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“It’s just not fair!”

Our Uni student daughter was having a full on rant. Eyes blazing, she was highly indignant about the collective failings of some members of the group she had to do a joint project with.

“They’re not doing anything Mum!”

The consequence of their lack of engagement was going to reflect badly on the group as a whole, and bring down their individual marks. Our daughter for one, was not impressed.

Of course it’s not just student projects that fall foul of inequity when it comes to putting in the hard yards. At work, there’s probably many a time when we have discovered that not everyone shares the same interest, drive or enthusiasm to complete a particular task.

Collaboration is brilliant when it works well. Two heads are better than one as the saying goes. Pooling ideas, thoughts and strengths can multiply what can be achieved in a given time-frame.

Except when it doesn’t.

Of all the 7.3 or so billion people on this planet, no two brains are the same. We are all unique in our neural architecture. We may share many common values, beliefs and societal norms, but none of us think in exactly the same way.

Little wonder that combining the efforts of more than one mind can come up against a few sticking points: such as delegating who does what and when by and also how much effort is applied to the task at hand.

Sloppy work by one person can make another look bad. That equals a status threat. Ooops, and we know how that makes us feel.

Inequality works in the same way. Treat me fairly and I will like you, trust you and we will get on really well together. Treat me unfairly….. And you had better look out.

Disgust is the feeling we associate with witnessing a lack of fairness.
“That’s disgusting!” It’s that deep visceral reaction we have towards something we are appalled with. We grimace and wrinkle up our nose in disgust.

That’s because the part of the brain that registers disgust and fairness, the insula, also monitors our gut feelings.

While understanding the complexities of fairness is important, learning how to manage fairness in today’s workplace is a given. Without it, a business is less likely to survive.

Building a culture based on fairness, for greater workplace happiness, includes:

•    Checking in that all brains are aligned in the value and purpose of the work at hand.
•    Managing the process: It’s about monitoring contribution and deliberately and visibly rewarding progress and effort.
•    Leading by example. It’s about being seen to be fair in all interpersonal interactions big and small. Because it is our behaviour that reveals to others, how much value we ascribe to playing fair. Any sign of incongruence between what we say and what we do is a huge no-no.

Get fairness right and you will have a loyal band of followers, forever. Get it wrong and you will never enjoy the trust, the relatedness or realise the full potential of a team, department or business.

Fairness, along with empathy, trust and shared values is what contributes to high performance team thinking.

If you’re looking to engender greater collaboration in your workplace, my friend and colleague Janine Garner has recently published an excellent book called “From Me to We”. It’s well worth a read. As Janine reminds us, our future business success depends on our ability to work effectively together. It’s our commercial collaboration that counts.

Which includes being fair.

How much value is given to fairness in your workplace?
Do you see an opportunity to shift your workplace culture towards one that embraces empathy, trust and fairness?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.


  • Fiona Walker says:

    My uni student daughter says that when she dies, she wants all the people she has ever done a group project with to lower the coffin into the grave so they can let her down one more time.

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