When the department manager left the company, Bill was confident that he would move into that position based on his experience and work record. But before he even realized the process had begun, management announced an appointment from outside the department. For Bill, this experience was a turning point towards his development of severe burnout.
Injustice is exhausting in three ways:
First, the content of an unfair decision creates burdens. Within workplaces, unfairness often translates into someone addressing an outsized level of demands or having access to an undersized share of resources. Relative to fellow employees or to reasonable standards, recipients of injustice have a poorer balance of demands to resources. That imbalance drives exhaustion.
Second, injustices provokes negative emotions that in themselves are exhausting. Anxiety, anger, and resentment make energy demands. Experiencing these emotions has an intensity. They also absorb cognitive capacity. Ruminating over injustice takes the place of more creative forward thinking.
Third, injustice exiles a person from a community. Unjust treatment conveys the message that one is not a full member of a workplace community, entitled to its respect and privileges. Banishment, even on this implicit level, is draining. People have a strong need for belonging. Thwarting that need presents huge problems.
The Main Point
Keeping employees energized and engaged requires a close attention to organizational justice:
• Assuring effective and open procedures for major decisions,
• Assuring that people apply wise judgement to these decisions, and
• Assuring people are treated with consideration and respect throughout the process.
Here’s the relationship of employees’ rating of fairness and their feelings of exhaustion one year later: