F is for Fairness – How to Increase Employee Engagement with SCARF

by Ayla Lewis

(Note: this post is part 6 of 7 in the SCARF Series.)

Fairness is about the perception that things are fair—a fair exchange elicits the reward response in the brain, while an unfair exchange spurs a strong threat response. Unfairness can even activate emotions like disgust and a feeling of reward when an ‘unfair other’ is punished. Feelings of unfairness can be triggered easily, but can also be mediated rather easily because it is the perception of fairness that is the threat. This means that sometimes making just a slight change can have a large impact on reducing the sense of unfairness.

Dr. David Rock says The threat from perceived unfairness can be decreased by increasing transparency, and increasing the level of communication and involvement about business issues. For example, organizations that allow employees to know details about financial processes may have an advantage here. Establishing clear expectations in all situations – from a one-hour meeting to a five-year contract – can also help ensure fair exchanges occur. A sense of unfairness can result from a lack of clear ground rules, expectations or objectives. Allowing teams to identify their own rules can also help.

Each quarter, in the Happy Brain Science office, we get together to review and celebrate our progress towards goals, set clear and meaningful new quarterly goals, and identify our accomplishments as well as one area of development. These quarterly sync-ups increase feelings of fairness and alignment, as well as provide an opportunity to increase status, certainty, autonomy, and relatedness.

Three Happy Brain Science suggestions for increasing fairness in the day-to-day at work:

  1. Increase Fairness – Ask questions, get feedback, explain they why behind your decisions, and always consider the good of the group. We are wired to get fairness–these techniques help to increase fairness, helping yourself and others to relax and feel experience more happiness at work.
  2. Learn and Grow – Focus on learning and growth for you and your colleagues. Help people to learn and grow in their own way: through classes, conferences, books, and/or new job assignments. Career growth opportunities are consistently a key driver of engagement, and help increase SCARF, at work.
  3. Real Clear Values – Get very clear on organizational values. Go beyond talk and consistently act and decide according to those values. When values are clear, decisions are easier and more likely to be seen as helpful and fair.

This week at work, identify areas that seem unfair and work with others to increase the perceptions of fairness. How can you apply the strategies above to increase fairness and engagement in your workplace? How is engagement impacted when there are changes to the perceptions of fairness?

Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or Twitter, or by emailing us at Ask.Us@HappyBrainScience.com

To increased happiness and fairness at work!
– Ayla


Resources for the SCARF series: