We often hear a lot about the importance of equality in the workplace. Equal treatment, equal pay, equal opportunities for advancement are all vital to the continued success of not just an employee, but for a business as a whole. However, many employees are also looking to be treated fairly, opening up the discussion of equality in the workplace even further. While fairness and equality might appear to be the same thing, they’re distinctively different and it’s important that companies strive for both at every level of their organization.
As managers, leaders, and HR staff, this means employees are expecting you to make the workplace environment one where the office policies are clearly stated and applied equally and fairly across the board. They also expect changes to be made if an individual or group is being treated unfairly. This is especially important as the world has finally started being more aware of what Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are forced to deal with at their place of work on a day to day basis.
So, how can companies and leaders ensure that their policies are not only providing opportunities for equality, but also fairness?
Equality Isn’t Always Fair
Equality is not always the same as fairness. Equality, while important, can leave out factors that contribute to an employee’s role within the company. Being fair involves considering all of the circumstances and making appropriate decisions based on those circumstances. Employees’ needs differ depending on their circumstances and equality can often leave out specific needs. Equality is like supplying every employee a work laptop, fairness is giving a visually-impaired employee a laptop with braille.
Always Be Prepared for Change
Every employee, wherever they work, wants to be shown by their employer that they’re valuable, their opinions and ideas matter and that they have equal opportunities for professional development and growth. This means that issues such as favoritism in the workplace can wreak havoc on employee morale and can breed resentment toward the company which is another reason why it’s important to treat all employees fairly in the workplace.
It’s not only important to have policies that promote fairness and equality regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, and age, but it’s imperative to enforce those policies equally too. Taking a look at current policies and identifying where improvement is needed is one way to make favoritism less likely to occur. Are there any rules that favor a particular group of employees over the other? Are all employees aware of the company’s rules and policies, including disciplinary actions? Is there any room for questions or different interpretations within the company’s handbook? It’s also necessary to look at who is being hired and who is most affected by injury, job loss, and discrimination within the company.
Being a fair manager means that “When you treat your employees fairly they focus on navigating the challenges in front of them. They feel respected, cared for, and they develop trust in you as a manager. Instead of focusing on gamesmanship or one-upmanship, employees focus on working towards individual and group goals.” When employees are respected and treated fairly, the whole company is often able to operate as a cohesive team with equal responsibilities and better communication. Moreover, fairness and equality not only contributes to better meeting these needs but can also protect vulnerable groups from getting injured on the job.
While certain fields of work are more labor-intensive and thus have more opportunities for severe injuries to occur, it isn’t just the kind of work that is harmful. Oftentimes, there is an unequal amount of pressure to work in unsafe conditions, especially for Hispanic workers and other minorities. When the work environment and policies are centered around equality and fairness, employees are not only likely to be more productive and have higher morale but it can help protect workers from injury.
Fairness Benefits Everyone
Working towards maintaining a fair and equal work environment is also vital to a business’s clients. Cultural diversity in the workplace not only benefits the company and its employees, but it could potentially save lives. For example, while discussing the dangers of a lack of representation, particularly in healthcare, some professionals explain that “A lack of cultural diversity in healthcare can lead to many problems, including stereotyping and unequal patient treatment — particularly in cases where cultural differences in healthcare expectations lead to poor patient outcomes. Indeed, negative results are arguably inevitable when there is an underrepresentation of cultural and ethnic diversity in leadership and throughout training.”
Cultural diversity can be hard to achieve when a manager is constantly undermining, discriminating against, or holding BIPOC to a different standard than the other employees. A business is likely to have a higher turnover rate if its employees believe they are being treated unfairly. This can also lead to new talent avoiding the company for fear of discrimination. Businesses with such a lack of diversity are likely to suffer losses financially and, in certain fields such as healthcare, could be putting their clients at risk.
One way to ensure that employees are treated fairly is ingraining that importance into the company culture. Make it something so valuable that the company, managers, leaders, and employees are always striving for fairness and equality. This will make the work environment a more welcoming place to report and discuss areas of discrimination or unequal treatment. It will also encourage employees to voice their opinions more to help further improve policies and practices.
It’s never too late to start enacting change that will help ensure employees are being treated both equally and fairly. Having an open, ongoing dialogue on how to improve company policies and how leadership can deliver said policies appropriately can help businesses stay committed to being a welcoming, equal, and fair place for everyone.