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New report maps contours of fairness

05 November 2013

A report just published reveals that, among those working in organisational contexts, there are markedly different notions of what is deemed to be ‘fair’.

‘The Changing Contours of Fairness’ report is the first study to emerge from a new three-year research programme – a collaboration between the Centre for Performance-Led HR, The Work Foundation and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

The programme was conceived in the wake of a financial crisis, and is setting out to map the contours of organisational fairness. In many Western economies we are witnessing a reshaping of the relationship between markets, states, organisations and individuals. How can we manage this in a way that is as fair as possible?

The report draws upon data from a survey representation of the UK workforce: the CIPD Employee Outlook survey. When asked ‘have you encountered anything in the workplace or your professional life that you thought was particularly unfair in the past 12 months?’, a surprising 41% of people said yes. 59% believe that the rules and agreed procedures are not applied consistently by decision-makers, and 49% believe that rewards are not distributed fairly. Is this inevitable? Will it matter?

The authors point out “We often use a ‘shorthand’ for the word ‘fair’ and talk about ‘doing the right thing’ – a catch-all that can hide many a wrong action.”

This initial report examines the nature and incidences of (un)fairness and then synthesises the multi-disciplinary academic literature on ‘fairness’, ‘equity’, ‘equality’ and ‘justice’ into six broad families or fairness ‘lenses’.

The report applies these six lenses to a range of issues faced by organisations – women on boards, pensions, executive pay, equality vs equity vs diversity, corporate social responsibility, and inter-generational burden-sharing.

It calls for a more open, transparent but realistic discussion of the difficult choices that face society, and argues that HR functions will need to engage with the issue if we are to protect productivity.

Download the report

The changing contours of fairness: can we match individual and organisational perspectives? by Paul Sparrow, Wilson Wong, Lilian Otaye and Stephan Bevan, was published in November 2013 by the CIPD.