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CEO at StoneAge | Keynote Speaker | Thought Leader | Advisor | Author | Podcast Host | YPO Member.
The word fair can be triggering. Every time my nine-year-old uses this term to describe some injustice done he has suffered, I bristle. I believe too many people carry the idea that life isn’t fair whenever something doesn’t go their way into adulthood. But this view of fairness is misguided. Fairness is not about getting your way just because someone else got theirs.
Fairness is about meeting everyone where they are and considering their unique situations when making decisions. Fairness is about allowing everyone to grow and develop not in a cookie-cutter way, but one customized to their goals and talents.
Fairness is about sharing information with everyone on your team, not just a select few. It is about acknowledging everyone’s contributions, not just the rock stars on your team.
An organization’s creation of a fair workplace can be vital to their talent retention. In one study by Gardner Inc., 82% of the employees felt like their workplace lacked fairness. The same survey found employees who believe they work in a fair workplace perform at a level that is 26% higher than those who don’t—and they are 27% less likely to quit.
According to research on factors driving the Great Resignation, 6% of respondents cited unfair compensation in particular as their top reason for quitting, with no sense of appreciation for one’s work from the organization cited as the leading cause at 25%.
Creating a fair workplace has never been more important. The pandemic turned the way we work upside down, and hybrid workplaces are here to stay. While many benefits have arisen from the global “work from home” experiment, one area negatively affected has been an organization’s ability to maintain fairness. How do you ensure leadership hears all voices and spends time with everyone on their team regardless of proximity in the command chain or location? How can you promote an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual respect when everyone has different working conditions?
Though we work hard to create a fair work environment at my own company, our efforts are sometimes overshadowed by the emergence of an “us versus them” mentality.
“We have to work on-site; they get to work from home,” some will think.
Or: “Those who work on-site get more attention and recognition from management. Management overlooks us because we aren’t there.”
And I understand our employees’ concerns: There are real issues contributing to divisions, and they aren’t always easy to address. I haven’t figured it all out yet, but at least we continue to move the needle. Here are five strategies organizations can use to create a fairer workplace.
1. Communicate with your team.
Make sure you communicate frequently and share as much information as possible with everyone on your team. People feel mistreated and overlooked when others are in the know and they are not. Be as transparent as you can and create communication channels that effectively share information with all team members.
2. Talk about workplace situations and hear people out.
In a hybrid workplace, not everyone will be able to work from home or work from the office. Even though you can’t replicate the same work environment for everyone, it doesn’t mean you can’t listen and find creative solutions that feel fairer to everyone.
At my company, we have employees who must be on-site to do their jobs who reported that they felt they didn’t have as much flexibility as their work-from-home peers. Instead of chalking it up to job requirements, we surveyed our on-site employees and developed a customized plan that allowed our employees options to work from home a few days a month, on a four-day workweek schedule and with flexible start times.
3. Hold yourself and others accountable.
It’s upsetting when your employees see some teammates being held accountable and others not. It’s even worse when their leaders don’t follow the same rules. To create a fair workplace, everyone must pull their weight, adhere to company policy and perform as part of the larger team, including and especially leaders. When someone falls short, you must hold them accountable and help them get back on track. Otherwise, teamwork will break down and morale will decline.
4. Acknowledge everyone’s contributions.
The fastest way to create a fair workplace is to regularly acknowledge your employees’ contributions and make sure that everyone on your team is recognized, not just those working on-site or those with whom you have a better relationship.
I go about this in several ways. First, I highlight a job well done in my weekly meetings with each of my direct reports. I also acknowledge the efforts of individuals and the team in my weekly team meetings, so the whole team witnesses the acknowledgments. During interactions with employees who don’t report to me, I highlight something I heard about their performance. Finally, I make sure that I thank every team publicly during monthly meetings throughout the year.
5. Be transparent when decisions aren’t uniform.
Not all decisions are made uniformly. As leaders, we need to analyze what’s going on and decide based on the unique aspects of the situation. Leaders go wrong when they aren’t transparent about the decision-making process. In the absence of information, people fill in the gaps and tell themselves stories about the decision, which may or may not be true.
Be as open as you can about your decisions. People may disagree with you, but at least they know that everyone is getting a fair shake. We did this during Covid-19, handling every exposure case uniquely based on the situation. When we surveyed our employees, 95% thought we handled these personal issues fairly, even though they were not uniform, and even though not everyone agreed with our protocol.
Every workplace is unique, and you’ll have to find what works for your team or company. Some things will work, and others won’t. It’s worth figuring out because fairness in the workplace creates psychological safety and promotes engagement and happiness—all things worthy of pursuit.
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