But- That’s not Fair!

Fair. In the management world it’s one of the key concepts you have to adhere to, to keep yourself out of trouble. Every employee needs to be treated fairly.

Now, this often brings up the opinion in employees’ minds that this standard of “fair” means that everyone must be treated equally. But for a good manager, we can quickly see the issue with that line of thinking. What they don’t understand is that in the world of employees, equal is actually often not fair at all!

For example, a salaried person may be required to work 10 hours on a given day and an hourly person may be requested to work 10 hours that same day. The hourly person gets overtime and the salaried person doesn’t. The hourly person effectively can increase their income and average hourly rate by working more hours, while the salaried person in fact has a decrease in their average hourly rate by working more hours. Without getting into details such as the salaried person is probably paid more in general so they still made more overall money, this is an easy example of where equal is not necessarily fair.

Should you treat your employees equally? In my mind, no. I believe that treating them equally is actually a disservice to them, and can actually be harmful to their success and job satisfaction.

I do have the same expectations of all of my employees, which I see as my execution of the concept of “fair”. I expect that they will do their best to get as much as of their job accurately and timely done each day as possible, according to generally accepted deadlines. I expect them to communicate issues, roadblocks, and problems when they arise. I expect them to prioritize according to the communicated goals or priorities of the department, or escalate to me if they are not able to or are getting conflicting or confusing messages as to priority. And I expect them to be pleasant and cooperative with others, providing excellent service.

Does having the same expectations of everyone mean I treat them equally? Not at all! To achieve these expectations perhaps they may wish to work different schedules to fit their personal lives. Perhaps some will need coaching or training. Some may need more hand holding or guidance than others. Some may need imposed check ins to get them out of their head and communicating, while others may need to be held at arm’s length and have scheduled times to communicate as they are fond of communicating non stop.

If I treated them all equally, perhaps expecting communication to be coming to me in the same manner no matter who the employee is, the non-communicator would never speak and the over communicator would never stop talking. The ones needing more guidance would either get none if I treated them the same as the one who needs no guidance, or vice versa the one who needs no guidance would feel micro managed if I treated them the same as the one who needs extra guidance. So this is an important thing to recognize in the people in your life that you manage. They all need something different to keep them happy and functioning at a high level. They need you to support them in the ways that THEY need support, not treat them the same across the board.

The same goes with praise- as one of my employees told me, some people don’t like public praise, it makes them uncomfortable. Then there are others that drink it up, it makes their world go round to get the loud pat on the back when others can see. So understanding what makes your employees feel valued is of utmost importance as well- and they might not be equal in that regard either.

So next time you have the difficult conversation with an employee about fairness meaning “equal-ness”, give them an example or two of why this is actually a bad thing for them, and maybe you will get to the real root of the issue and actually treat them as un-equally as they truly need.



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