Do You Treat Team Members Equally or Fairly?

The concept of fair and equal still gets considerable attention these days so I thought it was time to update an article from a couple of years ago explaining why equal isn’t always fair.

Are you treating all your employees in a fair and equal manner? The two words are often considered synonymous; Roget’s Thesaurus even lists equal as a synonym for fair, but for leaders, they are very different concepts.

Suppose you have two employees, Jack and Jill. Jack is a long-time employee while Jill is a more recent addition. You’ve ensured that Jack and Jill both have everything they need to do their jobs. They are both held to the same standards and were provided the same instructions and policies when they were hired. Also, both have been given opportunities to lead comparable teams. You ensured each started with equal opportunity.

That is fair.

Jill has really excelled. She puts in the extra effort to produce extremely high quality results. Her team leadership is very effective and has resulted in resolution of several problems that hampered the company.

Jack on the other hand has been content with a mediocre performance. He’s made it very clear that he understands his job description and will follow it to the letter. His team leadership is laissez faire at best and sometimes almost toxic. He accomplishes what he is tasked to do and nothing more. His team never seems to go beyond the minimum standards.

Business has been good this year and the company has made some extra money. You’ve decided to use some of that bounty for employee bonuses. If you want to treat Jack and Jill equally, you’ll give them both an equal share of the bonus.

But, is that fair?

Here’s another example. Occasionally, I come across an establishment that asks patrons to place tips in a tip jar, rather than giving them to individuals. At the end of the day, employees split the tip jar. Everyone gets an equal share.

Is that fair?

In both cases, equal is decidedly unfair. It is unfair that Jack should receive an equal share of the bonus that was largely earned by Jill’s harder and more effective work. Likewise, the server who provides minimum service will share in the greater tips brought in by the server who is harder working, more diligent, and more professional.

Giving each employee equal opportunity is certainly fair. Each person in the organization should have the same opportunity to succeed. Treating them as if they each produce at an equal rate is not fair to those who work hard and strive to excel.

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