Felt Fair

When I was studying Industrial Relations, as it was then called, one of my lecturers was fond of talking about ‘felt fair’.

His view was, that at the core of all industrial relations, was how fair things felt to the people on the receiving end of them. From a redundancy situation to who gets the promotion, the annual pay review or a restructure, the individual grievance response or the performance management process. Whether these things are accepted or understood, how easily people can move on afterwards, is all about the felt fair.

That particular something does not have to be liked. It does not have to be agreed with. But when all was said and done, and that particular something completed, people need to feel it was done with equity, with equality and with fairness. Felt fair is what gives you good employee relations.

It is an idea that has heavily influenced my own HR practice. How does all of this people stuff that we do, collective and individual, make people feel? How fair does it look, feel, sound?

Don’t mistake this to be some unrealistic fluffy notion. I’m not advocating that we can, or even should, try to make everyone feel great all the time, or say yes to every request. I’m not expecting any pom poms. Because in HR, we are often involved in, the face of, difficult people stuff. We discipline, we dismiss. Re-structure, re-organise. We turn people down for jobs that they desperately want. We deliver difficult messages, or support others that do.

But how we do these things is what is important. Maya Angelou is often quoted as saying that ‘people will forget what you have said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’.

There is a lesson for HR, right there.

For all of our talk of employee engagement, voice, motivation, satisfaction, it feels like my old tutor asked the right question after all. The simple, straightforward question. All that people stuff that we do. How does it make people feel?

Does it pass the felt fair test?

4 thoughts on “Felt Fair

  1. I totally agree with your lecturer, and would add that a vital condition for one’s actions being ‘felt fair’ is often how it’s perceived *you* personally are feeling about the process. Most people to a greater or lesser degree realize that sometimes you’ve got a thankless and horrible job to do and they will pick up how you yourself are feeling about doing it. If you display some genuine interest and empathy about what you’re doing to people, as opposed to blindly and coldly and with disinterest working through ‘procedures’ or the instructions handed-down from on high, there is far more chance that your actions will be ‘felt fair’: even though they might be very unpleasant for the recipient themselves. ‘Felt fair’ can be a key aspect of maintaining harmonious relationships with trade unions etc – consultations and suchlike *ought* to focus on reaching a ‘felt fair’ plan of action, even though, from their point of view, it might be the best of a bad job. The more they feel that the HR person has no intention of genuinely doing this, the more that encounters tend to get emotional and entrenched.

  2. This was stressed within my lectures too and I find myself reeling it out during the hearing process when the panel chair is reviewing a grievance. It’s so important and glad others think about it too.

    It also reminds me of the theory (cannot remember name) that salary satisfaction is often determined by what others receive, not the value itself.

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