Acquiring vs. Conserving Resources: Examining the Effects of Distributive Justice on Emotional Exhaustion in Academia



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Approximately 25% of the general working population in the United States suffers from high rates of emotional exhaustion (Shanafelt et al., 2015). The primary component of workplace burnout, emotional exhaustion is very costly among employees and their employers (Cropanzano et al., 2003; Lee & Ashforth, 1996). Distributive justice predicts emotional exhaustion in employees working outside of academia; however, the relationship has not been thoroughly examined within faculty populations (Cole et al., 2010; Frenkel et al., 2012; Howard & Cordes, 2010; Tepper, 2000; Ferron, 2013; Sun, 2002). Furthermore, new evidence comparing the resource conservation against resource acquisition sides of the conservation of resources (COR) theory suggest that there are competing individual differences that influence the degree to which an individual responds to stressors in the environment, such as low levels of distributive justice (Halbesleben, Neveu, Paustian-Underdahl, & Westman 2014; Hobfoll, 1989). With the current study, I tested the effectiveness of the competing sides of COR as well as how voice and conscientiousness interact as boundary conditions for the relationship between distributive justice and emotional exhaustion. Results from analyses of data collected from 219 tenured and tenure-track faculty revealed that neither voice nor conscientiousness independently moderated the relationship. The interaction of combined voice and conscientiousness as moderators approached significance. Following the resource acquisition side of COR, the effects tended to be stronger among individuals high in voice and low in conscientiousness and weaker among individuals high in voice and high in conscientiousness. Following the resource conservationist side of COR, the relationship tended to be weaker among individuals low in voice and high in conscientiousness. When comparing simple slopes, there were no significant differences, and I offer guidance for future studies that aim to test these competing sides of COR in a similar manner. These findings potentially expand the understanding of COR theory and inform practitioners on strategies they may use to help shield employees from emotional exhaustion.



Emotional exhaustion, Personality, Voice Behavior, Conservation of resources, Resource Acquisition, Three-way Interaction, Resource Conservation