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BK Blog Post
Posted by Julie Winkle Giulioni, Learning Strategist/Author/Speaker, DesignArounds.
Learning strategist, speaker and author of the Amazon bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want.
Nothing is fair in this world. You might as well get that straight right now.
– Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees
Babies as young as 15 months grasp fairness, according to Jennifer Welsh in Live Science. So does every employee in your organization. (And they may grasp unfairness with even greater clarity!)
When was the last time you experienced something unfair?
What happened? How did it feel?
Experiences of unfairness generate strong reactions. And the work of researchers like Rock, Lieberman, and Eisenberger explains why.
According to brain researcher, David Rock, fairness is one of the five domains of human social experience (along with status, certainty, autonomy, and relatedness)… and these “social needs are treated in much the same way in the brain as the need for food or water.” This explains the sometimes survivalist, visceral, fight-or-flight responses we have to perceived unfairness.
Unfortunately, the potential for inequity is great in the workplace. Different tasks and expectations. Varying working conditions. Disparate rewards and compensation. (And it’s this last one that’s a particular sticking point for many employees.)
Classic research conducted by Golnaz Tabibnia and Matthew Lieberman at UCLA found that research subjects were happier receiving $.50 (when they were sharing $1.00 with a partner) than when they received $10 (when it was based upon sharing $50 with a partner). It all comes down to perceived fairness.
(And apparently this fairness response is not the exclusive domain of humans. Have you seen the TED talk by Frans de Waal or the excerpt of it that’s making the rounds on Facebook? If not, it’s a must-see for the giggles it will provoke and the vivid depiction of the quick and profound way something that was just fine can quickly become completely unacceptable when the context shifts toward inequity.)
In the presence of unfairness and the strong emotions it evokes, the brain feels like it’s fighting for our lives. As a result, several things suffer:
The very attributes that are most important for business success demand fairness in a workplace structure or environment that’s rife with (at a minimum the perception of) inequity.
While you may not be able to alter the compensation structure or redesign the office space to turn the individual corner offices into hoteling spaces for the masses… there are three areas that leaders at any level can focus on to cultivate a greater sense of fairness among employees.
You may not be able to immediately turn ‘no fair!’ into ‘so fair!’… but even small steps and efforts in these areas will go a long way toward minimizing the unfairness response… and freeing up your employees’ brains for more productive activity.
What about you? What do you do to incite a greater sense of fairness in your organization?
Image courtesy of kittisak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This post originally appeared at LeadChange Group.