How a fair culture in your workplace affects your Happiness at Work
Last week we kicked off our new blog series on the 10 things that most impact your Happiness at Work.
Let’s crack on with the first of the 10 items: having a fair culture.
Our early research showed that your feeling of fit with an organization’s Culture is so important that we made it central to our model: it’s one of our 5Cs. As iOpener Chair Jessica Pryce-Jones says in her book, Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success, this isn’t “about working in a place where hugs ‘r’ us,” it’s about the “environment in which you [work].”
When managers and leaders behave fairly and treat people consistently, employees feel pride in the organization and commitment to it. (Piccolo, Greenbaum, den Hartog & Folger, 2010). And we know from our research that these feelings increase Happiness at Work.
Leadership styles for promoting fair workplace culture
Creating this fair culture involves every member of an organization, but it’s driven by managers and leaders and their leadership styles. We generally think that there are three main leadership styles: transactional, transformational, and ethical. A leader’s style is influenced by how they communicate and the behaviors they demonstrate Because leaders and managers set the standard for behaviors, ambition, endeavor and outcomes within an organization, the style they exhibit can have a major impact on the sense of fairness and Happiness at Work.
So how do these styles affect Happiness at Work?
This style of leadership focuses on the natural day-to-day interactions between managers and employees. Rewards are given for positive behaviors and punishments for negative ones (Riaz & Haider, 2010). When done well, this creates a sense of fairness, because we all want to learn from mistakes as well as be rewarded for doing well.
However, under this style of leadership it can be difficult to maintain that feeling of fairness. Both rewards and punishments must be appropriate and consistent or resentment can build up: elephants have long memories, and so do people who think they’ve been badly treated. We all know this type of leader: often they praise lightly and punish harshly. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but one which has a detrimental effect on Happiness at Work, and thus performance.
This leadership style focuses on leaders who go out of their way to be caring, who give employees a voice, and who are role models to their people (Brown & Treviño, 2006). Not only that, when these leaders distribute rewards and punishments, they do so based on ethical norms. All of this naturally combines to produce a fair culture. And this is particularly important in the modern world, as workers often see their jobs as an extension of their personal identity rather than just a source of income.
On a wider level, ethical leaders inspire their employees to act ethically themselves. And following the recent issues at VW and with the English national football team’s manager, organizational ethics are coming increasingly under the microscope. If an organization’s leaders don’t show ethical leadership, employees will identify less with the organization, thereby decreasing Happiness at Work.
This type of leader is charismatic and inspiring, using their vision for the organization to inspire their employees. This behavior has a direct positive effect on Happiness at Work (Tims, Bakker & Xanthopoulou, 2011). It also establishes a fair workplace culture by promoting “contextual performance behaviors,” like volunteerism or organizational citizenship (Wang, Oh, Courtright & Colbert, 2011). This means that employees will choose to work outside their contractual tasks, they’ll take fewer breaks, and they’ll assist each other more, resulting in a more productive environment. And who doesn’t want to work in a place like that?
Our own data
So given how important it is for Happiness at Work, how good do people think they are at producing a fair culture in their workplace? Our i360 questionnaire throws up some interesting patterns. It asks a person (the subject) to give a score (between 1 and 7) for how well they think they exhibit certain behaviors, and then asks the subject’s manager, peers and reports to give a score. And one question is whether the subject “treats others fairly and transparently”: the sort of behavior which is likely to create a fair culture.
So what does our data show us? Well, our results show that the average subject scores themselves at 4.74 out of 7. So people think that they’re not bad at treating others fairly and transparently, but not great at it either. However, an i360 looks at what other people around the subject think too, and here we find something interesting and positive.
We see that not only their peers –but even the subject’s managers think that they’re generally treating people fairly. The average response they gave was 4.51: lower than the subjects themselves, but still suggesting that they’re doing something right.
But as we can see in Riaz & Haider’s paper mentioned above, it’s a leader’s followers who respond to whether or not there’s a fair workplace culture. And here we see something interesting: the average score given by peers, people managed by the subject, and anyone else asked for feedback is 5.4 – more than 15% above what the subjects score themselves.
So what can we take from this? There’s a certain amount of self-selection in the data we’re looking at: people taking part in an i360 are involved in an effort to improve themselves. And if you’re trying to improve, it’s likely that you’re interested in behaving positively, which as we’ve seen above is connected to fairness. So if you’re trying to act fairly, then it’s likely that your employees will recognize that. As our research shows:
people who find their Culture most unfair also report that they are disengaged for 32 percent of their working day, while people who find it fairest are disengaged for only 6 percent of their day. That’s an astonishing difference: one that mounts up to an extra day’s engaged work per week.
How good do you think you are at producing a fair culture? If you’d like to talk to us about this article or anything else, please do get in touch.
Next week we’re looking at part two of our journey: how Happiness at Work is affected by how interested you are in your work.