Saturday, 1 July 2017

Who is the fairest of them all?

This is the sixth in a series of blogs discussing the concept of motivation and what its sources might be. Its prompted by a conversation I had with Bee Heller, from The Pioneers. Bee asserts that there are seven different sources of motivation, and is writing about each of them on The Pioneers website.

We decided I'd write a commentary piece about each one on my own blog, and look at what's happened in organisations I've worked in and with - whether the source of motivation Bee's blog discussed has been used to good effect or been neglected; what's worked well in terms of creating an environment that enhances that motivation; and what's not worked so well or undermined that motivation for people?

Here's Bee's blog on Fairness. In it, she focuses on the introduction of flexible working practices to illustrate how some HR policies can be implemented unfairly, and makes the point that HR policies shouldn’t necessarily be about equality and treating everyone equally, but should create a culture of fairness, allowing for individual differences in the workplace but equality of opportunity. She also makes the point that fairness in the workplace isn’t a motivator in itself, but can be a significant demotivator. In this sense, it’s one of Herzbergs hygiene factors.

I agree with a lot of what Bee is saying here.

In my career I’ve often outlined new or revised HR practices or policies and been met with comments from senior leaders or union representatives that they were concerned about the potential for a lack of consistency in its application.

I recall debating the introduction of a small scale recognition scheme with trades unions where managers had discretion to award recognition gifts to the value of £25/person. The unions were not in favour of the scheme because of its potential to treat people differently.

I also recall debating a new approach to flexible working with senior leaders and many of them not being fully supportive because they were concerned that across the organisation people would be treated differently.

For many years in my career, it seemed all people wanted from HR was to ensure employees were treated the same.

Then, and now, I can’t think of anything more demotivating at work as to be treated the same as everyone else.

Who would want that?

My standard response in the face of such concerns was to say it isn’t about treating everyone the same, and it isn’t necessarily about equality either. It’s about having a set of values that underpin your policies and in fact are the main bit of your policies, and behaving in line with them.

One of my values is fairness.

I believe that in life, and in work, one should be fair to people.

Of course people’s circumstances are different. This means we can’t operate policies entirely in standard format.

But is that such a problem?

No I don’t think so. As long as we are fair to each individual based on the circumstances they present at the time, we are treating people as people and behaving in line with what I believe should be a core value for all organisations.

And this does mean that there will be different approaches to reward, and to flexible working. It’s inevitable. It’s part of employing humans and treating them as humans.

So do we need standard practices and total consistency? No. Only consistently fair practices perhaps. Not the same.

Bee also says that fairness isn’t a motivator. And she’s right, it isn’t. I’m not motivated to join an organisation that markets itself as fair. It’s often just spin, as I’ve found out - I’ve seen promises to let people use the full extent of their skills and knowledge, and to operate without being micromanaged be broken for one person but fully granted to another without any rationale whatsoever and with what seemed to me as gross unfairness. I’ve seen people leave organisations because they feel they are being treated unfairly, and I can’t blame them for doing so.

So organisational culture can get in the way and it is up to us in HR to ensure that the need for equal treatment doesn’t outweigh the need for fairness in organisations.

A lack of fairness can be a significant demotivator as Bee rightly points out.

My advice - talk to people. Treat them as individuals. Ask them what motivates them, what drives them. If they don’t seem happy, ask what is making them unhappy and do your utmost to help them with it.

Above all, don’t ignore someone if they say they are being treated unfairly.

We are in the business of managing human resources. Let’s treat our resources like humans.

Till next time…


Ps in other news, a big career announcement due from me shortly which I’ll discuss more in my next blog. Also, youngest daughter has chicken pox…