Have you ever felt like you are being treated unfairly? When that happened, did you start wondering whether or not that treatment was indeed unfair? Many people face unfair treatment but many times, do not know how to point it out. There are times when you feel you will be targeted for speaking out against such treatment but it is important to set your boundaries, remembering not to be rude in return. Marstan Group (2021), highlights a study conducted in 2015 on unfair treatment in the workplace. The shocking results revealed that 89% of people at work have felt unfairly treated.
Treating someone in your staff unfairly because of who they are is discrimination. It can lead to them feeling upset, shamed, and even scared. When this happens, their morale and their productivity levels plummet (Bright HR, 2020. Academic studies have found that unfairly treating staff can drain them of energy and motivation. You might even see absence levels rise. For some employees, feigning illness to stay off work will seem like a better option than facing a stressful situation that leaves them feeling mistreated.
What is unfairness in the workplace?
A Queen’s University publication in 2014 stated that workplace unfairness is the absence of equity of concern and respect for each workplace participant regardless of his/her position in the organisation.
According to Bright HR (2020), examples of unfair treatment at work can include:
- Spreading rumours about an employee;
- Overlooking someone for a promotion for no good reason;
- Making offensive comments, emails, or social media posts to or about someone;
- Excusing such comments in the name of 'banter';
- Making someone's life difficult with unfair criticism and menial tasks;
- Demotion, transfer, or dismissal without a fair disciplinary procedure.
Some less obvious unfair treatments as listed by:
- Capricious decision-making;
- Vague and opaque selection, promotion and merit award decisions;
- Poorly managed conflict;
- Poor communication;
- Excessive and unreasonable workloads;
- Excessive requirements to work beyond normal hours;
- Insensitive handling of concerns;
- Inadequate diversity measures;
- Structural favouritism.
How do you deal with an unfair situation at work?
When you feel that you have been unfairly treated, there are 5 crucial things you need to take note of:
- Do not shout. Just listen, for now.
For at least 24 hours, do not do anything. Do not defend yourself nor lash out. It may help to find a place that is quiet and will allow you to think things through. Just listen. It is a big mistake to act too quickly on your emotions. This is because these emotions are making you irrational. Everything you do will be pushed with anger and/or bitterness. Listen for what is not being said. Remember to always analyse. Listen to the feelings and emotions that you hear expressed by others. For a few moments concentrating on others — not on yourself. What you hear will be important for what you do next.
- Try not to justify why you are right.
You might think that you are being more logical by sitting down and writing out your side of the story. That is probably not going to help you at all. Those who read what you write and already agree with you won’t think more of you because of what you write. Writing it all down will not always help you.
- Try to reach out to the other person.
If you are trying to resolve a situation where someone else misunderstood you, then reach out directly to the person who caused the problem. It does not make sense to waste your emotions defending yourself to everyone else when you could simply be explaining your intentions to the person who treated you wrong. Send an email. Pick up the phone and call them. Use social media. There’s no excuse to not connect directly and work through this situation.
It’s not a grudge match. It’s just a conversation. Start the conversation by simply explaining your intentions. You don’t need to justify what you did or defend it as being right. Just explain what you think the other person misunderstood. If you need to apologize for not being clear the first time, then do that. You don’t need a roomful of people or a newspaper full of readers to resolve the situation. You need one-on-one access. Do not waste your emotions on things that don’t matter.
- Apologise and change if you need to. if not, don’t fake it.
Sometimes you get things wrong. There will be times when you weren’t misunderstood — you were just wrong. Whether it’s an accident or a deliberate action that you undertook, there are times where you get it wrong. You can feud about the style of the person who treated you unfairly, or you can apologize and move on. They don’t need to forgive you for you to change. You need to change it because you want to be better.
And if you don’t want to change, then don’t. What only makes situations like this even worse is when you pretend to change but have no intention of doing anything different. Sometimes you don’t need to change — you just need to apologize for something that happened and move on. Don’t fake it. That just makes things worse.
Always remember to apologise when you are wrong. Pick up the pieces and move on.
- Just be you.
Being treated unfairly is a nasty feeling. It feels pretty horrible to be taken advantage of publicly. Even if you did something wrong to cause the poor treatment, you won’t feel any better while you’re being shamed. The secret to making it through that experience is to just be you. Do not do other things because people are watching. Do not adopt new habits because you think they will help people like you more. Just be you.
If you ever experience unfair treatment, just remember to follow your dreams. Attack the challenges you were attacking before all of this mess happened. Keep learning. Keep living. Keep leading others. Don’t let your dreams be squashed by attitudes that are entirely in your control. On the other hand, always treat others fairly, no matter what position they hold or that you hold.
Thandeka Madziwanyika is a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm.
Phone +263 (242) 481946-48/481950
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