The importance of fairness to employee motivation

by L&D19 May 2016
The American political commentator Brit Hume once said: "Fairness is not an attitude. It's a professional skill that must be developed and exercised." 

Hume’s confidence about the necessity of fairness as a "professional skill" is certainly echoed in a new study from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK.

Indeed, the researchers found that people who feel fairly treated are more likely to be motivated in the workplace.

They are also more likely to be healthy, have an active lifestyle and feel positive, according to Dr Constanze Eib, a lecturer in organisational behaviour at UEA's Norwich Business School.

The study focused on more than 5800 people working in Sweden, and the results are published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health.

The researchers investigated whether perceptions of what they call 'procedural justice' (such as the processes to decide on rewards, pay, promotion and assignments) are related to employees' health.

It involved asking participants about their perception of fairness by saying to what extent they agreed or disagreed with seven statements relating to their organisation's decision-making processes. 

They found that when perceptions of fairness changed, the self-rated health of employees also changed.

Specifically, it found that those who experienced more fairness on average reported better health.

“The findings can help raise awareness among employers and authorities that fairness at work is important to increase satisfaction, well-being and productivity in the workplace and wider society,” said Dr Eib.

People who feel fairly treated are more likely to be motivated at work and go the extra mile for their organisation, he added.

Eib also spoke about the importance of making sure people feel their views are considered and that they are consulted about changes - issues which L&D Professional also reported on earlier this week.

Moreover, L&D Professional has previously spoken to the medical practitioner Dr Jenny Brockis about the importance of fairness to boosting mental health in the work place.

“Even if it (unfairness) is not affecting us directly and you observe it in a conversation between two other people it will still affect us. If we are thinking: I didn’t think that was fair or that was favouritism or that’s bullying, it sets up a reaction in our brain and we feel disgust,” Dr Brockis said.

“We underestimate how important fairness is to us. In fact, brain research has shown that fairness matters more than the promise of a bonus.”

Related stories:

The two magic words that motivate staff the most 

How to be brain-savvy (and why it’s vital to success) 

Why diversity of opinion is good for L&D 

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