Does Fairness Matter?

Does Fairness Matter_13277958_XS - CHow many times have you heard someone say, “That’s not fair!”  Kids say it to parents to describe the size of their dessert.  Workers say it to describe their perception of the treatment they receive from a manager or company.  Indeed, fairness seems to be a universal feeling that people have regarding how they are treated by others.

People tend to see fairness from four perspectives.  The first is the outcome of events, relating usually to rewards or sanctions.  The second is equity–the fairness of what happened to one-person vis-à-vis as compared to what happened to another person.  The third category focuses on appropriateness.  Some people think a situation is unfair because they believe the circumstance or, especially, the roles taken by certain people were inappropriate.  And the fourth category deals with morals, ethics, or the failure to adhere to a code of behavior defining what is believed to be “right.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines fairness as the extent to which conditions are just, equitable, and impartial. Yet, in psychology, equity theory is not the same as justice, and there are quite a variety of theories and approaches to justice and fairness.  In addition, the entire issue of defining employee responsibility and establishing employee accountability also must be considered.

From research I conducted with Dr.  Marshall Sashkin in the1980s, we learned that the understanding people have of fairness in business actually includes ten dimensions.

1. Trust:  The confidence employees feel toward management; the degree to which employees believe management will do what it says.

2. Consistency:  The regularity, continuity, or predictability of management’s actions, such that employees are not surprised by unexpected management actions.

3. Truthfulness:  Fidelity and sincerity show though management’s actions that have demonstrated the validity of management’s statements.

4. Integrity:  Adherence of management actions to values, ethics, or an ethical code.

5. Expectations:  Provision of clear statements by management as to what task activities are desired of employees and what consequences will result.

6. Equity:  Demonstration though management’s actions that all employees are treated alike in terms of rewards and sanctions received for similar behaviors and results.

7. Influence:  Management’s provision to employees of authority that is equal to employees’ responsibility, such that employees feel ownership of their actions and achievements.

8. Justice: Adherence to a set of standards that is perceived as appropriate and is administered with impartiality.

9. Respect:  Expression by management–through its actions–of concern, consideration, and regard for employees.

10. Procedures:  Following in every case a publicly stated set of rules for making fair decisions, with all concerned parties taking an active role in applying those rules.

Do your employees complain of unfairness? Finally, where would you place your organization in these ten dimensions?

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About the Author

Richard Williams, Ph.D.

Dr. Richard L. Williams has been a business consultant for over 40 years and has conducted more than 5,000 workshops to more than 350,000 managers and executives. Rick’s interests include maximizing human performance, team building, leadership development, executive coaching, process improvement, and instrumentation research and design. Rick has experience in working with a wide range of industries globally.