What Does it Mean to Be Fair in the Workplace?

In the workplace, fairness is an essential concept that has a significant impact on employee engagement, trust, and overall productivity. As an employer or manager, you must do everything you can to ensure that your employees perceive the workplace as fair. But what does it mean to be fair in the workplace, and how can you achieve it?

In this section, we’ll explore the concept of fairness in the workplace and how to ensure that everyone feels treated fairly.

Why is Fairness Important in the Workplace?

Research shows that fairness is a critical factor in employee engagement and motivation. When employees feel that they are being treated fairly, they are more likely to be engaged, productive, and committed to the organization’s goals and values. Fairness also leads to healthier employees since unfairness can lead to stress and anxiety. On the other hand, when employees perceive the workplace as unfair, they may engage in counterproductive workplace behavior, leading to a hostile work environment, high turnover, and decreased productivity.

What is Organizational Justice?

Organizational justice is a concept that refers to how employees perceive the fairness of the workplace. According to research on 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.

There are four main areas of focus when it comes to fairness in the workplace: resources, procedures, information, and respect. Employees need to believe that resources are distributed fairly, that policies are fair, that they get the right information, and that they are respected.

How to Ensure Fairness in the Workplace

As a manager or employer, there are several steps you can take to ensure that your workplace is perceived as fair.

1. Communicate Clearly

One of the most important things you can do is to communicate clearly with your employees. Make sure they understand your expectations, policies, and procedures. Provide regular feedback and be transparent about decisions that may affect them. Clear communication helps employees feel that they have the right information and are being treated fairly.

2. Be Consistent

Consistency is critical when it comes to fairness. Employees must feel that everyone is being treated the same way. Avoid playing favorites or making exceptions for certain employees. Instead, create and apply policies that apply equally to all employees.

3. Provide Opportunities for Feedback

Allowing your employees to provide feedback is essential. Give them opportunities to express their concerns or suggestions for improving the workplace. When employees feel heard and that their opinions matter, they are more likely to perceive the workplace as fair.

4. Be Open to Change

As a manager or employer, you must be open to change. If an employee raises a concern about fairness, take it seriously and be willing to make changes if necessary. By being open to change, you demonstrate that you value fairness and are committed to ensuring that everyone is being treated fairly.

5. Address Issues Promptly

When issues arise that may impact the perception of fairness in the workplace, address them promptly. Don’t ignore complaints or concerns. Instead, investigate the issue and take appropriate action. By addressing issues quickly, you demonstrate that you take fairness seriously and are committed to ensuring that everyone is treated fairly.

Why People Perceive Things as Fair or Unfair

Have you ever felt that something at work is unfair? Maybe you feel like you’re doing all the work, but someone else is getting all the credit. Or perhaps you feel like you’re not getting paid as much as you deserve. These feelings of unfairness are not uncommon in the workplace, and they are often shaped by our perceptions of fairness.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the theories related to fairness at work, including equity theory, social comparison theory, tall poppy syndrome, and implicit bias. By understanding these theories, we can gain insight into why people perceive things as fair or unfair and how we can promote fairness in the workplace.

Equity Theory

Equity theory is probably the most common theory related to fairness at work. According to this theory, we value fairness and are motivated to keep things fair as best we can. We measure equity or fairness by comparing the ratio of our contributions or costs to our benefits. If the benefits are equal to or outweigh the costs, then we’ll agree something’s fair. If the costs outweigh the benefits, then we’ll complain that things are unfair.

Let’s say you and a team are working on a project. Subconsciously, you and your team members will constantly be thinking about whether your costs, in this case time and effort, are worth the benefits. If you believe you’ll get something you value in exchange for the cost of time and effort, such as acknowledgement, a raise, or even just learning something new, you’ll work hard. You think the trade-off is fair.

But what if you don’t want these things?

Then according to equity theory, you’ll try to make things more fair for yourself by not working as hard. You’ll put in the work you think is equal to the benefit you’re being offered.

What if one team member is doing a lot less work?

Their lack of work means more work and more time for you, so now the cost of benefits is higher. If the benefits still outweigh the costs despite this extra work, then you’ll keep working hard. But the minute the scale tips and your input is greater than your perceived benefits, you’ll stop working as hard because the cost has become too great. It’s become unfair.

