If you find something is wrong, for example your company has stopped innovating, you might need to take a look at how you treat your employees. You might think billion-dollar companies like Google and Facebook only offer lavish employee perks and benefits because they have cash to burn, but in fact they are on to something larger.

Walter Frick, senior associate editor at Harvard Business Review, wrote a new research paper about the companies that treat workers better are more innovative. Researchers from Monash University and LaTrobe University in Australia found that the companies with the highest worker treatment scores produced more patents than companies with lower treatment scores. The best-treated employees produced patents that were cited more and were more relevant to the company's industry.

Yet, all too often, employees find themselves being treated unfairly. They see that their boss makes decisions concerning them without consultation or due process, or their boss is inconsistent in applying rules.

They may think that their boss is incompetent or biased, or even worse, just plain mean. Although this may be true of a few bosses, most recognize the importance of fairness and want to act fairly. So why then do some act unfairly, even when they recognize its corrosive effects?

The Boss is Too Busy

The recent paper published at the Academy of Management Journal explained that the managers are too busy to be fair. They are often expected to juggle multiple responsibilities under intense time and work pressures, and so treating employees fairly may take a backseat to other pressing priorities.

When bosses are working so hard they don’t have time for the employees, it can feel unfair. The result is that managers are perceived as being biased or mean, when they're really lacking the resources or time to juggle conflicting priorities under intense pressure.

"When fairness is up against other technical responsibilities, it can become the unfortunate casualty of busyness," the researchers from Florida International University, New York University and the University of Maryland said in the Harvard Business Review.

What defines fairness? According to the researchers, it's a "complex and integrated set of decisions and actions". All include "taking time to carefully evaluate employee contributions, following due process to resolve concerns, providing evidence and rationales for decisions, and making time to listen to employee concerns."

When managers had heavy workloads, they tended to attend technical tasks, especially if they worked for companies that did not reward managers for taking time out for employees. The conclusion is managers should make time to be fair toward their employees. The benefits far outweigh the costs of not getting everything done.


"Being fair requires time and effort, and overworked managers may struggle to prioritize fairness when more urgent technical tasks demand their attention. For managers who want to ensure that they treat their employees fairly, it is important to shield being fair from other competing tasks," the researchers said.

Treating employees fairly in the workplace is not just a moral responsibility. Treating employees fairly doesn’t mean treating them the same. “NO.” In fact, treating everyone "the same" is the opposite of treating everyone "fairly."

So, how it supposed to be?

  1. Avoid showing subjectivism toward one employee over another one. Doing so can cause the unfavored employee to resent you. What applies to one employee should apply to all. Do not discriminate based on race, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender or any other quality.

  2. Promote an employee solely based on how qualified they perform the job, not because of a personal relationship.  

  3. Post all job openings for all employees to see, instead of verbally telling an employee about an opening. By posting all job openings, employees have an equal opportunity to apply for open positions.

  4. Listen to your employee, by listening to them, you send the message that their opinion and feedback is important. It would be so unfair for them, if you always be the one that do the talking.

  5. Provide each employee with a handbook to ensure they know the rules. Disciplining an employee who is unaware of the rules is unfair.

  6. Recognize and reward each employee for their accomplishments, regardless of where they are on the staff hierarchical structure.

  7. Avoid “lording it” over your employees.