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Is it better to be fired by an individual or a committee?

There are two common ways by which an employee is dismissed: either by an individual (like the line manager) or by committee. This is putting aside the employers who eschew best practice and dismiss employees by text or email.

New psychological research has focused on how decisions are received by individuals and the extent that differences exist when the decision maker is a group rather than an individual. Focusing on dismissal, the researchers were keen to understand whether the fairness of the decision is perceived differently when it is made by a group rather than an individual.

The new research is a collaboration between the Bocconi Department of Management and Technology, Northwestern University and Cornell University.

The outcome of the study is that people are more likely to accept a decision made by a committee rather than by an individual because they think that groups are less likely to be influenced by biases. However, when it comes to fairness, people perceive groups as less fair than individuals, meaning that the firing process is better received on a one-to-one basis rather than at a panel hearing.

The research counteracts the theory (or widely held idea) of the “wisdom of the crowd”, at least in the context of employee relations. According to one of the lead researchers, Dr. Ekaterina Netchaeva: “”Perhaps when a decision is made by a group rather than an individual, the perception of the final decision could be less positive. So if the group makes the decision and the decision is negative, this adds more of the savor taste.”

The evidence for this was drawn from several research studies, focusing on individual reactions to individual and group decisions. This was run as simulation and supported by interviews with a group of recently laid-off workers. The interviewed workers in particular judged layoff decisions made by a group as unfair. Moreover, when the news about a decision is made by an individual those receiving the message tend to look less negatively upon the person delivering the message.

The research is published in the journal Organization Science, with the research paper titled “Not All Fairness Is Created Equal: Fairness Perceptions of Group vs. Individual Decision Makers.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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