That’s Not Fair! And Never Will Be

With orientation programs being revamped to resemble a day at a theme park, training programs are becoming more robust than a college curriculum, rewards programs rivaling Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, work hours becoming more flexible than an Olympic gymnast, and so on … it is not uncommon for us to hear from the older generations as they see the younger generations roll in and enjoy these perks.

“Whoa!” said one Boomer engineer. “When I was her age, I had to put in at least ten years before I could even think of getting off an hour early one day a week!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” said another Traditionalist marketing manager. “These kids are getting to do a ropes course and scavenger hunt their first day. My first day I was handed a phone and phone book and told to get to work cold calling.”

“I can’t believe this new hire is stressed out about crafting her work schedule,” said an Xer designer. “I had to fight tooth and nail just to get PTO (paid time off).”

While all these situations differ, there is one thing in common; almost no one thinks it’s fair.

Fairness among the generations within the workplace is definitely a classic battle. In one corner you have those who groomed under a dues-paying or tenure-based model; in the other you have the ones getting it all just for signing on the dotted line.

Both viewpoints are valid.

Of course, having to put in ten years before you can ask for a benefit does seem unfair when now all it takes is ten minutes. On the other hand, if the benefit is being offered to attract the best and brightest, the only choice may be to sweeten the deal.

We could go back and forth on the fairness dialogue, but the more strategic question is what can be done about it moving forward.

Our advice? Stop even thinking about fairness and focus attention on performance. If you manage or create a culture based solely on being fair, it is next to impossible to win or even make everyone happy. What motivates one generation probably won’t work for another, and good luck trying to get the generations to agree on who deserves more or better.

But if you manage or create a culture focused on performance, everyone can be a winner. For example, a CEO we work with was approached by Erik, a new employee who wanted to leave early Thursday afternoons so he could coach his son’s soccer team. Rather than say, “Well, if I do that for you, then I will have to do it for everyone, so I’m sorry it won’t work,” he sat down with Erik and determined a list of performance measures he would have to achieve in order to receive this benefit. The new hire not only walked away motivated, but rolled up his sleeves even higher to get the job done.

The surprise in this example isn’t that the new hire hit the mark and got to leave early on Thursday afternoons, but what the CEO did. The next day, he put up a sign in the lobby stating, “Erik gets to leave early on Thursdays. Come to my office and find out why.”

Those who showed up talked about something they really wanted and asked what they would have to do to get it. Like Erik, some wanted more flexible schedules, but others asked for things from movie passes to a new title. Best of all, everyone felt like a winner, because the CEO figured out that in the fight over fairness, he needed to make productivity the point.

What sort of things is your organization doing to deal with issues around fairness?

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