
(FIU Business) finds
that “unfairness” may be less about bosses being biased and more about
them lacking time to juggle multiple competing priorities.

“Sometimes they’re just too busy,” said Ravi
, assistant professor of global
leadership and management
at FIU Business. “When managers are forced
to work under time pressure and have to deal with multiple projects and
deliverables, they may often lose their focus on treating employees

The research, published in the current issue of the Academy
of Management Journal
, examined data from three studies:

  • Twice-daily email surveys over 10 workdays among 107 U.S.-based
    managers in the healthcare, media, transportation, finance, retail,
    and education sectors.
  • A survey among 166 managers, each with two employees, in a variety of
    industries in India. Over the course of three months, managers
    answered questions about workload and how their organizations rewarded
    fairness; employees responded about how fairly they were treated.
  • A one-hour experiment among 239 undergraduate students enrolled in an
    introductory management class at a U.S. public university. Students
    were made managers and given two tasks – preparing for a client
    presentation and updating an employee about a situation.

Managers can take the lead in prioritizing fairness by changing up their
management routine. Set a daily or weekly schedule to check with
employees, equipment, or on the status of ongoing work, the research
noted. Establish regular meetings with employees or team meetings where
the focus is on explaining managerial as well as corporate decisions.

However, managers aren’t the only ones responsible when employees feel
they are being treated unfairly.

“Companies can encourage bosses to balance technical tasks and fair
treatment by rewarding and celebrating managers who act fairly,”
Gajendran said. “Doing so clearly signals that fair treatment and
engaging with employees are core leadership tasks.”

The studies conducted as part of the research paper revealed that
managers prioritizing their actual work responsibilities harmed fairness
and also didn’t improve the business’ performance.

“Organizations that reward fairness may see a win-win: busy leaders can
act fairly without compromising their performance on core work tasks,”
Gajendran added.

The paper was co-authored by Gajendran with Elad Sherf, manager of the
Center for Behavioral Research at New York University, and Vijaya
Venkataramani, associate professor of management and organization at
University of Maryland.


Cynthia Corzo

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