fair treatment vs equal treatment

One of the common traps that managers and supervisors find themselves falling into is that of attempting to treat employees equally. Equal income, equal time off, equal perqs, equal consideration. We do this, of course, with the best of intentions. When we treat people equally, we don’t run the risk of being perceived as “playing favorites,” or having double standards.

Unfortunately, equal treatment of employees more often than not leads to the exact opposite outcome than the ones we are trying to attain. Equal treatment can create a myriad of employee performance and morale challenges, with the net effect of compromising job satisfaction and employee loyalty. Do you remember that teacher when you were a kid who used to punish the entire class because of the antics of just one or two classmates? Remember those group projects you had to work on at school, and you had that one person in your group who didn’t pull his or her weight – yet he got the same marks you did? We didn’t like it then, and people don’t like it now. It’s the difference between people being treated equally, and being treated fairly.

A great number of the employee challenges we encounter and employee complaints we hear have to do with a perception of unfairness on a manager. Often, that sense of unfairness stems people being treated equally regardless of their performance or contributions. The best way to ensure that you are treating your employees fairly?  Set and apply immutable performance standards that everyone follows. Those standards should include elements of:

1. Productivity
2. Effort
3. Attitude

If you look around, you will find that, invariably, those managers who have the most productive and satisfied teams are the managers with the most rigid set of standards (not necessarily the highest standards, but the most unwavering).  Employees understand exactly what expected of them, and what happens when they achieve the goals and don’t achieve the goals. You’ll be astounded at how positively most people will respond.

Good luck!


“A goal is a one-time thing. A standard is a constant”  – from Winning with the Employee From Hell – a guide to coaching & motivation”

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