How to Be Fair to Employees without Feeling Drained

Research that investigates perceptions of fairness and justice-related behavior has normally focused on recipients. We still know relatively little about how justice affects the actors, for example the cost of being consistently fair to employees for those in leadership roles. Acting justly has always been considered beneficial but it is important to realize that this may come at a price for some people.


The theory of ego depletion provided the framework for this study, and it states that acts of self-control and discipline require certain internal resources that inevitably run low. For example, studies found that following periods of self-control, subsequent attempts at such regulation were more likely to fail. This study explores the idea that certain interpersonal events at work can either drain resources or facilitate the renewal of these resources. The authors also wanted to know how this in-turn affects organizational citizenship behavior, meaning those behaviors where workers “go the extra mile.” 


The researchers focused on interpersonal justice and procedural justice, which are two different aspects of justice within organizations. Procedural justice involves the process of how fairness is carried out within an organization, and interpersonal justice is the enactment of fairness between people. Not surprisingly, the research indicated that justice behavior fluctuates daily in terms of consistency. Interpersonal justice variations are not surprising, as people are prone to bias, but differences were noted in procedural justice as well.

The researchers found that procedural justice is taxing, and it depletes self-control. This is because it requires greater effort to suppress favoritism and bias. This finding not only shed light on the resource depletion that may ensue, but also how this depletion can impact subsequent organization citizenship behavior. Employees who feel depleted may be less inclined to resist deviant behaviors or go the extra mile. Researchers found that resource-replenishing interpersonal justice behavior can counter this effect, specifically when employees were either introverted or neurotic. The authors say that these two types of people may have more to gain from the restorative power of getting along with others. 


This research is significant because it highlights the potential drain that those in leadership positions may experience when engaging in daily justice behavior. It also tells us who may be more likely to experience this drain. Organizations can provide opportunities for resource replenishment for those who are constantly enacting these behaviors. They can do this by expanding opportunities for personal care, such as getting enough sleep, or by supporting an environment that encourages positive interpersonal justice. This is in the best interest of organizations, as it facilitates the kind of behavior that benefits the organization. It is also in the best interest of employees, because it may help avoid burnout.


Johnson, R. E., Lanaj, K., & Barnes, C. M. (2014). The Good and Bad of Being Fair: Effects of Procedural and Interpersonal Justice Behaviors on Regulatory Resources. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(4), 635-650.