#5: Fairness means treating everybody differently

When it comes to "fairness," I often think we chose the right value but the wrong word. In my lectures, I often ask people to complete the sentence. "Fairness means treating everyone _______." Ninety-five percent of the people I ask respond, "the same." I usually respond, "I mean just the opposite." The word "justice" better describes the standard we set for ourselves and AES. I like the traditional Jewish definition of justice: "To each person what he deserves, to each one what is appropriate." If I combine this definition with an assumption that each person is unique, I logically complete the sentence this way: "Fairness or justice means treating everyone differently."

We’ve all heard the story of the sergeant who stands before his troops and announces, "Nobody gets special treatment around here!" What fairness meant at AES was that everyone got special treatment. The interpretation of these concepts gets confused because of another concept we hold dear: equality. The logic of equality goes something like this: "I’m the same person or do the same job as another person, so I should be treated the same as that person." Equality and fairness are not synonyms, however, and neither captures organizational justice the way I use it.

Each individual who works in the organization is unique and special and deserves to be treated accordingly.

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