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8 Ways To Address The Equity Challenge


The vast majority of organizations are reporting plans to implement hybrid work models: This will no-doubt be the future of work. Hybrid approaches will provide plenty of benefits—to employees in the form of choice and quality of work-life, and to companies in terms of an ability to attract and retain the best people.

But one of the challenges with hybrid working will be maintaining strong cultures, morale and camaraderie among team members—and ensuring fairness and equity both in practice and in perception. Organizational success is correlated with a strong sense of common purpose and shared identity—the feeling that we’re all aligned toward a common end goal and all have an important role to play—and fairness will be critical to a sense of unity.

People may see themselves as “haves” or “have-nots” depending on whether they’re able to work on a remote basis and to what extent. Organizations will need to allow for hybrid work across a variety of job functions, work modes and personal preferences. But giving people choice while also ensuring customer needs are met will be rife with challenges, because it is unlikely everyone will be able to work in the same way with the same amount of options for when, where and how they work.

People will define “haves” and “have-nots” in their own ways. For some, it may be a perk to work from home with all the flexibility that seems to afford. For others, working in the office may seem like the better deal based on the opportunity for visibility, career advancement and proximity to colleagues. Employees will judge the goodies based on their own preferences and likely based on a perception the “grass is always greener on the other side.” Bottom line: Companies will need to ensure fairness—both real and perceived—to build strong relationships and strong cultures.

Fairness Is Fundamental

It is no surprise that our desire for justice and fairness is basic to being human. An intriguing study by the University of Oxford analyzed 60 different societies and found seven key moral requirements shared by all groups. Despite wide differences in people and cultures, there are key rules that act as moral and social imperatives. One of these is to “divide resources fairly”—to have equity across the group.

Employees require a sense of fairness and while they understand not all roles are the same, the requirement for equity is critical to their full commitment and motivation. Two different studies demonstrate when employees don’t feel a sense of equity, they may withdraw or leave the company. Companies that employees want to join and stay with tend to be those that treat people fairly—providing things like assignments, promotions and compensation that are aligned with talent, experience and contributions.

Reducing The Have, Have-Not Effect

Here are ways to ensure equity and reduce the reality and perceptions of in-groups and out-groups in hybrid work.

Focus on principles. One of the elements which will contribute to a sense of fairness is ensuring you have a set of principles which frame your decisions. A short list of these principles which are guided by your values will help people understand the underlying reasons for your decisions. For example, you may have a principle of fairness or a principle of flexibility or choice or a principle of trust. You may also have a principle related to quality of work or customer focus. Not all work can be done remotely. A receptionist or concierge who greets customers in person likely cannot work on a remote basis, or a docent in a museum will not be effective working remote. Principles about the nature of the work or the effect of the work on customers help provide boundaries for decision making.

Foster a culture of trust. An overall culture of trust is the foundation for constructive relationships and fairness. Build trust through openness, assuming goodwill, staying in close touch, managing to outcomes, addressing issues and demonstrating integrity. As one leader said, “If you trust your people they can work anywhere. If you don’t trust your people, they shouldn’t be working for you.”

Understand the work. Pre-pandemic, plenty of organizations believed most work had to be done in the office, but they were largely proven wrong. This doesn’t mean, however, that remote work is ideal. As one CEO said to me recently, “Make no mistake, our work from home over the last year has been based on a response to the pandemic, not because we believed it was optimal for our business.” Certainly, there is a balance. A study by Maastricht and Erasmus Universities found that especially rote, routine, individual or less complex work can be done at home. But according to the study, there is work best done in person as well, including problem-solving, co-creation, collaboration or work that requires speed.

Be willing to experiment. Given what we’ve learned through all the work from home, there may be opportunities to define the specific tasks which can be done away from the office—and the boundaries of what can be done away from the office may expand. People will be more accepting of hybrid work when they sense an openness from the company to try new approaches to accommodate flexible work. A general feeling of openness contributes to reciprocity—employees will feel like the company is giving and they will want to give back and provide discretionary effort.

Be transparent. A big part of people’s perception of equity comes from transparency as well. Be open about the principles you’re using to determine which work will be done in the office and which will be done remotely. Share the testing or trials you’re considering for new work methodologies. Communicate about customer requirements, business necessities and the ways you will need people to make unique contributions toward a shared purpose.

Build team relationships. Assuming you’re doing your best to provide real equity, you can reduce perceptions of “have” and “have-nots” by building team relationships. When people feel connected and empathetic toward colleagues, they are more likely to feel positively about how the team operates and how hybrid models roll out. Strengthen bonds between team members by providing opportunities for them to get to know each other, and by giving co-workers tasks on which to roll up sleeves and solve problems together. Shared goals and completing meaningful tasks together are powerful in building trust, collegiality and connections.

Ensure leaders are present and accessible. A key element of constructive, productive cultures is the extent to which people have a sense of proximity with leaders. This is because people can check in with leaders and be reminded of business realities, context and their connection to the organization’s overall purpose. It is also because people want to have visibility with leaders, so they are on the radar for cherry projects, promotions or career progression. When people feel like they’re in competition for time with leaders, it can contribute to a more dog-eat-dog atmosphere. The opposite is also true: Give people more access to leaders and they will be positively impacted by an overall sense of abundance and a feeling that there is enough leader mindshare and appreciation to go around.

Hold people accountable. It is also important to ensure people are held accountable for their performance and their results. A culture is significantly determined by the worst behavior it will tolerate—and when an organization takes action to address bad behavior or a lack of results, it contributes to a more positive culture. This is especially true when you’re seeking to reduce the “have and have-not” effect. When people feel others are doing their jobs, delivering results, receiving appropriate recognition and being held accountable, it goes a long way toward creating a culture where a sense of fairness is pervasive.

In Sum

People want a sense of fairness and their levels of effort and contribution are significantly tied to this perception. In addition, their willingness to join, commit and stay with an organization is fundamentally affected by whether they perceive equity across the employee population. The “have and have-not” conundrum is no small challenge, but through intentionality and earnest effort you can create the conditions for not only fairness, but happiness, fulfillment and business success.



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