Fairness & Consistency

Employment legislation, Professional Bodies, and company policies require us to treat employees fairly and consistently, but is it possible to do both? Before rushing to answer let’s take a look at what we think each means.

Consistency means treating all employees equally. Consistency requires adherence to a standard.  An example may be if you are late 3 times in a month you will be disciplined or perhaps if you incur 3 absences in three months you will suffer the same fate. Most companies have publicised standards for conduct, attendance, performance etc. so are they intended merely as guidance or should they be followed to the letter? 

Fairness means treating each employee appropriately, and individually, based on the circumstances of that employee. Fairness requires the application of good judgement, perhaps at the expense of consistency and if we consider the examples above must ask if a blanket approach is fair. 


I believe most of us will recognise the need to consider factors that may be regarded as “mitigating” when dealing with individual employees. Judgement is a key management skill and entirely appropriate to be applied in all employee matters as long as it is impartial and will bear scrutiny if a decision is challenged.
Fairness depends on something external, such as circumstances, situations, performance or contribution. Consistency depends on nothing but conformity to an existing standard. Consistency requires good records. Fairness requires the application of good judgment. Consistency is easy, fairness is harder. Who ever said leadership was easy?


Think back to a time you were treated unfairly in order to maintain consistency. "Everybody is getting 'xyz', so that's what you are getting too. There may also be a time when on reflection you treated someone unfairly to maintain consistency.

How many times do people say "That's not fair!" Are they correct?

Yes they are, from their viewpoint, so who decides treatment is unfair? The people affected usually do so but let’s consider a different viewpoint. 

If you can't change what punishment, penalty, treatment employees are getting to make it fair from their viewpoint, you need to change their viewpoint. That normally means a higher level more complete view. It requires openness and transparency, and everyone seeing 'both sides' of the situation.

Remember, fairness is in the eyes of the beholder from their viewpoint.

One of the outcomes of someone feeling they have been treated unfairly is frustration and even anger both of which are likely to have a negative effect on working relationships and ultimately on the business.
A final thought - are you
•    Fair and consistent?
•    Fairly consistent?
•    Consistently fair?