1 February 2012 Jay Shepherd

The wrong question

Question mark road signToo often, when managers and HR professionals get employee requests for special treatment, accommodations, or departures from policy, they ask themselves the wrong question:

What if another employee finds out, and then asks for the same special treatment, or accuses us of not treating everyone equally?

This question is common, understandable, and well meaning. HR pros and good managers know that different treatment (or as the lawyers say, disparate treatment, which means “Look at me: I went to law school and learned how to talk different. I mean, disparate. D’oh!”) can potentially lead to discrimination lawsuits. The problem is that when you treat people uniformly, you end up treating them uniformly badly.

So this is the wrong question to ask.

The right question to ask is this:

If I was requesting this special treatment in the same situation, would I think I deserved it?

If your being-honest-with-yourself answer is yes, then you should try to find a way to grant the request. Of course, don’t discriminate (there are, like, laws against doing that). But don’t disgruntle one employee just because other employees might not get the same treatment.

You’ll end up with the wrong answer.

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