A pillar of a great place to work is whether associates believe they are treated fairly.

I have been reflecting on fairness. What does “fair” look like?

  • “Fair” listens. It seeks to understand before reacting. Frequently, someone complaining about unfair treatment is frustrated because his version of the truth remains untold.
  • “Fair” is predictable. People don’t like surprises. We create a predictable workplace when we endeavor to clarify expectations, hold people accountable to expectations, and communicate in advance the consequences of unmet expectations and rewards for those that are met. If expectations and consequences aren’t communicated properly, anything can happen. Uncertainty breeds a lack of fairness.
  • “Fair” is calm. I don’t know about you, but when I get chewed out or criticized, my initial reaction is to be defensive. I react better to feedback when it is relatively free of emotion and drama. The adage of “Count to 10” before expressing displeasure works. If you can’t resolve a difference calmly, wait until you can.
  • “Fair” is respectful. Being treated with disrespect not only feels unfair, it is unjust. One can argue that respect must be earned. But I’ve learned that when it comes to “giving” respect, I get more done with people if I offer it in all circumstances.

Indeed, people in positions of authority have much to do with whether our workplaces are fair. We define the expectations. We maintain the accountability. We dole out both rewards and consequences.

In addition to those things, we model listening, calm, and respect. If we do those things and insist on them from our colleagues, I am confident that complaints of unfairness will be few.