Too often, those who rise to positions of power in the white-collar workplace are more concerned with holding tightly to their limited power, rather than liberally sharing trust, responsibility, and empowerment in order to boost that power. They fail to understand a basic reality: that while some people will take advantage of you if you're a laissez-faire manager, most will try harder than ever to prove they've earned what you've willingly offered.
Wherever you fall on the managerial scale, realize that fairness and the perception of it are a very big deal to your employees, determining in large part how willing they are to engage with their jobs, put in overtime when needed, and make sincere efforts to boost their productivity. You may find it necessary to do a check-up of your own opinions, research fairness, and make a concerted effort to put fairness into play in order to get the productivity you need out of your team.
The Perception of Fairness
Three basic factors contribute to a perception of fairness: an even distribution of rewards; consistency; and interaction with your workers. Each of these factors splits out into numerous characteristics that could, all by themselves, provide fodder for a whole book. Due to space limitations, I've funneled them down to the following four:
Hold everyone in the team to the same ethical and performance standards, at least within a specific type of job. Similarly, never play favorites with basics like performance reviews, feedback, promotions, raises, bonuses, benefits, and especially disciplinary action. If one guy gets all the perks while other worthies get overlooked, you'll soon have a cynical team on your hands. Similarly, if one person gets away with breaking the rules all the time with impunity while others have the book thrown at them for similar infractions, you'll just confuse and irritate everyone, ultimately destroying team unity.
Remember the Golden Rule. Treat people as you'd prefer to be treated, and respond positively when they ask for help. Even better, regularly ask them if they need anything -- if they have too much work or too little, and what they need to improve their performance in terms of technology and process. Do this, and they'll prove more open and willing to come to you voluntarily when they find something they believe you could improve.
A voice in decisions.
People who feel they can approach their management are more likely to make helpful suggestions. Also, when you all meet to make an important decision about the company, division, or team, allow each person involved to speak. Even if a decision goes against them, they're more likely to start rowing along with everyone else if they believe someone has actually listened to and considered their concerns.
Transparency has become a bit of a business buzzword, but that doesn't invalidate it. While you don't have to go as far as letting everyone in the world know how much compensation you get, as some companies do, do go completely transparent about your company's goals and direction (insofar as possible), and in how your team and its members advance the organization toward those goals. This helps everyone align their efforts properly, and helps them engage with the work. Another positive transparency is to allow people to see how their actions affect the organization. If Jeff landed a $10 million contract, let him see how it's handled up the ladder - not least so he can see that he got the credit.
Fairness in the workplace isn't that difficult to accomplish; in fact, it should be the default. If it isn't, then the workplace has become toxic... and if that's true, it's hard to see how the organization or team can survive long. These tips outline four simple characteristics of fairness any leader can easily implement. If necessary, reboot your process with these factors in place, add others, and watch your team productivity rise.
Side note: Fairness should be more than just a personal goal of yours. If you really want to see impact, make fairness a standard by weaving it into your company culture, so that the business as a whole benefits. I have a short video on company culture that you can check out here - Video: Business Culture.