It Just Isn’t Fair


Greetings. I have returned from a ski weekend where the mountain helped charge my batteries and clear my mind. It was a fabulous weekend and it’s time to get back to work. We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus here at the blog lately but I think it’s time to get back to work on some interesting topics.

Just recently, an invitation came across my desk to attend an HR seminar regarding how to keep the workplace more fair and equitable for employees. The thing that struck me about the session description was that it was clearly assumed that fairness and equity should be a primary objective for HR professionals. This made my stomach turn. Here’s why.

Generally, when we talk about fairness or equity in HR, it generally boils down to money. Our employees look at their paycheck and they make judgments about whether their pay is fair relative to what they know (or assume) about other’s pay. HR departments seem to really struggle with this issue because they lose sight of the reason we compensate people. Quick definition of “fairness” from

  • free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice
  • proper under the rules
Where HR should focus is on making sure that inappropriate or illegal bias and discrimination have no place in work policies and practices. However, it seems that in our attempts to remove these biases, we have become an impediment to allowing our businesses to invest in their best people.
Money is still the most powerful incentive in place for employees at work (don’t believe me? stop paying someone at work today and see how long they keep coming back). We should use our money to invest in and reward the people who create the most value for our companies. This often doesn’t look “fair” to everyone because two employees who HR might say are “equals” based on pay range and job grade, might be paid very differently because one of the people is brilliant with customers or great at coming up with new product ideas (thus being worth more to the company’s bottom line).
The bottom line for me is this. HR should absolutely work towards driving discrimination out of company practices; that’s a must. However, all things are never equal. Some people will always be more valuable to the organization than others. HR should spend far less time enforcing their own made up pay rules and far more time trying to help their organizations invest their money in the people who are making things happen. In fact, let’s not stop with pay. It’s okay to give your top performers privileges that others don’t have. Not only will you keep more of your top performers around, but you might just create an incentive for some of your other employees to step up to greatness. It probably isn’t fair, but can make all the difference.

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