Why Fairness at Work Is Seldom Fair

Insight #302

“Why is yours bigger than mine?”

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We evaluate fairness at work by comparing our performance and reward with the performance and rewards of others.

But, surely, some of us exaggerate our own inputs a little while underestimating the inputs of others. This means that, sooner or later, we will come to feel that we are being treated unfairly.

We now have four options:

  1. We can reduce our performance if we feel our rewards are less than we deserve.
  2. We can increase our performance if we feel our reward is more than we deserve.
  3. We can try to change our reward by asking for more if we feel under-rewarded, or we can offer to take a smaller reward.
  4. Finally, we can admit that perception is reality in that we see what we already believe. This then allows us to focus on any information which supports our claim, while ignoring any information to the contrary.

Surprise, surprise, research shows we are far more sensitive to being under-rewarded than over-rewarded. So we shouldn’t be so hard on the what’s-in-it-for-me generation. We were all part of that generation at one stage or another, irrespective of age and reality.

Any manager who deals with promotions, pay increases, and bonuses knows that the bulk of us fall into the “perception is reality” bucket of feeling we deserve more. Yes, even the manager who knows falls in that bucket.

Welcome to my side of the nonsense divide.

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