“Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolised.”
Albert Einstein had a shrewd view on the importance of creating a fair and equal workplace. By respecting each member of a business, you too can create a more functional and productive working environment.
For years, business owners have been aware of the impact a mistreated employee can have. Legal ramifications are ever-present, especially when dealing with discrimination based on gender, race, age or appearance.
In small businesses, fairness and equality can be even more apparent. Employees often deal with upper management on a more personal basis, experiencing firsthand the fairness or inequality they are dealt.
Equality versus. fairness
It needs to be noted that sometimes a small business owner’s desire to create a sense of equality can lead to problems. This is because treating everybody the same does not necessarily equate to treating everyone fairly:
Equality does not always mean fairness
Let’s consider the factor of experience. Should your expectations of a staff member who is inexperienced in a particular area be the same as a member who is highly experienced? In this example the answer is clearly no. However, the issue of equality can also be found in much more subtle contexts.
Respond to employees based on their actions
The key is to be fair rather than equal. Take into account each staff member’s strengths and weaknesses and view them as individuals. Your staff may not always be aware of the factors that motivate your distinctions between staff members, so try to be as transparent as possible.
Managing your expectations
The topic of fairness and equality is often concerned with minimising the negative impact on those who are not able to meet your expectations, such as the aforementioned inexperienced staff member. It would be unfair to expect them to perform equal to someone more experienced, but what about the experienced staff member? Is it fair to pin higher expectations on them and how should rewards be administered?
Being fair does not mean making allowances for disadvantaged staff members at the expense of those who are more capable. Therefore, it is important to continue to acknowledge those who you have come to expect high standards from.
Don’t rely on just one staff member
It is also important to not fall into the trap of idolising staff who consistently meet your expectations. This is not fair on them or your other staff members. When you idolise someone, you take away their right to make mistakes. You place unrealistic expectations on them and make them a target of perceived favouritism. As it has been shown before, perceptions are often as influential as reality when it comes to business.
Praise is its own reward
Rewarding a staff member does not simply mean giving them raises or promotions. Little things can go a long way to increasing the productivity of your employees:
Give equal opportunities for recognition and rewards
One of the easiest ways to cause friction among staff is to administer recognition in an unfair manner. Keep in mind that recognition does not only mean tangible rewards or pay rises, but also verbal praise, increased responsibility and increased opportunities for development.
Give regular feedback
Make an effort to provide constructive feedback and ongoing professional development support for all employees. Treating your staff as individuals not only minimises an unhealthy sense of competition with others, it also encourages them to focus on improving upon their own achievements.
Create an open environment
Sometimes all a staff member wants is someone to listen to their needs. By developing an open working environment where they can come to you with any problems or concerns, you can improve staff moral and in turn increase productivity:
Allow for employees to air their concerns
Part of creating a fair workplace is allowing your staff to openly discuss their perceptions on unfairness and inequality and, in effect, question your management decisions. Just as it can be unhealthy to idolise a particular staff member, it is damaging to expect your staff to do the same with you. Ensure that the topic is always open for discussion and consider their perspectives – even if you do not agree with them.
Being a fair and respectful boss and creating a comfortable working environment for your employees are essential to a successful business. As Einstein said, it’s about respecting each person as an individual, not idolising them. If you can manage your employees as well as your business, you will reap the rewards.
Nick Petrovic is a registered psychologist and head of clinic at the Mind Profile Psychology Clinic and has more than 10 years' experience in the allied health and business. Nick has contributed to regular columns in more than a dozen business magazines and newspapers, advising on issues such as mental health, work related stress, strategic planning, business analysis and human resources.