One question that often generates debate in my classes is whether or not a manager can be fair when taking difficult actions at work.
For example, how can you as a manager be fair after telling your employees that their salaries will be reduced, their bonus canceled, or that their jobs will be lost? These are tough actions that several managers are making since their companies started struggling due to the financial crisis.
The problem is that being unfair can be costly. A research by Professor Cropanzano from the University of Colorado showed that 66% of employees who felt that the lay offs were unfair were likely to say that they will sue the company compared with 16% of employees who thought that the layoffs were fair. Further, employees who think are treated unfairly in the workplace are likely to be less committed and perform worse than employees who believe they are treated fairly.
But what can you as a manager do to increase perceptions of fairness in the workplace?
- When possible, make sure to allow your employees to voice their opinion before you make your decision
- Define objective criteria to help you make a decision and communicate the criteria clearly to employees.
- Apply these criteria consistently to all employees.
- Explain to employees the reason for taking this action. Make sure to provide accurate information
- Communicate the decision in a respectful and dignified way.
The last point seems to be a common sense. However, this point is what raises more discussion in my classes. For example, some participants in my class believe that the medium in which the message is sent can influence perceptions of fairness. That is, being told they will not receive a bonus over email may be perceived as less fair as if they are being told in person. In a similar vein, being fired over skype is perceived as less fair as being fired in person. As one participant told me, being fired over email is as bad as having your boyfriend break up with you with a “what’s up” message. For this reason, managers may also have to ensure that the way they communicate is perceived by others to be respectful and dignified.