Mental State And Employee Perception of Fairness

mental state

Employers and leaders like to think that they treat their employees fairly and with respect. But what if no matter what you do, your employees think they are being treated unfairly? A recent study found that when an employee dislikes their role and was experiencing role conflict that affected their mental state. Their perceptions of fair leadership were at an all-time low.

In other words, when they disliked what they were doing each day and this started to impact on their mental state, they had a gloomy outlook. Their negative attitude led them to report less favourable work conditions and unfair treatment. The study was conducted in Norway across a sample of 6,790 employees in mostly full-time employment over a two-year period.

For this article, we take a look at the findings of this study and several other research studies that investigate organisational justice, the supervisor’s role and employee mental state.

What is Organisational Justice?

Organisational justice can be divided into three categories:

  • Distributive justice – this is the perception of fairness around decisions and resources;
  • Procedural justice – this is the perception of fairness regarding the processes leading to decisions; and
  • Relational justice – this is the dignity and respect with which an employee is provided timely, honest and accurate information about personally relevant issues.

The Important Role of Supervisors

Supervisors are critical employees and play an important role in the organisation on a number of fronts. In the context or organisational justice, the role of the immediate supervisor is particularly important with regard to creating an experience of justice among employees. It is the supervisor that employees turn to in order to get a fair hearing. Supervisors are viewed as sources of justice. This is especially important under conditions where employees have low control over decisions that affect them. In terms of justice and fairness, it is expected that the supervisor will distribute work fairly and treat employees fairly and equally.

It is this level of perceived fairness by the supervisor that influences the working conditions of employees. When managed badly, it can lead to role conflict. The primary source of role-related expectations from employees is typically the immediate supervisor. Clear expectations and goals and the mechanisms to achieve these goals, helps employees to understand their role requirements. With the supervisor as a role model, employees can model their behaviour and take responsibility for their own actions and development. Good leadership reduces role stress, because employees have the information they need to conduct their work tasks. They also have the support to develop any additional skills to perform these tasks.

Supervisors who promote fair treatment should reduce role ambiguity and role conflict. They can do this by role-modelling fairness in procedures and the distribution of resources. These actions should contribute to reducing uncertainty regarding expectations and behaviours for a given role among employees. It should also help increase role clarity and reduce role conflict.  Employees will have the information required to conduct their work tasks. Employees who experience fair leadership are less likely to experience role conflict and role ambiguity.

See our post on the importance of supervisors in your workplace safety efforts to get tips on how to support them better.

Employees’ Perception of Fairness

Supervisors are influential leaders in any workplace. They generally set the standards and pace of work completion. It has generally been thought that this is a one-way transaction. What the supervisor says and does filters down to the workgroup. However, in a transformational leadership environment, it becomes a two-way process. Where both leaders and followers are being transformed by each other. In this case, employees can also influence the behaviour and practices of their supervisor.

Taking this one step further, employees are not merely passive recipients of leadership. They may also develop individual perceptions of the leadership ability of their supervisor.  These perceptions may be influenced by whether the employee experiences their working conditions as positive or negative. Unhappiness in their role, may determine whether employees perceive their supervisor in a favourable or unfavourable light. For example, an employee who experiences high levels of role conflict may blame their supervisor. They may label them as unfair with regard to how the employee is treated.

My job role has not been thoroughly clarified by my supervisor.

My supervisor often gives me conflicting work tasks.

The Influence of Employee Mental State

When an employee looks at their workplace from a gloomy perspective, they are likely to see their environment more negatively. They are likely to report less favourable work conditions.  Happy employees who are in a healthier mindset, colour their perceptions of work conditions in a rosier and more positive light. These employees have been shown to have more energy to work faster. This energy can lead them to re-interpret their job demands as less demanding across time. Research in positive psychology has shown that psychological health in the form of optimism is a fundamental contributor to employee perceptions of their work and conditions. Happy and healthy employees are more positive and more productive. They predominantly think that they are being treated fairly and justly.

It is therefore important to ensure that employees are happy in the work that they do. When an employee’s mental state is poor because they dislike their role, their perception of fair leadership is affected. Even if their supervisor is acting fairly and perceived as acting fairly by others, this employee will continue to report poor working conditions and unjust treatment.

See our post on the 3 Steps towards a Mentally Healthy Workplace.

How Can Tap into Safety Help?

The Tap into Safety Mental Health Literacy Training increases mental health literacy on workplace stressors to teach effective coping strategies. The e-learning solution can be used online, tablets, mobile phones and in the classroom.

Tackling mental health decline to grow a mentally healthy workplace is not solved in a one-sized fits all approach. Organisations need to offer a variety of solutions and activities to encourage people who need help, to reach out and do so as early as possible. If you would like to know more about our Mental Health Literacy courses contact us and try a FREE online demo today.

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