Earlier this year I looked at some research that was exploring the topic of fairness in the workplace. The research revealed that we’re often quite happy to accept a degree of hierarchy at work so long as the hierarchy treats people fairly.
A second study suggests that the fairness of the organization is especially important when we expect employees to collaborate closely with one another. It revealed that when employees believe there is a strong sense of ‘procedural justice’ in their organization, their collaborative efforts are greatly enhanced.
If things are unfair however, such as the boss exhibiting favoritism towards certain individuals, then collaboration plummets.
The study set out to measure this by studying the interactions between employees, both in terms of their quality and also their frequency.
The idea was that by measuring these social interactions they would be able to detect any variation in the quality of relationship between the leader and their team, and the impact this variation had on the social interactions between the team members themselves.
The study is interesting because it doesn’t just look at ‘fairness’ in isolation. So, for instance, the paper doesn’t just explore how we react when we’re treated unfairly ourselves, but also how we react when we see others being treated unfairly.
Around 1,700 employees were studied across a number of Chinese and American manufacturing companies, with employees typically working in teams ranging from 3-18 members.
Not surprisingly, it emerged that favouritism had a bit impact upon trust between team members. Interestingly however, favouritism also appeared to have an impact upon the very social structure of each team.
“Specifically, we found that when leaders developed differentiated relationships with team members, team members trusted each other less, and the social interactions between them that influenced their perception of [procedural justice] became fewer in number and concentrated among only a few individuals,” the researchers explain.
It stands to reason, doesn’t it? I wrote earlier this year about some research that highlighted the crucial role trust plays in employee engagement, with the general gist being that people were happier when they trusted their employer to treat them well.
With collaboration something that most organizations are attempting to do more of, the important role fairness plays in this is something for all leaders to bare in mind.