Be Fair Anyway
I try to be fair. That is such a hard management skill. People are always jockeying for position. Everyone comes to the leader with an agenda. As leaders we want to be liked and popular, but that remains elusive if we are committed to fairness. When an employee steps out of line and they have been critical of our leadership we want to be arbitrary and capricious, but dang, if we are to be fair, we have to treat them the same way we did our golf buddy employee who did the exact same thing last week. That's hard. Our employees don't want to be treated fairly. It's not just our employees, none of us want to be treated fairly. I can prove it.....
You are driving home today and you are pulled over by the Highway Patrol for speeding. What do you want the officer to do? You want him to give you a warning and let you go. But, you want him to give a $100 ticket to every other speeder on the road who is endangering your life! That's not fair.
We all want to be treated differently to our advantage.
The sooner you realize that point, you will realize why you can never make all of your team members or employees happy. If you treat them unfairly, they are not happy, because other people are getting special treatment. If you treat them fairly, they are not happy, because they are not getting special treatment.
The only ethical way, as a leader that I can deal with this in my own mind is to treat everyone fairly. My job is not to treat people the way they want to be treated, but to treat them the way I would want to be treated. For me, I have decided that I would prefer to be treated fairly.
Figuring Out Fair Website
So, let me explore some fairness situations:
PRECEDENT: Precedent is when an act, case, or decision serves as a guide or justification for subsequent situations. As a general rule, when you decide to handle something in a particular way, to be fair, you would handle similar situations in the same way. To handle something differently could be construed as arbitrary (subject to individual will) or capricious (unreasonable).
Example: an employee is late for work. You pull the employee into your office and have a documented discussion about the impact on workflow and the impact on other employees. You advise that according to policies that 3 tardies constitutes an unexcused absence.
The next day another employee is late for work, but you know that this employee had been having car problems so you ignore the tardiness.
Fair or Unfair?
The above example is over simplified. Most employment issues are much more convoluted. But starting there, you can see how employees can see unfairness being applied in their workplace and begin to build resentment against the leader.
WHEN IT ALL GOES BAD: It is interesting to me that when I hear grievances from employees, how often I hear the equivalent of "It was all fun and games, until someone got hurt". Essentially, managers who fail to hold people equally accountable frequently end up with an unhappy employee grieving their disciplinary action to a higher authority claiming unfair treatment. "X employee did the same thing I did and they didn't get in trouble." It takes an incredible amount of time to chase all those rabbits down and figure out whether or not there is unequal treatment being applied in the workplace. Managers have to remember that what is permitted is promoted.
When I teach a course on management principles I use a lot of case studies. When you look at a case on accusations of sexual harassment or hostile work environment, the ones that are not bona fide cases of poor management can be traced back at times to employees who were scorned because they felt treated unfairly for one reason or another.
Leadership is not a popularity contest. You have to have an internal guide to assist you determining the best course of action. Fairness is a great tool to have at your disposal.