This Little Girl’s Mum Teaches Us A Lesson About What Fairness Really Means

I overheard a conversation in a shoe shop the other day.  A little girl was bemoaning that her mum wouldn’t buy her a particular set of trainers and she was going to tell her dad how mean her mum was.

I shouldn’t have listened in but I was interested in the reply.  Was mum going to give in, was she going to snap back a retort, was she going to ignore her.  But instead, her mum stopped and asked her why she thought she should have them.  The conversation went something like this:

Girl: “but why can’t I have them, it’s not fair”

Mum: pause… “so, tell me why it’s not fair”

Girl: “you bought them for Lucy last week”

Mum: “yes I did, but why does that mean I should buy you a pair too?”

Girl: “erm…because it’s not fair that she gets a pair and I don’t”

Mum: “but do you know why I bought Lucy a pair?”

Girl: staring at the floor sensing a trap… “no”

Mum: “because Lucy joined the after school athletics club and needs them so she can take part in the different sports.  What club are you thinking of starting next term?”

Girl: “swimming”

Mum: “So then you are being treated fairly.  Lucy needed new trainers now and she’s got them.  If you join the swimming club I’ll need to get you a new costume.  Does that sound fair?”

With a now thoughtful little girl, they drifted off out the shop.

I too reflected.  There are great lessons to be learned for employers in this exchange.

In my experience employers generally want to be fair, but sometimes confuse this with treating people the same; often putting in place all sorts of policies and processes in order to try to do that.  E.g. giving people the same pay rise despite different performance levels; allowing the same level of standard compassionate leave regardless of the actual circumstance; expecting the same inflexible work rota from an entire team, when flexibility could have been arranged to suit all.

Does this really lead to people feeling as though they have been treated fairly?  Does this help a company to get the best from their people?

I concluded that, just like this mum, if we are bold enough to recognise that as long as it can be reasonably justified, we often demonstrate better examples of fairness, respect and integrity, and inspire people to feel that their efforts, successes or needs have been recognised in the right way at the right time, when we treat people appropriate to their specific circumstances…

Now… where did I put my new trainers..?

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