Are You a Fair Manager?

You’ve just landed your new management position.  You worked extremely hard to achieve this accomplishment. Finally, you are a manager.

As a new manager, you will be responsible for other people, previously you were only accountable for yourself and obtaining your goals.  In this new role, you will have to learn how to motivate employees, manage their performance, and provide develop opportunities. 

Each employee brings to the workplace their unique identities based on schooling, technical expertise, culture, and life experiences.  Some employees are social butterflies, while others are introverted and prefer to work alone.  The composition of your team structure, the teams' identity, the way the work gets done, and the environment you shape will require you to engage and embrace all employees.  

Within your work environment, you will find that you have star employees, the one that you find reliable and can call on for anything.  They are your go-to employees' for achieving your organizational goals.  Then you may have other employees who work well and can get the job done, but are not classified as your star employee.

While your intent is not to separate employees into these categories, it just happens based on how they show up, their drive to do more volunteering for different projects, and their excitement about the organizational work and challenges that various projects present them with an opportunity to learn.  

However, while you have identified employees who you identify as your go to get work done, you have created an environment where employees who feel upset they are not be provided with similar opportunities and may view your decision making on delegating work unfairly.  

What is fairness?  How does someone know when they are treated less fairly than another person?

The are two ways that you can look at what is fair versus what is unfair.  This is by understanding if things are things equal or equitable.

Equality is providing everyone with the same exact support.  For example, equality is providing support to individuals across the board in the same manner, regardless of the personalized support they need to be successful.

An individual who requires a different approach, or a different level of support, would have a problem with your management approach. 

Let's say you are an electrical manager and showed the team how to wire a new building development. If one person is struggling with the training you provided, then to be fair you should spend more time coaching and developing that employee, so they better understand the new process.  Although you took a balanced approach to the problem by providing training and development to everyone on how to wire a building, each individual may require a different level of support.

Equity is when you customize your solutions to suit the individual, recognizing the person's skills and abilities, and their weaknesses.  Utilizing a personalized approach, meeting individuals where they are at, can help the individual perceive the process as fair. 

Looking at the image above you can see under equality each person was provided a crate to view the game.  While that may have been the right thing to do, it still it didn't provide a level playing field for all.  Each individuals challenges and needs were not considered.  So, in the cases of the shortest person, that individual needed a personalized approach to have access to an equitable opportunity because of their disadvantage.  

How does this show up at work?

Consider a female in a male-dominated role who notifies you that she is pregnant.  While you may want to treat all employees as equals, the more equitable solution would be to adjust the type of work for the female employee who notified you of her medical condition, maybe providing the employee with a light duty role, or temporarily transitioning the employee to a desk job.  

Decision making is a crucial part of your new role as the manager.  Thereby requiring you to understand the team, what they need from you to support their performance and development, and where and when equal vs. equitable should be applied.  Embedding a more fair process of how you hire and bring individuals into the organization, developing a consistent practice of hiring and promotions, are all key tools that you can leverage as a fair manager.

Another strategy to utilize to ensure that your employees view you as a fair manager is to establish trust and credibility with the team early.  When employees trust you and know that they can count on you, they will believe in your process and how you make decisions.  Our DiSC® profile assessments can help you understand yourself better so that you connect with your employees.  DiSC® profiles help you to understand the behaviors of others, their motivators, and stressors and provide behavioral queues on their personality style.  Completing a DiSC® personality test will bring you a step closer to understanding the team and allowing you to build trust.

Finally, communicate with employees regarding your process for making decisions.  Your level of transparency will help employees to understand the process better and be more accepting that the process was fair. 

If you are assessing performance, communicate early in the year what your performance standards are and what the employees will be measured on.  Ensure that the metrics are consistent across the roles, and where there is a change in the process, communicate your reason for making changes and exceptions to the rules. 

Communicate often with employees on their performance, what they are doing well, and if they are meeting their targets.  If some employees are falling behind, partner with the employee to discuss and identify what is needed to help get them back on track, and how you can support them.


Adapted from Davey, L. (2018, August). How to Earn a Reputation as a Fair Manager.  Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved from