Queen's University IRC

The Head-Down Theory: How Unfairness Affects Employee Engagement


Blaine Donais
President and Founder, Workplace Fairness Institute

August 18, 2014

 Zones of EngagementModern HR practice suggests that the difference between successful and struggling companies can be found in employee engagement. Those companies who engage employees to actively participate in the success of an organization report greater productivity, morale, innovation and health. Most companies offer rewards as a way of promoting employee engagement. Yet very few have analyzed the reasons why employees are not engaged. Our research at the Workplace Fairness Institute has led to a conclusion about the real reasons for lack of employee engagement – it’s all about fairness.

What is Workplace Fairness?

Drawing from the works of John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin, we define workplace fairness as “equity of concern and respect for each workplace participant regardless of his/her position in the organization.”

We define “equity of concern and respect” in the following manner:

  • “Equity” does not mean “exactly the same”; rather that on balance individuals and groups will be accorded the same level of respect regardless of their position.
  • “Concern” means that one person’s views on a particular conflict should be given as much consideration as another’s.
  • “Respect” means that all individuals should be accorded the same level of dignity in the way decisions are made regardless of their position in the organization.

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