Reality Check: The Fairest of Them All

No, this column isn’t about Snow White; it’s about fairness. Of course, Snow White’s beauty did offer her an unfair advantage over the wicked queen. And, the wicked queen had the unfair advantage of power. Fairness is complicated, isn’t it?

Unlike some concepts, people grasp the idea of fairness without elaborate teaching. Tiny children easily manage an indignant, “That’s not fair!” should they perceive that someone is getting better treatment than they are.

Fairness tends to get all tangled up with comparison—how you are doing compared to someone else. For some folks, sticking to a rigid interpretation of fairness significantly contributes to dissatisfaction in their lives.

For example, Billy and Bobby used to love their work. Their boss left them alone to operate as they saw fit. They worked long hours even though they weren’t paid overtime, enjoyed serving their loyal customers, and felt appreciated by the boss. Largely because of their efforts, business boomed. The boss saw that they were overloaded, so he hired…. his nephew Fred!

Do you have the feeling that this story may not end well?

Billy and Bobby’s worst fear was realized. Fred is a slacker. He thinks that he should only work the hours that he’s paid for, takes no initiative, has minimal motivation, and assumes that sales will come to him without having to hustle like Billy and Bobby. Fred’s salary is the same as Billy and Bobby’s, but their workload hasn’t reduced at all.

Billy and Bobby had been perfectly happy before Fred came along. Although they worked hard, they felt appreciated and were satisfied in their jobs. Now with Fred in the picture, their work hasn’t changed, but their perceptions have! When they compare their situations with Fred’s, they perceive that they are being treated unfairly.

They are probably correct. OK. Now that we have acknowledged the unfairness, the question is, “So…?”

Is comparing themselves to Fred helpful for them?

Billy and Bobby have choices. One possibility is to respond to the unfairness by grumbling and deliberately slacking off. If Fred doesn’t have to work, then why should they?

What are the potential consequences of this behaviour? Grumbling won’t cause Billy and Bobby to be happier, and their customers won’t be happy either. Ultimately, the business may deteriorate and everybody could find themselves out of a job. That’s not exactly the direction that Billy and Bobby want!

What’s another option? They could choose to continue to work diligently in spite of the perceived unfairness. What are the potential consequences of this? Billy and Bobby maintain their self-respect by working in accordance with their own values. Eventually, they may choose to seek out a better opportunity with another company—one where their work ethic is valued and rewarded.

Any other options? It might be helpful to have a sit-down with the boss. There is the possibility of a win-win if Billy and Bobby can keep to a straightforward discussion that clarifies everyone’s roles and expectations.

Is seeking fairness a helpful strategy for a satisfied life? Or does it contribute to dissatisfaction? Let me know what you think

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