Fair processes in the workplace – How do you lead fairly?

Achieving fairness in the workplace can be challenging when there is no objective standard to define it. However, one way to cultivate a culture of fairness is to consider people’s emotional responses to decision-making processes. Fairness and justice do not have objective measures, but they are individual experiences of each person. These experiences are part of people’s everyday lives and, as a result, are important to consider in leadership and management, particularly in knowledge- and expertise-based fields.

Behind justice is the need to feel valued.

The need to experience justice in the decision-making process is related to our basic human needs.

Each of us, regardless of our role at our workplace, wants to feel valued as a person, not as a staff member or a resource, but as ourselves.

We desire for our skills and intelligence to be valued, our ideas to be heard and considered seriously, and to comprehend the underlying reasons and justifications for decisions made about our work. People are attuned to detect the signals emitted from a company’s decision-making process, whether it is related to strategic reforms, organizational changes, acquisitions, or changes in the operating model.

These processes unveil whether management and supervisors genuinely trust and value their people’s ideas and perspectives when making decisions.

How to evaluate fairness in the workplace?

The conventional approach is to assess the final outcomes of decisions. For example, ask yourself if your decisions resulted in fair outcomes, such as when assigning work shifts, offering projects, informing team members about training programs, or distributing annual bonuses. Your team members are continually evaluating the fairness of your decisions.

If you consistently assign the most intriguing projects to certain individuals, or the reward system criteria do not apply to all team members, and bonuses are perceived to be distributed based on subjective factors, you can be certain that some members of your team will consider your decisions to be unjust and inequitable

Unfairness evokes a feeling of moral disgust within us. It is a powerful force that pushes us away, causing a decrease in an individual’s commitment, motivation, and willingness to strive towards common goals.

Recent research on justice experience indicates that people evaluate managers and supervisors based on both the fairness of the final outcomes and the fairness of the decision-making process itself. Was your decision-making process fair, regardless of the outcome?

For instance, when assessing the performance of your team members, did you utilize the appropriate criteria (such as evaluating salespeople based on both revenue and profitability to avoid rewarding unprofitable deals)? Was the project evaluation objective and impartial (for instance, did you gather feedback from multiple sources, including other members of the project team and customers, to minimize the possibility of favouritism)?

The way you make your decision affects people’s experiences of fairness and unfairness as much as the decision itself – these together form people’s experience of the fairness or unfairness of your actions.

The three dimensions of justice and fairness.

Every employee determines for themselves whether a decision has been made fairly and justly. To comprehend and define the concepts of justice and fairness in processes, they are divided into three factors.

  1. The first factor is the extent to which individuals feel they can influence the decision-making process. Has their input been requested and taken into consideration?
  2. Another factor is individuals’ perception of how decisions are made and executed. Are the decisions consistent and based on accurate information? Are the decisions impartial? Have they been communicated in a timely and transparent manner?
  3. The third factor involves the actions of management and supervisors. Do they communicate the genuine reasons and motivations behind decisions? Are employees treated with respect? Are their opinions and concerns actively listened to and empathetically considered?

A fair process does not mean that the wishes of employees are always fulfilled. Fair process means that their opinions are genuinely heard and that they are taken seriously and respected.


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