Too Busy to Be Fair? The Effect of Managers’ Perceived Workload on Their Core Technical Performance and Justice Rule Adherence

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Sherf, Elad Netanel
Venkataramani, Vijaya
Despite the organizational benefits of treating employees fairly, both anecdotal and empirical evidence suggest that managers do not behave fairly towards their employees in a consistent manner. As treating employees fairly takes up personal resources such as time, effort, and attention, I argue that when managers face high workloads (i.e., high amounts of work and time pressure), they are unable to devote such personal resources to effectively meet both core technical task requirements and treat employees fairly. I propose that in general, managers tend to view their core technical task performance as more important than being fair in their dealings with employees; as a result, when faced with high workloads, they tend to prioritize the former at the expense of the latter. I also propose that managerial fairness will suffer more as a result of heightened workloads than will core technical task performance, unless managers perceive their organization to explicitly reward fair treatment of employees. I find support for my hypotheses across three studies: two experimental studies (with online participants and students respectively) and one field study of managers from a variety of organizations. I discuss the implications of studying fairness in the wider context of managers’ complex role in organizations to the fairness and managerial work demands literatures.