Being a Fair Manager

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There is no room for ambiguity in people's assessment of you as a manager who treats people with fairness. Treating people with respect and dealing with everyone in a fair and open matter are just two essential requirements for success as a manager. 

When the Boss Plays Favorites

If you have ever worked for a manager who plays favorites or, who treats people with different standards of accountability and performance, you understand how destructive this approach is to morale.

In one case, the manager clearly viewed an employee as the "star" of the group, heaping public praise on him and ensuring that he was involved in the most visible and important projects. This star treatment created hard feelings with the other employees and was frequently referenced when discussing what it was like to work for the manager. Instead of attracting talent, the manager struggled to retain people on his team. 

In another case, a manager made it very clear that those who succeeded on her team were the ones who helped her politically. Instead of focusing on the problems and challenges in the workplace, this manager generated a circus of political gamesmanship all intended to curry favor with her. 

Establishing different sets of rules for different employees is the antithesis of fairness and creates ill will, poor morale and less than optimal performance across the team. 

Fairness in the Workplace

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 you treat others fairly two things happen. Your employees notice and respect you for it. Your reputation for fair play reinforces their belief in you. Second, the people who you treat fairly will respond in kind. You are teaching through your actions and modeling the behavior of "fairness" in the workplace. 

How to Be a Fair Manager

A good manager is one who treats every person she encounters with respect and fairness. Some suggestions for cultivating your reputation for fairness include: 

  • The golden rule: Treat everyone you encounter as you would like to be treated. 
  • No favorites: A manager who is fair does not play favorites. You don't give anyone all the good jobs, or all the bad jobs, just because of how you feel about them. You treat them as the unique individuals they are.
  • Don't take advantage: When you're being fair, you don't take advantage of others based on your position as the manager. You don't treat someone unfairly just because you can and can get away with it.
  • Model the rules and behaviors: When you follow the rules and apply them equally to everyone, you are being fair. Make sure you apply them to yourself as well. Your "do" must match your "tell," or people will lose trust in you. 
  • Change the rules: If you sense that the rules are unfair to individuals or groups, cultivate the courage to change the rules. Just be sure that the reason you are changing it really is to increase fairness, not just to justify an outcome that might be better for a favorite. Make sure the new rule is applied equally for all.
  • Think about how it affects others: As you assign work, for example, think about whether you are doing it fairly, but also consider how others will perceive it. If you have a rule that everyone in the company has to pay $20 per month for the shared coffee in the lunch room, think about the stock clerk for whom that $20 is a major expense and about the accountant who doesn't drink coffee. Who does this rule affect them and is it fair?
  • Be honest: Be honest with your employees. Tell them why things are done as they are. Tell them why a specific procedure was put in place. Tell them about things you can't tell them, but only if there really is a reason why you can't. When you are honest with them you are treating them equally. You aren't telling them that just because they aren't managers they don't deserve the information. And be honest with yourself too. Look at why you're doing the things you are and in the way you are.

The Bottom Line

Credibility is critical to your success as a manager and nothing destroys credibility faster than the reputation that you play favorites or deal with people on an inconsistent basis. Be deliberate and even-handed about how you assign work, offer praise and share feedback. The benefits of cultivating a reputation as a manager who deals with people in a fair manner are priceless.