teacher with students

I was thinking the other day about Mrs. Lacroix, my third-grade teacher. One of my classmates was complaining about a perceived slight of some kind—I imagine it had something to do with recess—and her calm response, one eyebrow raised, was, “Well, who ever said life was fair?”

We were gobsmacked. I sensed even then that this was not an original concept, but it was the first time anyone had ever laid it out quite so plainly for our sheltered little group. I think we all also sensed, intuitively, that she was right.

Some of Mrs. Lacroix’s pedagogical methods have not stood the test of time—I am thinking specifically of her propensity to whip off her glasses, stroll dramatically across the room, and administer cheek kisses to misbehaving third-grade boys—but maybe more of us could use a reminder from time to time about this “no fairness guarantees” thing.

To be sure, plenty of unfairness that takes place in the workplace is just plain wrong, morally and legally, and we should do everything we can to eradicate it. I'm talking about things like discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, and so forth, as well as retaliation against workers who blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

But the idea that all workers are all exactly the same, and should be treated as such, does no one any favors—particularly your superstars. Why should Driven Donny, who goes the extra mile every day and turns in truly exceptional work, get the same across-the-board 2% raise as Mediocre Mildred, whose biggest daily accomplishment is a record number of successful round-trips to the workplace coffee pot?

Seriously, why do we do this?

As Jennifer McClure of Unbridled Talent put it so well at our recent THRIVE conference in Las Vegas (which was fantastic, by the way), “We want to play favorites and reward the people who are doing great work.” I think that’s a sentiment Mrs. Lacroix would wholeheartedly endorse.

If you’re looking for ways to help create a strong environment for professional development at your workplace while boosting business growth and keeping your best employees engaged and on board (because fair's fair), you won’t want to miss our Workforce Learning & Development 2017 conference this fall, featuring renowned keynote speaker Bob Kelleher. Check it out now!