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Fair Is Fair. Or Is It?

The value of fairness comes up a lot in email threads and conversations about telework policies, inclement weather policies, flexible scheduling, and any other topic that touches on the “when” and “where” of work.

As executives and directors and managers and bosses, we want to be fair. We want to treat everyone who works for us well, and we want to treat everyone equally well. Too often, we reduce that value of “fairness” to “the same rules apply to everyone.” Then we create elaborate sets of rules and policies and regulations, and we never quite reach that elusive place of fairness.

How about this, instead? If you really want to be fair, start with a rule that says, “Work when you want, where you want, as long as the work gets done.” Apply that to everyone, across the board, no exceptions.

All of those policies boil down to the same thing: the desire to regulate when and where people get their work done. That desire is an anachronism, a holdover from the days when most people worked in manufacturing, in jobs that required large numbers of people to be in a particular place at a specific time doing a job that required the manipulation of objects (tools, machines, products) and that changed little, if at all, from year to year.

I can honestly say that (despite having grown up in a factory town) I do not know a single person who does that kind of job now. How about you? I can be pretty confident that none of the people reading this do work like that, nor do they supervise people who do.

Work is activity that produces desired results. Increasingly, that activity may not be tied to being in a particular place or a specific time. The people who are best equipped to decide the optimal time and place for work are the people responsible for producing the results. Most of the time, those people are not the executives or directors or managers or bosses who delegated the responsibility for producing results.

If that weren’t enough of a whack to the side of the head, how about this: Such a rule is not for everyone. It may require a complete rethinking of how to manage work, rather than managing people’s time. It requires clear communication to establish and agree upon expected results (the “what” of work). It requires being willing to hold people (including yourself) accountable for completing their work, and being willing to impose consequences even handedly when work results are not satisfactory.

What you get in return is all the time, effort, and cost that are currently being wasted on tracking people’s time, writing and enforcing policies, and fretting about who “deserves” the perk of telework or flex scheduling and who might be “abusing” it. You get happier, more productive staff; better work results; and a better chance of recruiting and hiring the best and the brightest.

So, what’s stopping you?


Sherry A. Marts, Ph.D., CEO of S*Marts Consulting LLC, has a wide-ranging background in biomedical research, regulatory affairs, nonprofit management, public education, and research advocacy. She launched S*Marts Consulting in 2012 to bring her expertise and deep interest in current research on human behavior to businesses and individuals who want to create a world of where the unique contributions of every individual are encouraged and celebrated, and work is a source of satisfaction and delight. She leads workshops on leadership, clear communication, stress reduction and resilience, and work-life integration. She offers executive and career coaching with an emphasis on leadership development for women in academia, nonprofit management, and STEM professions.

Sherry is co-author (with Raven Dana) of The Book of How: Answers to Life’s Most Important Question.

Sherry received her B.Sc. in Applied Biology from the University of Hertfordshire, and her Ph.D. in Physiology from Duke University. You can view her profile HERE.

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