Social Comparison Theory

Another theory related to fairness at work is social comparison theory. We engage in upward comparisons and downward comparisons. We compare ourselves to those we perceive to be better than us and less than us, and we use the information gained from these comparisons to help us determine our self-worth.

We look at a variety of things, from attractiveness to wealth, to intelligence, to success, and more. You might perceive yourself to be better than a coworker because you think you’re smarter or better at your job, or you work harder. If this person gets a bigger raise than you or gets promoted or gets assigned some big project you wanted, then you’ll perceive that to be unfair.

On the other hand, if you perceive your coworker to be better than you, maybe they’ve been there longer or are better at certain things, or you think they’re smarter than you, then that promotion or raise or project seems fair to you.

Also, whether you like someone or not plays into your perception of fairness. If you really like someone, or maybe you’re even good friends with them, then all their achievements seem fair. If you don’t like someone, then their achievements may seem unfair.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Tall poppy syndrome comes into play when we resent and attack people who are doing well. Think about all those famous people who make one small mistake, and the news is plastered with insults and excitement at all their shortcomings and failures.

The phenomenon of tall poppy syndrome also plays a role in how we perceive fairness. This is the idea that we resent and attack people who are doing well. When we see someone who seems to do no wrong in the eyes of the CEO get yet another acknowledgement, we may feel frustrated and perceive it as unfair.

The Importance of Fairness in the Workplace

Fairness in the workplace is crucial for employee engagement, job satisfaction, and overall success of the organization. As a manager, it’s important to ensure that resources are allocated fairly, decisions are made justly, and employees feel respected. In this case study, we’ll explore how one customer service manager tackled a fairness issue in their workplace and the lessons we can learn from their experience.

The Fairness Conundrum

At a company where I worked, a customer service representative was receiving a lower call load compared to their colleagues. This created a sense of unfairness among the team as the representative was being paid the same as everyone else but doing less work. Despite performance conversations, the representative continued to receive fewer calls.

The customer service manager recognized the issue and realized that they needed to address it in a fair and respectful manner. They decided to require a minimum number of calls for all representatives, with disciplinary action up to termination for those who didn’t meet the quota.

Lessons Learned

From this case study, we can learn several lessons about fairness in the workplace and how to handle conundrums in a just and respectful manner:

  1. Fairness is essential for employee engagement and success. Research has shown that employees who perceive their workplace as fair are more engaged, more likely to internalize organizational goals and values, and ultimately behave more ethically.
  2. Unfairness can lead to counterproductive workplace behavior. When employees feel they are being treated unfairly, they may engage in actions that harm the organization, such as stealing office supplies or slacking on work.
  3. Fairness is about equity and respect. To ensure fairness, employees must feel that resources are allocated fairly, policies are just, they receive the right information, and they are respected.
  4. Managers must know how to maneuver fairness conundrums. When faced with issues of unfairness, it’s essential for managers to address them in a fair and respectful manner. This may involve setting clear expectations, providing additional resources, or re-evaluating policies.
  5. Communicate expectations clearly. In this case study, the customer service manager clearly communicated their expectations by requiring a minimum number of calls for all representatives. This allowed everyone to know what was expected of them and created a sense of fairness.

Tips for Maintaining Fairness in the Workplace

To maintain fairness in the workplace, consider implementing these tips:

  1. Provide clear job descriptions and expectations. Employees need to know what is expected of them and how their performance will be evaluated. Provide clear job descriptions and regular feedback to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  2. Be consistent in your decision-making. When faced with difficult decisions, ensure that you are making choices based on objective criteria and not personal biases.
  3. Create a culture of transparency. Provide regular updates and information to employees about company policies, decisions, and resources.
  4. Listen to employee feedback. Encourage feedback from employees and take their concerns seriously. Address any issues that are raised in a timely and respectful manner.
  5. Treat all employees with respect. Ensure that all employees are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their position or job title.

In conclusion, fairness in the workplace is essential for employee engagement, job satisfaction, and organizational success. Managers must be aware of fairness conundrums and know how to handle them in a just and respectful manner. By implementing these tips, you can create a workplace culture that is fair, respectful, and ultimately more successful.

Go to the Second chapter: Manager’s Role in Showing Fairness