This video defines what fairness means in a business setting and its role in managing people.
- Have you ever heard that a peer at work received a raise a little higher than yours, or got an extra day off but you didn't? Or maybe your manager seems to have sided with your coworker on some issue you had, and you think he was being unfair. Of course, life isn't fair, but employers and their managers have to do what they can to help employees perceive it that way. Now, there's a lot of talk these days about employee engagement, and most will say employees are engaged when they feel acknowledged for good work, have what they need to do the job well, have good relationships, and trust their leaders.
But an underlying theme in all of that is the concept of fairness. Of course, if employees are going to have good relationships and trust their leaders, they have to perceive that everyone is being treated fairly. According to a whole lot of research on what we call organizational justice, employees must feel that resources are allocated fairly, that decisions are fair, and that the organization treats them fairly. These beliefs in fairness will motivate them to provide quality work.
Beyond that, employees who experience their workplace as fair are more likely to internalize the goals and values of the organization, develop bonds with others, and ultimately behave more ethically themselves. Interestingly enough, one study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, and Health, found that when people perceive the workplace as fair, they are healthier. That's because unfairness stresses us out, which is, of course, unhealthy.
Beyond that, employees who experience your organization as unfair engage in what we call counterproductive workplace behavior, or CWB. CWB happens when people try to make things more fair for themselves by harming your organization. If an employee is frustrated to learn that his coworker is making an extra 50 cents an hour, for example, he might steal office supplies to help him recover what he perceives as the 50 cents per hour that he's owed.
If an employee believes that she should have been the one to receive that customer service award, she might start slacking on her service to make things seem more fair in her mind. Lots of research has also found that the perception of unfairness leads to turnover and a climate of hostility. So fairness is about equity and respect, and the conversation on fairness at work seems to always focus on four areas: resources, procedures, information, and respect.
In other words, employees have to believe that resources are distributed fairly, that policies are fair, that they get the right information, and that they are respected. With this in mind, you already know that managers often run into situations where fairness comes into play. At one company I worked for, a customer service rep took way less calls than everyone else on the team. Of course, this felt unfair. She's getting paid the same and doing less work.
After some performance conversations that didn't seem to make a difference to the rep, the customer service manager decided to require a minimum number of calls for all reps. Not meeting the quota would result in discipline up to termination. Of course, the rep quickly picked up her call load, and all was fair once again. Long story short, managers are often met with little conundrums like this one, and must know how to maneuver them fairly and respectfully.
So let's jump in on how to do just that.
- Identify what it means to be fair at work.
- Define the types and principles of fairness.
- Analyze the laws and regulations governing fairness.
- Determine how to make fair decisions as a manager.