Work Requires Fair Play Too

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One day many years ago, two young fellows were in a quarrel, and it had signs of becoming serious. Future U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, himself a young man at the time, but with an earnest desire for fair play, was called upon to decide the difficulty. One of the combatants, who had been defeated in the decision, and above whom the towering Lincoln stood head and shoulders over, boastfully threatened Lincoln.

“See here, Lanky, I’ll lick you!” he shouted.

Abe looked down comically at the small challenger. “All right,” he said, “but let’s fight fair. You are so small there isn’t much of you for me to hit, but I am so big, you can’t help hit me. So you make a chalk mark on me that will show just your size. When we fight, you must be sure to hit me inside this mark or it won’t be fair.”

The idea was so ridiculous, the little bully began to laugh, and the quarrel ended as a joke.

Everyone seeks to be treated fairly. Remember when you were growing up and you had a teacher or coach or parent who played favorites? I bet that didn’t make you feel very good.

Fairness is important to employees, but that doesn’t mean that you have to treat everyone equally.  Not everyone is the same.  You have high level producers and others who are content in just doing their jobs.  If you treat these people equally and pay them equally, you’re also not going to be seen as fair.

The truth of the matter is that life isn’t always fair. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to be as fair as possible. How do you think companies make the various lists of the top 100 companies to work for? They have perks, of course, but they are fair.

According to RISMedia, fairness means treating each employee appropriately and individually, based on their circumstances and contributions. Fair companies “treat like cases alike and unalike cases unalike,” says ethics expert Bruce Weinstein.

Bottom line, you can’t play favorites. You hold everyone to the same standards. If employees think they’re not getting a fair deal from your company, they won’t perform as well as you need them to.  In fact, morale can be destroyed. The best advice is to follow the golden rule: Treat everyone you encounter as you would like to be treated.

Equally important is to lead by example. Be a role model for your employees. If you want them to be at work by 8 a.m., you should be at work before 8 a.m. If you tell an employee they are spending too much time on personal items, you must use your time appropriately. Do as I do, not as I say. 

It’s so much easier when you establish crystal-clear rules. Let employees know what is expected of them in terms of criteria for performance reviews, promotions, raises/bonuses, qualifications for benefits and disciplinary actions. If you judge a rule to be unfair and need to change it, be honest and up front so employees understand what is happening. Rules always go over better when you have buy-in from employees.

Maintain an open line of communication. I tell my employees that my door is always open for any of our employees. You have to give employees a voice and listen to their feedback. And then act on their concerns promptly.

Finally, don’t be afraid to apologize if you make a mistake. No one is perfect. It’s best to admit your mistake and move on. If you fail to acknowledge your own mistakes, your employees won’t think you are fair. Be honest with your employees.

If you truly want to know how employees feel about conditions at your company, here are some questions to ask and then give fair hearing to the answers:

  • Is management’s treatment of all employees respectful and evenhanded?  Or are some employees getting the “star” treatment and others offered more leeway in getting assignments completed?
  • Do the organization’s policies for promotion and advancement always seem fair?
  • Does favoritism or special treatment appear to be an issue in raises or promotions?
  • Is management consistent in administering employee policies and rules?
  • Do you feel you always get fair treatment from your manager?

Mackay’s Moral:  You must play fair at work if you want to be excellent at work.


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