Can you recall a time when you believe you were treated unfairly? Maybe someone else was selected over you or received recognition for your work? How did that feel and what did it do for your motivation?
Studies conducted at UCLA confirmed that the neurophysiologic pathways linked with physical pain and suffering are triggered by the emotional hurt and rejection that comes from the perception of inequitable and unjust workplace conditions. They also revealed that fair treatment causes the same kinds of responses in the human brain as eating chocolate or winning money. Fair treatment turns on the brain’s reward circuitry; and it is not limited to humans.
In a study conducted by Sarah Brosnan and colleagues, they had two Capuchin monkeys doing the same task – delivering a stone. However, one was rewarded with a succulent grape and the other with a boring piece of cucumber. The monkey rewarded with the cucumber became irate and refused to work.
Working in an environment of unfairness or perceived unfairness is a huge killer for enthusiasm, ownership, and creativity. So, the next time you need to make a decision giving something good like title, promotion, awards, or selection to a project team, be transparent about your decision criteria. Let your people know what the expectations are up front and if it is something bad or undesirable, be open with your decision criteria.
For extra credit, ask people in an anonymous survey on a scale of 1-4, how fair they felt the selection was. You can use that information to better communicate with your teams.
Remember, members of your team might perceive what might seem fair to you, as unfair. You won’t know unless you ask.