Friday, October 26, 2012

Equal pay for equal work

No, this is neither a political nor a sexist article. This is about teams, rewards, and ethics. The scenario is as follows: you have 2 people in a team doing the exact same thing and one is being better rewarded than the other. Independently of the reasons (even valid ones) for rewarding one better, they're doing the same work and they're both doing it well, giving the exact same results. What do you think it will happen in such a scenario?

Simplifying things

If you think that human nature is too complex to deal with in the previous a scenario, let's simplify things and do it with monkeys instead of humans. And do it with a really simple task, let's say, fetch and return a rock. In return, the monkey gets paid with food (one considered better than the other, in this case, these monkeys find grapes better than cucumber). Do you think this is simple enough for you to guess what will happen? Well, watch the following video if you still have any doubts (or watch it anyway):


The experiment related in this video was conducted by Frans de Waal on a study on fairness. And by the way, if this video caught your attention you have to watch the whole thing - it was a TED presentation done last year and you can watch the entire presentation on TED.

Teams

But what does this show? For starters, it shows something pretty obvious: you have to be fair when dealing with others. This is so obvious that even animals expect it and react when it doesn't happen. Frans de Waal mentions in this presentation that some monkeys got to a point where they refused the grapes: if the other monkey was getting cucumber so would he.
So pay close attention to how you deal with your team. You'll always have some people to work with that you like better than others, so it's pretty easy to favor those you like best to work, even without you noticing it - the thing is, others will.

Rewards

Rewards can take many forms because people feel rewarded by different things - a challenging task can be a reward to some at the same time that a simple "thank you" can be a reward to others. So rewarding team members can be pretty tricky if you want to keep this fairness principle in these terms: equal rewards for equal tasks.
My guess is that the best you can do is to know each of your team members well enough to learn what they appreciate best and then reward them accordingly. So the same reward for the same task could in fact become say "thank you" to one and give a challenging task to another. Although these rewards are not the same, they are felt as the same. And I'd love to hear what your ideas are if you have a better way to deal with this.

Ethics

You can be fair and not be ethical but you can't be ethical without being fair. So if you think, like I do, that being ethical is something important to be incorporated in the workplace (thus in project management) than you have to keep an eye on how fair you are to others.
You don't have to like everyone you work with but you do have to be fair with all of them. And it's so simple to be unfair to others, all you have to do is not to pay attention. I'll give you an example. Suppose there's these 2 guys in your team, one that you like and really feel a connection and one that you don't. Suppose that this one you dislike for some reason feels appreciated and rewarded by simple things like going out to lunch. Your lunch is your time, right? It has nothing to do with work. But how do you think this guy that you dislike feels if you go out to lunch with the other guy that you like and not him? He'll probably feel that, because you're rewarding the other guy by going out for lunch, you're being unfair. So you see, just by not paying enough attention to others and trying to separate your personal life from your work you can get to be unfair. I should know, I've done it... there's nothing wrong with the causes (there's no time to chitchat  with everyone and you're entitled to do whatever you want in your lunch break) but it all ends in unfairness!
In fact, this concept of "equal pay for equal work" that seems natural (as in nature) has to be legislated so it is applied by humans (check out this article on Wikipedia for some details or this recent study on Catalyst that shows that in the US men earn more than women). It seems that it's really not that easy to be fair...

Conclusion

If you want to be ethical you have to play it fair which in turn makes you have to be very criterious on how you reward your team members or other stakeholders. This seems pretty straightforward and easy to do but in fact it's all too easy to be unfair while doing the right things.
So pay attention to your actions, take a look at the last 3 or 5 times you rewarded someone. Did that person feel rewarded? Was the reward proportional to the task done? Were there any others who deserved the same? My bet is that it's pretty likely you went wrong in one of these - I know I did. But the point is to acknowledge it first so you make it better the next time. First you fail, then you find out why/where exactly so you can correct things and do it right the next time - it's this easy.

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Image from http://www.niftyatheist.com/2012/04/equal-pay-day.html

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