Speaking Up About Unfairness

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A super important topic for employee wellbeing is fairness. There are exciting situations where somebody got a promotion, but you’ve gotta’ remember… somebody else didn’t, and therefore this person may be left unhappy. On another day, you win a new cool project, and some developers are allocated to that project… however somebody may be disappointed and perplexed about the decision making process. When an employee feels that the decision was unfair, communication is paramount.

I’ve thought about this topic for years, and I do try to be consistent and communicate my thoughts. To see how common it was, I surveyed the developers at SSW using our “Chewing the Fat” Microsoft Form. Close to 50% said they’d encountered an unfair situation in the last year, either personally or at work.

Graph - how many people have felt there's been unfairness in their workplace
Figure: 49% (blue & orange) of people at SSW said that they’d encountered an unfair situation in the last year. It’s very common.


As an example, Penny, my QLD State Manager recently told me about her first months at SSW. Back when Penny started, she and Joanna (Jo) pretty much did the same job, but Jo had been at SSW longer. I knew Jo really loved tech, and I wanted to reward her years of service with a new shiny Microsoft Surface Book…. So, when they were released I purchased one and gave it to Jo. I didn’t think about it again.

Not until I did this survey and found out (many years later), that Penny was super envious that Joanna got a Surface Book, and she did not. She said that at the time she knew rationally that Jo deserved it, and she decided to put Jo first and celebrate her win, rather than be upset. She never spoke up about the envy until now while laughing about it… and I was never aware that she initially felt undervalued at the time.

Funnily enough, sometime later Joanna left SSW, and Penny inherited the Surface and was super happy to get that coveted laptop! Weird, because later, she threw a cup of tea on it and killed it! 🤣

So, should Penny have spoken up earlier? Watch my video with Solution Architect Jean Thirion and tell me if you agree.

Video: Speaking Up about Unfairness with Adam Cogan and Jean Thirion

Do you acknowledge when you’ve benefited from a decision?

Interestingly only 25% of people could remember a situation where they had benefited, vs the 49% where we already know they recall they didn’t. So, it’s pretty clear that people remember the bad stuff over the good stuff… 😂

Graph - How many people feel they have benefited from a decision

3 Perspectives of the same scenario

In these situations, there are always 3 perspectives:

  • The Manager
  • The Receiver
  • The Neglected Individual

There are quite a few things you can do if you find yourself in this situation. Read about each scenario, and how to approach it here: Do you speak up about unfairness?

Have you been in this situation? Leave a comment to let me know how you dealt with it.