The concept of “Fairness” becomes a pretty subjective debate, especially in organizations where something that may seem perfectly reasonable and fair to one person or group may not appear so to another. It also seems to depend significantly on an individual’s own sense of integrity and objectivity, which may vary across people. Therefore, this simple concept becomes one that is quite hard to define.
“To be or not to be”, the famous Shakespearean adage from his play Hamlet, reminds us of the protagonist lamenting the unfairness of life and at the same time acknowledging that the alternative might be still worse. People experiencing the daily workings of modern-day corporate world have a similar dilemma! Drawing a similarity with Hamlet’s predicament; the question is about picking one resolution that is the better one for all parties concerned – any single alternative may leave at least one party to the issue worse off. We also realize eventually that though being fair may be a tough call to make all the time, the alternative spells greater disasters over the longer run as the one party that is left worse off is bound to feel unfairly treated.
The perception of “fairness” may vary for people according to the situation they are in. Especially in an organizational context, what may seem perfectly reasonable and fair to one person or group may not appear so to another. Having said that, the basic tenet of “being fair” has a huge dependency on an individual’s sense of integrity and objectivity. People perceive that they are being treated fairly when they have a faith in the other party’s sense of integrity. Such faith can only be built up by diligent and consistent practice of the principles of integrity, honesty, authenticity and exercising values such as respect for others (regardless of the different levels at which different people are across the organization). And having built up such faith in others around, each of us needs to ensure we continue to practice these principles and values to sustain the same.
Being fair simply means ensuring that decisions are free from discrimination, bias, dishonesty and motives for gain. It may seem daunting; but take a closer look, and it’s not really an impossible task. Nonetheless, it does require one to stand their ground, and base decisions on facts. It involves honest levels of communications and above all, patience to wait for the results. In my experience, it is an investment that yields the maximum returns over time. These returns include a happier workforce, greater integrity, and an organization or team with who people want to work!
As professionals and as teams, it works in our favor to continually keep a tab on our “fairness edge”. When an organization operates fairly, the employees spend less time worrying about whether or not they are getting their fair share. They spend less time looking for another job. Therefore, they spend more time working happily, and getting more done.
When we treat others fairly, it is noticed and respected. People who we treat fairly will respond in kind, and will extend greater cooperation. For instance, a manager who makes equitable decisions and is able to justify his or her stand clearly to anyone who isn’t in agreement, and makes them see reason, gains higher respect instantly. While this may not always be possible in absolute clarity, a manager who has won the faith of the individual impacted is in a much better position to have that individual understand the balanced view. This requires communication of the overall situation with honesty and openness. This also calls for respect and compassion for one’s colleagues, and considering someone else’s situation and doing what is right. Going forward, this manager’s team believes that they will not be treated unfairly, thus leaving little scope for disillusionment in their everyday work-life. They are now more involved, accomplished and successful.
A constant focus on transparency and frequent communication can reduce employee concerns and help improve productivity. When we follow the rules and apply them equally to everyone, we are being fair. We also need to apply them to ourselves as well!
Being fair and honest with employees – peers / people, who report to us, implies telling them why things are done the way they are. When we are honest with the people around us, we are essentially treating them equally. This is possible if we are able to practice integrity, and feel empowered in our roles.
The underlined fact is, when we are fair, we treat others as we wish to be treated by them. Being fair all the time to everyone demands a lot of thought, planning, and time of your day. And I reiterate that it's worth the effort. The responsibility lies with each and everyone in the organization. It is really about taking pride in what we do, by committing to our share of responsibilities, delivering to the best of our ability, and giving others their due. The rewards of these practices will be realized in teams that will be extremely supportive of the leader, as well as in creating an environment where such practice is contagious – meaning a happy team which is the best kind of teams to work in.
I leave you with this thought – “People have long memories. They’ll remember whether they think they were dealt with equitably.” - William Conaty