Treating people equally is unethical and foolish. Treat them fairly.
Treat people fairly but not equally, that is the ultimate key in keeping a healthy relationship in any organization, business, service, and wherever human relationships are involved. So what does it mean to treat people fairly but not equally? Why should we not treat people equally? Isn’t treating people equally is in itself treating people fairly?
Many leaders, managers, and even employees, are confused about “equally” and “fairly”. Employees think that by treating everyone equally then it is fair. Managers think that by treating their subordinates equally, they are promoting productivity and a good work environment. But in reality, they are promoting the worst things anyone can imagine.
No two people are the same. Each and every individual is unique. We all agree on that, correct? If so, then it is unfair to treat everyone equally. Why?
The Parable of John Sue and Maria Masipag
John Sue and Maria Masipag worked for a company engaging in providing support services for big corporations. John Sue have been with the company for five long years, a typical employee who goes to work, work on his quota, take a lot of smoke breaks, spend his work time leisurely, and when the day’s almost over, that’s when he will finish his quota and his pending work, then head back home.
Maria Masipag on the other hand just turned two years with the company. She loves her job and is passionate about it. Every waking day, she is eager to go to work, and goes the extra mile in making sure the company provides the best quality service for their clientelle.
The time came for the yearly appraisal. John receives a ₱2,000.00 salary increase while Maria received only ₱1,000.00. Despite Maria’s excellent performance and dedication to the company as compared to John’s, Maria was treated unfairly because rules have to be applied equally. Since Maria loved her job, she just let it passed.
A day came when Maria needed a schedule change. She was declined by her manager and told that if he approved her request then everyone will request the same thing. Yet, John, when he requested for a schedule change, it was granted immediately, because well, he’s been with the company for five years regardless of his performance and work ethics.
Maria left the next year and not only her but other employees treated unfairly followed, while John and people like him stayed.
Is that a familiar story? Of course it is.
The Parable of Juan Tamad and Princess Angelica
Juan Tamad and Princess Angelica were both renting an apartment in a beautiful city. The landlady and their neighbors knew them very well. Juan as someone who always paid two months late and said all the excuses in the world, and Princess as someone who paid three months in advance because her line-of-work required her to travel around the world at short notice. The landlady got fed up with Juan’s excuses and kicked him out.
One time, Angelica had to be gone for seven months. She paid in advance for six months before she left, so she asked the landlady if she can pay for the seventh month when she gets back. The landlady refused and said that if she gave her special treatment what would people think of her after what she did with Juan. Princess called her brother to pick up her things before the end of the sixth month.
The landlady should have let Princess Angelica pay one month late considering her very good history compared with Juan Tamad. But because she values her reputation more and she was treating people equally, she lost a good tenant, forever.
The manager and the landlady both believed in consistency. They both believed in rules. They thought that by being consistent with their decisions, by following the rules rigidly, they were being fair. The truth, however, they were totally unfair.
Fairness is treating people individually, on a case-to-case basis, based on the situation or circumstances, history of the person, and other factors like contribution to the organization or the person’s performance. Equally on the other hand, is all about rules, the letter of the “law”. Without any emotions or feelings. No considerations at all.
If we are going to be by-the-book, then we might as well talk to the book not a person. That’s what it means to treat people equally. You are nothing but an inanimate, inconsiderate, robotic, human being. No, you’re not a human at all.
However, if we want to treat people fairly, then we should be who we are – a person, a human being. Someone who uses his brain. Someone who uses her heart. We are dealing with human relationships here.
The Results We Fail To Admit
Go treat your employees equally, and you will not fail to notice how your top performers slows down and loses interest. While your less performing employees is still less performing, worse, performing even less than before! But if you treat your employees fairly but not equally, you will notice for yourself that your top performers continues to excel and beat their own personal records, while your less performing employees performs better or leave the company on their own.
Here’s another: Punishment. A good leader with good management skills will never impose sanctions on everyone because of someone’s fault. That is not fair. It only creates hatred towards you and the company. A punishment is dealt out to the person who made the mistake. We give punishment to individuals not to groups. We use it so the person will learn and not repeat it again. The person who did wrong will only repeat it because he was not punished for it, it was the whole group that paid for his wrongdoing. Next time, he will use that to make his colleagues suffer again.
It is management, not leadership
Being equal, or consistent, or by-the-book, is called “easy-way out”. You don’t need to think about anything, just follow the book and you’re done. While being fair requires effort, time, and having a good and sound judgment. Of the two, it is clear who the real and true manager is.
Do you treat your children equally or fairly? If you treat them equally, what is not allowed with your 10-year old son should also not be allowed with your 23-year old daughter. Of course you don’t do that, why? Because you know for a fact that a 10-year old kid have a different need, different knowledge and experience, than your 23-year old daughter. Even if they’re of the same age, a 24-year old son and a 24-year old daughter, you still do not treat them equally and you know why.
Now comes leadership
Yes, children and employees confuses “equally” and “fairly”. This is where a good leadership skill comes into play. You explain the difference between the two. You explain why you manage people fairly but not equally. You explain why Maria Masipag deserves to get ₱3,000 salary increase and John Sue only ₱500.00 perhaps none. You explain that Maria earned the right to get her schedule of choice. You explain why Princess can pay late for a month or three but not Juan. You explain why Dexter Labs was given a flexible time and the others not.
You explain that it is a case-to-case basis. That whatever you, the manager and the employee/tenant/customer discussed, is on a need-to-know basis. As a leader, you should be able to explain that. If you can not do it, then obviously you fail at being a leader and at the same time, more likely than not, you fail at being a good manager as well. Management skills and leadership skills comes hand-in-hand.
Treating people equally is unethical and unfair. It is wrong. It is evil. It is foolishness. It is cowardice. It is laziness. It greatly reflects what the future of your organization will become. However, if you treat people fairly but not equally, it shows how great a leader and manager you are, and people will stay with you because you show that you respect them and you are a human being.
So which one are you? The manager and leader that treats everyone equally regardless of their achievements and contributions? Or the manager and leader that treats everyone fairly by giving them what they deserve and what they need?
“Fair vs. Equal” image by The Differentiation Destination.