I often get the question when working with groups of managers or leaders about how important it is to treat everyone fairly in a work environment. The first question I ask is do you mean fair, or do you mean the same? These are two very different things.
Fairness is a subjective term and is based largely on perception of the individual. The first thing kids say when they aren’t getting what they want is “that’s not fair”. It may or may not be fair, it’s just different than what they want.
In the workplace we will rarely agree on what’s fair and in some ways trying to achieve it is a waste of time. The central component of fairness is that you receive what you want based on how well you do the things that help you achieve what you want. That’s not something we control. It’s more of a universal law that we observe through experience.
Many people though, believe fairness means everyone in the workplace receives the same things. In my experience, that is one of the least fair things possible. People show up with different talents, attitudes, skills, levels of effort, and contributions. If they all get the same thing, we’ve been unfair to everyone involved. Especially those who contribute less effort and engagement because we have sent a message to them that they can do less and get more in our business. That’s just not a fair thing to do.
Equality is completely different, and again, it often gets misconstrued as everyone getting the same thing. What equality means in the most successful businesses is that everyone has the same chance to succeed, the same opportunity to develop, the same great coaching, the same interest in their growth by the leaders of the business. It doesn’t mean that pay or perks or praise are the same across the board. That just ensures mediocrity.
Here’s some questions to think about as you consider fairness.
Is it fair to spend more time coaching your poor performers than you do your superstars?
Is it fair to reward people who contribute less to the success of the business the same as you reward those who contribute more?
Is it fair to the people working in your organization to allow your business to be less successful than it could?
Is it fair to allow someone to stay in a job where they are not happy, successful or achieving any growth or development?
Is it fair to allow people to be less than they are capable of in your business?
Success is fair and it leads to more opportunity for everyone involved in helping an organization achieve it. We have a responsibly as leaders to think about fairness a little differently than many people do and to build a business where things really are fair, even though some may want a little extra fairness thrown their way.