Magazine article Industrial Management

Focus on Fairness

Magazine article Industrial Management

Focus on Fairness

Article excerpt

Every culture understands the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Buddhism says, "Hurt not others that you yourself would find hurtful." Confucianism emphasizes, "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you." Judaism stresses, "That which is hateful unto you, do not impose on others." Christianity says, "As you wish men would do to you, do so to them." Finally, Islam admonishes, "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brothers that which he desires for himself."

However and whoever says it, it all comes down to the simple fact that we all know when we have had our sense of fairness violated.

This little rule, often overlooked, has universal impact. One study after another demonstrates that fairness in procedures, interpersonal treatment and outcomes is a critical factor influencing a wide range of employee attitudes like job satisfaction and organizational commitment. So how do you create a culture of greater fairness within an organization?

A sense of fairness affects motivation

Make no mistake about it, whether the subject is pay or something else, fairness matters. If we do not think we are being treated fairly, anything goes.

Research shows that workplaces rated as having "low justice" - places where supervisors did not solicit workers' viewpoints or had poorly designed performance reviews - had a 41 percent higher risk of absence due to illness for men. Work environments with higher incomes are more affected by workplace injustice than those with lower incomes.

One study after another demonstrates that fairness in procedures, in interpersonal treatment, and in outcomes is a critical factor influencing a wide range of employee attitudes like job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

The more uncertain the situation, the more important it is to be fair. Fairness is important in determining how employees react to layoffs. Fairness is important in determining whether employees accept assigned tasks and goals. It is also important in determining whether employees voluntarily comply with a supervisor's instructions. Fairness is essential to determining how satisfied employees are and how committed they are to the organization. When employees feel, "They owe me," or "I'll pay them back," then managers had better watch out.

Of course, definitions of what is fair may differ, but we all have an innate need for fairness. We all are aware of how others treat us. We weigh what we give versus what we get out of every situation and relationship. Equity theory says we weigh these to determine what we will do.

If we judge the relationship as fair, we maintain our motivation. If we see the relationship as unfair, we become dissatisfied and lose our motivation. Research shows we can develop some rather nasty dysfunctional behaviors, including corruption, pilferage, bribery and reduced job performance.

Studies show that fair treatment breeds "helpful citizenship behaviors" that go beyond the call of duty. Other studies point out that a high degree of employee theftoften occurs when pay reduction occurs without explanation. Unfairness at work in terms of promotion, pay raises, work assignments and keeping promises to workers has been shown to create low motivation.

Perceptions of fairness

Smart moms understand how to be fair, with "I cut, you choose" being an example. When children fight over the last piece of cake, mom makes one child cut, while the other chooses. It is effective, efficient and fair.

Fairness is possible not only in dividing a piece of cake, but also in divvying up budgets and other resources among multiple parties. It is all about perception. Managers are more likely to be able to lead when their co-workers and subordinates perceive you as fair. We expect our leaders to affirm our distinctive identity through their behavior.

So how do you create an image of fairness? …

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