Is Your Workplace Fair? How to Assess and Improve Fairness in the Workplace

  • Author: Meghan Stewart

Life isn’t fair. It’s a phrase you hear often in life. But in the workplace, you always want to strive for fairness. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also allows you to create positive experiences that encourage employee trust and connection. Though employee perceptions of fairness vary widely, there are ways you can assess fairness in your workplace and create more fair and equitable employee experiences.

What is Fairness in the Workplace?

Most people can describe what fairness is and how it feels. It’s that perception that everyone is treated equitably, without discrimination or favoritism. For this reason, fairness is one of the cornerstones of a strong diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program. It ensures all employees have access to respectful treatment and company rewards, including pay, benefits, and opportunities for career growth. 

But fairness also extends beyond DEI to include other aspects of the employee experience, making it difficult to nail down. Employees can develop views of how fair any number of company policies and practices seem, including:

  • How often they must work on-site or from home
  • How individual and team assignments are distributed
  • The amount of time off they receive
  • How long it takes to become eligible for benefits such as tuition reimbursement or a full company 401k match

Fairness can also be challenging to define because it’s such a subjective concept. What seems fair to one group of employees may feel totally unfair to another. However, despite varying perceptions of fairness, one thing is clear: most employees want more of it in the workplace. In a recent Gartner survey, only 30% of employees said they were treated fairly at their company. Given this reality, it makes perfect sense to double down and understand just how fair your workplace really is.

3 Ways to Increase Fairness in the Workplace

Boosting fairness in the workplace requires asking honest questions about current work practices and how employees feel about them. Equipped with these insights, you can make improvements that allow every employee to feel they work in a fair workplace.

Here are three things you can do to get started:

1. Get employee feedback about their perceptions of fairness

Understanding where you stand will make it easier to determine where to start making improvements. A combination of employee surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one conversations can help you identify the degree to which employees see the workplace as fair (or not). These feedback mechanisms not only allow employees to describe what they see as unfair in the workplace; they also give employees a chance to describe what they think should happen to bring about change.

Here are some questions you can ask to understand what employees are thinking:

  • Do you trust your manager/company leaders/the organization to treat all employees fairly?
  • Have you experienced or witnessed unfairness in the workplace? If so, what happened and what was the outcome?
  • Who do you speak to at work when you see or experience something that feels unfair?
  • What do you think the company should do to improve fairness?

2. Build transparency into employee communications

By now, many organizations are already taking steps to boost transparency in decisions around hiring, pay, and promotions. But there may be opportunities to increase transparency even further. By increasing the occurrence of proactive, transparent messaging, internal communications and HR teams can reduce instances of employees hearing half the story or learning about important company updates through the rumor mill. 

For example, in our work helping a client refine its total rewards communication strategy, we created a plan to make pay and benefits information more accessible and relatable to a wider range of employees. By meeting more employees where they were and addressing their varied needs, the client was able to build more transparency and fairness into the total rewards program.

3. Evaluate workplace policies

Employee needs and expectations are always evolving. But over time, workplace policies can fall out of step with those changes, ultimately revealing practices that have become unfair. In fact, in a recent SHRM and Boston College survey, one in five HR professionals said their organization’s policies and practices were somewhat or completely unfair. To determine if this could be the case in your organization, look critically at policies and ask if they have grown outdated. It’s also a good idea to revisit areas where there have been complaints of unfairness and determine what you can do to make improvements.

Life isn’t always fair, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it more equitable in your workplace. For more insights about creating fair and equitable employee experiences, keep reading our blog and follow us on LinkedIn.

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