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?