How Motives of Managers Influence Employees’ Judgments of Fairness

manager motives
Topic(s): fairness, organizational justice
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2022)
Article: It’s Not Only What You Do, But Why You Do It: How Managerial Motives Influence Employees’ Fairness Judgments
Authors: Cindy P. Muir (Zapata), Elad N. Sherf, Joseph T. Liu
Reviewed by: Shayla Bianchi

Employees often make determinations about whether workplace leaders are acting fairly – researchers refer to these as “fairness judgments.” It is also typical for employees to evaluate whether supervisors adhere to justice rules, such as distributing resources fairly, using unbiased procedures, or communicating respectfully. Researchers (Muir, Sherf, & Liu, 2022) were interested in learning more about how employees decide whether supervisors are fair.


Across several different studies, the researchers found that prosocially motivated supervisors (those motivated to benefit others) were more likely to adhere to justice rules. In turn, their employees gave them more favorable fairness judgements. Conversely, supervisors motivated by self-interest were less likely to adhere to justice rules, and their employees gave them less favorable fairness judgements. Employees were also able to accurately assess their supervisors’ prosocial and self-interest motives and they used that information when making fairness judgements. Interestingly, the relationship between prosocial motives and fairness judgments was even stronger when supervisor adherence to justice rules was low.


These results show that employees consider both the extent to which their supervisors adhere to justice rules, and also their motives for why they do so. Based on these findings, the researchers suggest that supervisors should emphasize their prosocial motives when they are unable to adhere to justice rules. However, they caution that employees may be able to pick up on supervisors’ actual motives over time. The researchers also recommend that organizational leaders highlight the employee-related benefits of justice (rather than the supervisor-related benefits) to avoid causing supervisors to act out of selfish interests, which could potentially lead them to act unjustly.


Muir (Zapata), C. P., Sherf, E. N., & Liu, J. T. (2022). It’s not only what you do, but why you do it: How managerial motives influence employees’ fairness judgments. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.