Treating Direct Reports Fairly
Treating everyone the same isn't always fair because equal doesn't mean equitable. Ignoring the differences between people means ignoring the impact of your decisions. Fair treatment is equitable when the results of your decisions or behaviors impact employees in an equal manner. When your actions or decisions result in disparate impacts on different employees, the treatment is unfair.
To make sure treatment is equitable, you'll need to recognize and compensate for the fact that some employees have circumstantial disadvantages in comparison to coworkers. These concerns may need to be addressed so an equitable result is achieved.
Equitable treatment doesn't mean everyone needs to receive the same rewards. Superior performers may perceive equal rewards for work as unfair. Equity means that rewards should be equal to the contribution of individual employees in accordance with their abilities, and the opportunities they have been given to perform.
There are types of work situations where equal treatment can lead to unequal results. In fact, unless a job requirement is a business necessity, these types of exclusions are unfair, and may even be discriminatory.
To treat your direct reports equitably, you need to recognize the differences between them, give them a voice in how they're treated, and deal with them according to their individual needs, responsibilities, and capabilities. Recognizing differences in individual styles and behaviors does not mean lowering performance requirements or accepting lower levels of performance. Rather, it implies responsiveness, empathy, and reassurance.
Sometimes, employees may believe they're being treated unfairly because they're not being treated equally. This can result in a loss of respect for their managers, resentment toward their coworkers, and demotivation on the job. To avoid these issues, managers need to communicate the meaning and importance of an equitable approach to fairness.
When employees consider a managerial decision, there are two main aspects they use to determine whether it's fair. These aspects can be described using the concepts of distributive fairness and procedural fairness.
The concept of distributive fairness focuses on the criteria that employees use to judge whether they have received what they deserve – their fair share of the outcome. When employees are judging whether they've been treated fairly, they make an input-to-outcome assessment. If they've put in more effort than they've reaped rewards, or if the rewards are less than they expected, employees will feel unsatisfied. They may take steps to rectify the imbalance, such as reducing their work input, or withdrawing support for team initiatives.
While distributive fairness relates to how employees assess the fairness of outcomes, procedural fairness relates to how they assess the fairness of the decision process. Employees are far more likely to perceive a situation as fair if the decision procedure is neutral, participatory, and respectful. This is particularly important in situations that may not be positive for the employee, such as conflict management.
The benefits of fair treatment
When employees perceive that they are being treated fairly – when they feel listened to, when they understand the process of how and why important decisions are made, and when they believe they're respected – they respond in ways that benefit you as manager, as well as the organization as a whole. But when employees feel they've been treated unfairly, the effects can be negative.
A demotivated employee rarely starts out that way. Most new employees are energized when starting a new job – ready to go out and change the organization for the better. But over time, some employees begin to believe that working hard makes no difference. This demotivation is often precipitated by the perception that processes and decisions that affect them are unfair. When managers don't treat employees fairly, a highly motivated employee may eventually turn into one who stops caring about the job.
When employees feel fairly treated, it will increase their motivation, creativity, and productivity, which in turn will have these benefits for you as a manager:
- motivation – Motivated employees will help you reach your goals through increased productivity. Treating people fairly avoids stimulating negative emotions that demotivate them and lead to absenteeism, tardiness, and sabotage behaviors.
- creativity – When employees believe their contributions are being fairly judged and appreciated, it stimulates creativity and innovation. Open communication is an important part of this creative process. As a manager, showing respect and listening to your employees' ideas and opinions will encourage business improvement and product innovation.
- productivity – Being treated fairly increases employees' cooperation, self-esteem, and group affiliation. Fairness creates a cooperative environment and better quality working relationships because employees are more likely to cooperate with and assist colleagues or new employees when they're happy and content with their own position at work.
Being fair to employees is beneficial because it generates not only respect for you as a manager, but also a sense of loyalty to the organization as a whole. This contributes to a positive and healthy business culture. A pattern of unfair treatment will eventually lead to long-term damage such as increased turnover, a lack of innovation, and reduced profits.
To be a fair manager, you need to be equitable in your treatment of employees. This means recognizing the differences between them, giving them a voice in how they're treated, and dealing with them according to their individual needs, responsibilities, and capabilities. When employees feel fairly treated, it will increase their motivation, creativity, and cooperation, resulting in benefits to you such as increased productivity, a more positive business culture, and increased creativity.