Respond properly to unfair treatment in the workplace

How do you deal with injustice in the workplace? What factors play into behavior and what can companies do about it?

Taking a little longer break now and then, talking badly behind the backs of colleagues and superiors, or using the company laptop for private chatting with friends? All of this can be summarized under the description "counterproductive behavior at work". But what is the origin of this behavior? In our blog post, we explore the myth!

Many different factors, such as boredom, excessive demands or a difficult relationship with superiors and colleagues can trigger dissatisfaction at work. But one of the most frequently cited reasons for displeasure at work is alleged unfair treatment by the boss. What's behind it? The perception of these minor or major unfair acts is subjective. Nevertheless, at the beginning of an employment relationship, not only is a written contract signed, but a psychological agreement is also defined. The psychological contract consists of assumptions or beliefs about what one is entitled to and what one must do in return. But what happens when this agreement is broken?

What is sense of injustice?

It's really quite simple: Employers mainly expect one thing from employees: That they do a good job with honest commitment - and thus create added value for the company. In return, employees expect their superiors to reward them appropriately for the work they do and all employees to receive the same reward for the same effort.What happens when these expectations are not met? In this case, employees feel unfairly treated and perceive this as a psychological breach of contract. This can lead to counterproductive behavior - the employee who feels unfairly treated tries to restore the disturbed balance. If the employee receives too little reward or not enough prestige, he or she will accordingly perform less in the future. Of course, there are employees who feel unfair treatment by their superiors worse than others. There may be different reasons for this, but it mainly has to do with the personality of the person concerned and the extent to which his or her sensitivity to injustice or sense of unfairness is pronounced.

Reasons for injustice in the workplace

Sometimes team members feel unfairly treated because they simply don't know that the colleague from the marketing department has actually done an incredible amount in the last few weeks and therefore receives a whopping bonus at the end of the month. But it can also be that an employee feels that he is not being treated correctly because he is actually always portrayed somewhat worse by the boss. Or because his team always takes all the credit, although he actually works mostly alone on the projects. Employees primarily feel betrayed when their performance is not recognized or when their opinion is not valued, or not even heard in the first place.

Consequences of injustice in the workplace

What happens when perceived injustice determines everyday working life? Loss of motivation and performance in particular are long-term consequences. After all, who wants to make an effort and do their best when no one notices anyway? 

No matter where this injustice comes from - too little pay or recognition for the services rendered, unfair treatment by superiors or employees - the consequences are drastic. Injustice on the part of the boss reduces the sense of self-worth and belonging and leads to a bad climate in the company. Those affected are angry, which leads to resignation and ultimately to internal resignation, a creeping process. Unfair behavior towards employees creates a toxic climate in the office, which ultimately is always to the detriment of the company. It does not matter whether we ourselves or someone else suffer injustice in the company. The change this causes in the working atmosphere is felt by everyone.

What you can do in your company against injustice

A lack of fairness in everyday business is detrimental to the company's success in the long term.

What you can do about it:

  • Create a corporate culture in which appreciation is highly valued and which is characterized by appreciative communication that is open to dialog.
  • Place value on an open feedback culture. Employees are the focus of attention and should receive constructive feedback on an ongoing basis in order to be able to grow beyond themselves.
  • Show appreciation. Because that is the be-all and end-all of good employee management.
  • Create trust. To avoid unfairness, it is important to create a confidential and respectful atmosphere. This is the only way to create company cohesion and a strong "we" feeling.
  • Justify your decisions. Employees who can understand the decisions of their superiors or are even involved in the decision-making process are less likely to be dissatisfied.

Try to implement these tips to create a fair and pleasant working environment. This has benefits not only for the employees, but for everyone who works in the company.

More information

Not only negative feelings like that of injustice have an immense impact on performance and the overall well-being of the company! General employee motivation also plays a decisive role. Find out how to master this in our guide.

EN Mitarbeitermotivation


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