How can we create a fair and equal work environment that is in keeping with everyone's individual expectations?
As we move to hybrid ways of working, with more individualised arrangements over where and when work takes place, a subject high on the agenda for employees is fairness. This is grounded in questions such as: How will my manager assess my performance if I’m in the office less than my colleagues? How will promotions be decided if we’re all working in different ways?
We explored this concern in our recent HSM webinar poll of 102 people in 64 companies based across 30 countries including the UK, South Africa, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Japan, India, Indonesia and Australia. We asked people what they were most concerned about in terms of fairness, and here’s what they told us:
- How promotion decisions are made in hybrid working arrangements – 37%
- How caring responsibilities are factored into performance targets – 30%
- Who should be in the office and who should stay at home – 24%
- Who should have a flexible time schedule ? – 9%
So, how can you ensure that you as a manager or leader are acting fairly?
It starts with an understanding of the concept of fairness itself. As people decide on whether they have been treated fairly or unfairly they tend to be influenced by their belief in three elements. First, whether the outcome is fair (e.g. the flexible rota that is developed for those with young children). Next, whether the procedure they saw developing the outcome was fair (e.g. how the concept of the flexible rota was arrived at) and third, that in their interactions with managers and colleagues about the flexible rota they were treated fairly.
There are significant benefits of getting this right: people are more engaged with their work, more likely to cooperate with others, are more likely to stay with the firm, and less likely to feel aggrieved and (for example) bring a lawsuit. Looking forward – these are all benefits that will be crucial to navigating the months ahead.
Likewise, the impact of feelings of unfairness are profound – emotionally in terms of anger and frustration, cognitively in terms of withdrawing and behaviourally in terms of withdrawal.
There are three actions you can take to ensure that you are meeting expectations of fairness:
1. Engage people directly in a conversation about the choices and trade-offs they face
When supporting companies through my advisory firm, HSM, we always start with a dialogue with employees themselves. How are they thinking, feeling and experiencing work at the moment? What would ‘fair’ look like to them? This important step ensures that you and your organisation move forward with evidence-based insights on the challenge rather than assumptions about what your workforce wants and needs.
2. Be transparent about why decisions were arrived at
Organisations can fall into the trap of communicating the end result of management decisions, without sharing important details of the process by which that decision was made. Share with your employees the insights you accessed, the evidence base you built and how you selected some options over others. Then, provide regular opportunities for people to feed back.
3. Help managers to support their colleagues virtually
Remember that the biggest challenge when creating new policies or practices is ensuring that employees experience them as you intended. And the key way to ensure that happens is to equip line managers and team members with the information and skills to carry out those policies in a consistent and empathetic manner. In today’s reality, this means upskilling people in building relationships and empathy in a virtual setting.
By placing fairness at the heart of your discussions on future ways of working, you can ensure that your people are really with you on the journey and continue to be ambassadors for your organisation in their networks.
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