Treat some employees fairly and watch their productivity soar along with their commitment to the company. Treat other employees with that same fairness and discover that it may not seem to matter as much in terms of the contributions they make to the company.
Kevin Mossholder, C.G. Mills Professor of Management in the Harbert College of Business, co-authored a paper “Fairness Means More to Some Than Others: Interactional Fairness, Job Embeddedness, and Discretionary Work Behaviors,” that examines the fairness of interactions between managers and employees and its impact on positive employee behaviors.
“Fairness is valued nearly universally – how can it not have positive effects?” asked Mossholder, whose paper, co-written by Brian J. Collins of Southern Mississippi, was accepted for publication in the Journal of Management. “But what we’ve found are that some people aren’t as organizationally attached – the company is not the center of the universe for them. Fairness generally has a positive impact, but it may not have as large of an effect on such individuals.”
What can organizations do to increase employee attachment? For industries where high-talent employees are in great demand, Mossholder suggested that companies focus on creating an environment where high output and creativity are rewarded.
“This communicates that these targeted behaviors are instrumental and will attract employees who do the job,” he said. “In this context, treating employees fairly will encourage these desired behaviors in the future.”
Mossholder also said for industries with less employment turbulence, “encouraging the growth of ties among employees and with the organization can establishes an environment where fairness is appreciated because it communicates that employees are a valued part of the enterprise.” In such conditions, employees will tend to exert work efforts beyond normal job duties.
Employees nearing retirement might also be considered here. Mossholder noted that even though they are on their way to becoming less attached, organizations that provide an inclusive, supportive climate are more likely to have employees who appreciate and respond more positively to fair treatment.
Mossholder noted that no matter how hard they try, supervisors must understand that not all employees will react positively to their efforts. He cautioned that supervisors should not forego future attempts at fairness as a result of an employee’s nonchalant attitude.
“As a supervisor, you need to have the wisdom of David and the patience of Job,” he said. “You cannot become frustrated with people who do not react as positively to your effort to be fair and in turn mistreat them.”