The Employee Engagement Blog

The Employee Engagement Blog

Why Employees Don’t Want to Be Treated Equally: They Want to Be Treated Fairly

Posted by Stephen Spiegel on Apr 18, 2018 9:00:00 AM
Why Employees Don’t Want to Be Treated Equally: They Want to Be Treated Fairly


Shift the focus from equality to fairness in the workplace.

 We hear a lot about equality in the workplace. Equal treatment, equal pay, equal opportunities for advancement. While all these things are important, and something employees look for and appreciate in a company, they may want something else even more. Fairness.

“That’s not fair!”

It’s a common childhood complaint. No doubt you’ve heard it before. In most cases, the complaint is dismissed, with the old, “Life’s not fair” rebuttal. However, the desire for fairness in the workplace cannot be shoved under the rug so easily. In fact, treating employees fairly might be one of the most important things any manager or owner can do to create a positive work environment.

Why fairness is such a big deal

Most of us have probably had a manager who played favorites in the office. Examples include the “star” employee who always gets the best assignments and all the credit, that one employee who gets away with everything or managers who have a different set of rules for some employees versus others.

The problem is that playing favorites causes dissension among employees, invites poor morale, and makes it harder to keep or attract good talent. When you treat employees fairly, the focus in the office will shift away from grievances to how everyone can work together to achieve goals.

According to The Balance, “When you treat others fairly two things happen. Your employees notice and respect you for it. Your reputation for fair play reinforces their belief in you. Second, the people who you treat fairly will respond in kind. You are teaching through your actions and modeling the behavior of ‘fairness’ in the workplace.”

Some keys to remember in fair play:

  • Never play favorites
  • Make the rules clear and apply them equally (and fairly) across the board
  • Make changes if you see an individual or group is being treated unfairly
  • Think about how rules affect everyone
  • Be up front about the reasons for your policies and rules

Why the “Golden Rule” might not work at work

The golden rule is another one of those life lessons we all learned as children. “Treat others as you want to be treated.” While this is a good rule to follow in general, it doesn’t always work in the office environment. According to an Inc. article, “If everyone has separate goals and desires (which they do) why should you assume something that makes you happy will give others the same pleasure? The new rule you should follow is the platinum rule: treat others how they would like to be treated.”

How to understand what your employees want

The key is to get to know your employees, so you understand what they want and what motivates them. Parents know that what often works with one child, fails with another. Teachers also face the challenge of figuring out the best educational methods to reach students with different personality types.

Managers and owners must do the same thing. “You need to understand what is important and valuable to each of your reports … Reaching out can be done with one-on-one meetings, drop-in chats, or employee surveys …The result is you’ll know more about your employees and be better able to motivate and inspire them,” according to Inc.

Fairness may be the new buzzword in the business world, as important (if not more important) than “equality” in the workplace. Follow these guidelines to create a work environment where being fair is the order of the day.

Topics: employee satisfaction, fair treatment, equal treatment, equal opportunities