Foster Fairness in the Workplace

Foster Fairness in the Workplace


How many times have you heard someone say, ‘That’s not fair’? If you’re a parent, then probably more times than you can count. If you’re a business leader, then probably only slightly fewer times.

Employee concerns over pay systems, managerial favouritism and equal recognition are common challenges in any company. While leaders of some of the best small and mid-sized workplaces struggle with fairness issues just like their corporate counterparts, we’ve found that they achieve more favourable results among their staff nearly 10% more often than large corporates do. This greater success is the result of thoughtful and comprehensive management approaches.

Opening channels

To help your organisation strengthen its own tactics, here are a few lessons to consider:

1. Reaffirm that everyone will receive an equal opportunity to be recognised

One of the fastest ways to erode a workplace’s sense of fairness is by giving recognition unequally. This challenge can be especially difficult when managing employees across multiple sites.

2. Create a sense that promotions are handled fairly

When an employee complains that a co-worker’s promotion wasn’t fair, his or her underlying question might actually be, “Why wasn‘t I promoted?” The best organisations address this by ensuring all employees receive frequent, constructive feedback and by providing personal support in professional development. For example, give your employees feedback at least once every month, if not at the end of every client engagement. To ensure this experience feels balanced, employees should also have the opportunity to give upward feedback to their manager on the client engagement. Or you can implement a coaching system where the company’s professionals have a coach who is typically a level above them. Coaches can meet regularly with their advisees to provide one-on-one feedback and discuss issues and goals the advisee may have. Coaches can also partner with employees to develop personal and professional development goals with action steps to achieve them.

3. Add transparency and a commitment to equity to the pay cheque

When it comes to a sense of fair pay, it’s not just the amount of the pay cheque that matters. The transparency of the compensation system and a clear commitment to equity by the organisation are critical in ensuring people feel fairly paid. One way to create transparency is to construct a total compensation document for each employee annually. These documents communicate each employee’s total compensation, including items such as base salary, bonus, medical coverage, paid time off and several other factors. Ensure that a detailed list of salaries and proposed raises and bonuses are reviewed annually. After making sure salaries are fair compared to industry and geographical benchmarks, make changes to individual employee’s salaries and bonuses to ensure internal fairness between offices and job roles.

4. Offer a fair appeals process

It is critical for employees to understand that they have a fair opportunity to have grievances heard by management. Implement an open door policy for all leaders and several upward feedback mechanisms that allow team members the opportunity to voice concerns or constructive criticisms to a fellow employee outside of their regular communication channel.

Workplace concerns about fairness are challenging for any business and can be frustrating for employees and leaders alike. Focusing on transparency and frequent communication can cut down these concerns, allowing everyone to focus on more rewarding and productive responsibilities.

Marcus Erb
Marcus Erb is a Senior Research Partner and Senior Consultant with Great Place to Work® Institute. He has worked with clients' senior executives and human resource teams to assess workplace culture, evaluate policies and practices, and recommend plans to strengthen them.