How many times have you heard someone say "it's not fair!"?
I'll bet quite a lot. Plenty if you're a parent. Probably even more if you're a manager.
After listening to similar comments many times over the years, I've come to a few conclusion about "fairness" and about the "fairness complainers". And yes, I think these same observations apply to the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters, too.
1. "Fair" is not objective truth. It is relative. Relative to expectations. Relative to others. Relative to the attitude you decide to adopt.
- If you expect to get that promotion, but don't, it isn't "fair". If you expect to be paid more, but aren't, it isn't "fair". An employee's expectations set the fairness bar -- and where are those expectations set? Usually based on looking at what happens with others...
- Susie got the corner office, but you have no window. "Not Fair!" And Susie has been here less time! Forget about the fact that the manager didn't want to re-arrange the entire office, or wanted Susie closer to Larry, whom she works with regularly -- it doesn't matter, it isn't "fair".
- Employees regularly overestimate their performance (I think the statistic was 80% of employees believe they are in the top 10% of performers), which often causes them to think they are entitled to more, more, more. If you don't understand how you stack up, and you look for opportunities to be offended -- you're going to find them.
2. Some whine, others are silently offended, some seem to avoid the fixation on "fairness". No question, managers dislike the whiners most. They make people around them unhappy (either sympathically, through heightened sensitivity to fairness, or because the complainers can be so annoying), they chew up large amounts of management time trying to figure out how to make it "fairer", and they usually never stop -- simply moving on to the next complaint. But even silent fairness protesters can be a problem -- because they quit one day unexpectedly, and their managers don't understand what they "did" or "didn't do" to cause it.
3. The constant comparison to others is behind "fairness" complaints. In the age of information, if you want to find an unfavorable comparison out there to support your "unfairness" complaint, it isn't hard. I remember employees scouring the internet to find pay or benefit comparisons that made their situation look unfavorable. Talk about searching for a reason to be unhappy!
So, employee, make a different comparison. How does your lot in life compare to someone who is out of work? Or homeless? Or living in a place where they have no opportunities regardless of ability? If you must compare, compare against the bulk of humanity, rather than finding the two or three examples of people who someone received more.
Or better yet, just ask yourself "Am I happy with the deal I'm getting?" If "yes", then be happy and stop complaining. If "no" then ask for what you need, but be prepared to go elsewhere to get it, if the answer is no.
And stop treating your managers like they are surrogate parents whose sole purpose in life is to keep everything even-steven. Remember, even your parents told you "life isn't fair."