Career advice

Study highlights link between unfairness and staff sickness

Work dissatisfaction can affect health, recruitment and retention

Recent research reveals that work dissatisfaction can affect health, recruitment and retention

No one wants to feel they are unfairly treated at work – whether it is a suspicion that other people are promoted above them without reason, that they get more than their fair share of unpopular shifts, their views are not listened to or they receive no explanation about why things are happening.

Picture: Alamy

There is growing evidence that this is not just galling, but bad for your health – or at least for how healthy you view yourself. This could have implications for NHS recruitment and staff retention, as well as for approaches to sickness absence.

The latest research comes from Sweden and was conducted by University of East Anglia lecturer in organisational behaviour Constanze Eib and researchers from Stockholm University. It found that perceptions of ‘procedural justice’ – processes in place to determine rewards, pay, promotion and assignments – are related to employees’ health. When these perceptions changed, so did how they rated their health.

Dr Eib said the findings could raise awareness of the importance of fairness at work and how that plays into satisfaction, wellbeing and productivity in the workplace and wider society.

Equal chance

‘People who feel fairly treated are not only more likely to be motivated at work and go the extra mile for their organisation, but they are also more likely to be healthy, have an active lifestyle and be positive,’ Dr Eib says.

In terms of nursing, this may tie in with how rotas are drawn up. Are they imposed or are they agreed with staff? Do staff get an equal chance to choose popular shifts?

Dr Eib suggests employers may want to look at procedures to see how decisions are made and communicated. Fairness extends to feeling you are treated with respect and that extra commitment is recognised and rewarded.

Ironically, this is one area where the cap on agency rates may help staff satisfaction. It can seem unfair if agency colleagues earn more than other staff. Having agency staff earning closer to normal rates could boost the ‘fairness feeling’.

There is also a link with sickness absence. ‘If people feel fairly treated they have fewer days off sick,’ Dr Eib says. ‘If you have more days off sick you are more likely to believe an organisation is unfair.’ She suggests that those who feel unfairly treated are likely to dwell on it and this, in itself, may be bad for their health.

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