Fair enough?

Clive Wright, Hyperion HR Ltd

Like many people at this time of year I’ve recently been on holiday. We went to a smallish hotel where the food, setting and facilities were really good but what really made the difference was the service we received.  So toward the end of the holiday we started thinking about the best way we could recognise the staff who had contributed so much.  We would of course say ‘thank you’ and let them know how much their service had meant to us but we also wanted to leave the traditional monetary reward in the form of a tip.

We could, of course, have given a tip to each person but were aware that this would leave out many of the staff in the background who had contributed to our overall satisfaction.  So I asked the manager whether the hotel’s practice was for guests to give tips to individual staff, but he said that they prefer people to leave a collective tip at reception which is then put into an overall pot and distributed to staff in accordance with their position.

Although this wouldn’t reward those who had given the very top level of service for us, this seemed to be a good solution – as long as everyone gets their “fair” share.  So I asked a few of the staff if they thought this system was best for them.  Firstly they all confirmed that the system gave them a distribution each week, so it passed the first motivation step that they all knew about it and got something.  But only one person I spoke to knew roughly what the distribution ratios were as he was a manager and knew what his staff got each time.  The others were sort of OK with their share but would have loved to know what the distribution ratios were, who made the decision and, more importantly, what the basis of the decision was on who gets which amount.

So the system was viewed as reasonable but not as good as it could be, mainly because there wasn’t full openness and the employees didn’t know whether it was fair or not.  The suspicion was therefore that it wasn’t being applied equitably.

We can all learn from this short but interesting scenario.  Justice and fairness are also very important to our organisations many of which are much bigger than a small hotel in Italy.  Motivation for employees is driven by their perception of equity, fairness and justice.  We can improve the views of our employees on these factors in three ways:

  1. We should involve employees in the design, development and implementation of reward programmes.
  2. We need to have comprehensive communication, listening and explanation processes.
  3. We have to develop monitoring systems to ensure that rewards are distributed fairly and equitably.

And finally we need to remember that it doesn’t matter what we think about our reward programmes, it’s only the employee’s perception of fairness and justice that really counts.  How do employees view the reward processes in your organisation?  Fair, reasonable and equitable or a ‘black box’ that ‘the management’ thought up to get as much work as they could for as little cost as possible, whatever the truth of the matter? Try asking them.

View The changing contours of fairness

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