One of the biggest challenges I see managers deal with is employee relations, which has to do with the relationship between the employee and the company. Employee relations topics include conduct, performance, discipline, recognition, engagement, etc.
When employee relations issues are handled poorly, managers can get labeled as “playing favorites.” Whether it’s recognition or discipline, managers have to create an atmosphere where employees feel they are being treated fairly.
Notice I didn’t say equal. Equal means being the same in quantity, size, degree or value. A great example of not being equal is recognition. We want to give employees meaningful recognition. By that, I mean meaningful for the employee.
Let’s say there are two employees: Mary and Bob. Mary enjoys being recognized in front of the team. Bob enjoys being recognized in a one-on-one setting. Recognizing Bob and Mary equally means recognizing them exactly the same way. If a manager were to do that, someone isn’t going to find the recognition valuable. Add to that, if the manager decides to recognize Mary and Bob with a handwritten note, maybe both of them will not find that valuable.
Managers should strive to be fair in their interactions. Fair is defined as being in accordance with rules or guidelines. Using our recognition example, the manager would be fair to recognize Mary in a way that she likes and Bob in a way that he likes. The goal is to recognize employee performance. I’ve actually seen managers withhold recognition because they were fearful that being fair would lead to the “playing favorites” label.
Now there might be times when being equal is important. It’s possible in disciplinary situations that being equal is absolutely necessary. Even then, managers need to consult with human resources (and possibly legal counsel) to make sure an equal response is required. For example: a manager might be faced with a situation in their department that they feel a decision must be equal. Come to find out, it has been handled differently (and fairly) in other department.
The reason I bring this up is because managers shouldn’t feel they have to weigh the fair and equal decisions all by themselves. These are often tough decisions. Human resources and management can work together to ensure that employee relations matters are handled in a fair and equal manner.
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I’ve often said that being a manager is a tough job. Managers can sometimes take the weight of the world on their shoulders and forget they don’t need to know everything. Building a network of internal resources is important for managerial success. We have to find people that we can confide in, ask questions and look for guidance. Like when we’re trying to figure out what’s fair and what’s equal for our employees.
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby