Treat Employees Equally Different

Here’s what I’d love to know: At what point in time did it become common place for every freaking single person in business to believe that they had to treat all employees in their organization equally in every situation? Here’s the truth. That’s that was made up by lawyers and adopted by HR people as an easy rule of thumb to play it safe against the itty bitty possibility that you’d get your butt sued. Over the years it’s gone from a concept used to protect against gross discrimination of gender and race to a concept used to create policies for everything from bereavement leave to bathroom usage. It’s out of control.
 
I wrote a post for Fistful of Talent the other day that talked about a very personal experience where I lost my soon to be uncle nine days before he was supposed to marry my aunt. My boss went so far above and beyond that I was floored. My point was that if you have more compassion for what your employees are going through outside of work they’ll pay it back over and over in their loyalty to you.
 
I believe this whole-heartedly.
 
No sooner had that post gone live then I got a call from a good HR friend. She told me that she liked the post but that if a company is going to do that for one person they’d have to be prepared to do it for everyone. I wanted to shake her.
 
Here’s the deal when it comes to equality in the workplace. No decision should ever be made based on race, religion, or gender. It has no relevance to anything business related, is illegal, and just shouldn’t matter.
 
What is legal, and what I think every organization should do is treat everyone equally different when it comes to understanding and accommodating the issues that pop up in their personal lives. No policy (no matter how vast, wordy, and boring it is) will cover every single situation so don’t bother creating one. Instead, create a culture where managers are encouraged to go above and beyond to help employees manage their personal lives when issues arise. This starts with you at the top and how you treat your direct reports: Show them that extra bit of understanding and they’ll do the same for their employees.
 
Here’s another tip – it’s okay to base your level of understanding and accommodation on how that employee performs. If they are consistently going above and beyond, working extra hours, and scoring high on performance reviews then it’s okay for you to go above and beyond for them too. If they’re always late, are having performance issues, and just aren’t showing your company much dedication then you don’t have to give them the same privileges. When they come complaining about things being ‘unfair’ tell them that your policy is that employees who are high performers will be accommodated during tough personal times but because they aren’t scoring high on performance reviews they won’t be granted the same privilege.
 
Okay HR pro’s and business owners weigh in on this one. Do you like the concept or think I’m out of line?
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About Marisa

Marisa Keegan is a leadership coach, trainer, and HR consultant for quickly growing organizations who are passionate about strengthening their employees, their brand, and their culture. She has helped lead the HR, culture, and engagement initiatives at two nationally recognized great places to work; Rackspace as Culture Maven and Modea as Talent Manger. She is an author at Fistful of Talent and Culture Fanatics. Marisa has her Masters in Industrial Organizational Psychology and currently lives with her husband and twin boys in Richmond, Virginia.
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2 Responses to Treat Employees Equally Different

  1. Ben Hubbard says:

    I agree 100%… and use the soccer coaching story as the example. As the bus pulls away for an away match, a player runs to catch it… out of breath he explains he simply heard the announcement of the meeting time incorrectly… he’s mortified, and has a history of always being on time or early. The reaction from the coach was “don’t worry about it, you’re fine, just sit down and get ready for the game.” Now the reaction of the coach would have been different if it was the other player, who’s five minutes late to every meeting and never has a good explanation or excuse… and who might not even look remorseful.

    Still, this is tough to do because it requires folks to pay some attention to their team and people. It also forces the manager to make decisions some times instead of hiding behind rules.

  2. This is a very insightful post! I wish all HR managers thought your way.

    Though the only question I have is, if an employee is already not motivated, and he views his treatment at mourning as punishment, wouldn’t it further demotivate this employee? It seems like this might increase attrition, what do you think?

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