Is fairness a relevant concept for the economy

Strengthening fairness skills

Central and current questions and answers on the topic of fairness / fairness questions in Corona times

Fairness and economy - that seemed to go less and less together until before the corona crisis. Has that changed now?

The corona crisis has brought the issues of fairness and responsibility into focus. As if through a magnifying glass, we suddenly look at the fair and unfair aspects of society and the economy. In everyday life we ​​were confronted with very specific, responsible behavior. And we see that responsible action, consideration and also renunciation are possible - in private and in business. A nice and very important signal! But we also see that this change did not occur automatically or voluntarily, but was caused by external circumstances and political regulations. Nevertheless: the willingness for a fairer and more responsible economy is definitely there.

Nursing staff gets applause, while corporations get billions in aid Has the crisis really made us a fairer society?

We now know that we can subordinate everything else to a vital goal. We can defuse crises with consideration and discipline. With a view to climate change, this is also important in the future. But there were also the negative examples of corporations that stood out during the crisis for their unfair behavior. The situation in vaccine research was also significant. There was the accusation that the research on SARS vaccines before Corona was not relevant because there was no money to be made with it. Here one could think about other framework conditions. In general, it becomes clear that the so-called “free market” is one of the big losers of the crisis and that we humans should use our creative potential to create framework conditions that are useful to us. We need clear regulations for a fairer economy.

Many understand the term fairness to be similar but different things. What is fairness?

In my workshops I actually experience again and again how different the associations with the topic of fairness are. For one it is about equal treatment, for the other it is about performance-related justice or moral decency, for example. In my opinion, fairness means taking into account the interests of all those concerned as just or appropriate. Unfairness arises when not all those affected are included in a process or at least their interests are taken into account.

Can fairness be trained?

Fairness has to do with attitudes, perceptions and behavioral skills. As with other competencies and soft skills, we can develop fairness-relevant attitudes and skills, for example through reflection, information, exercises, feedback. Managers can train their personal fairness skills and, in exchange with their team, strengthen fairness skills in the company. Among other things, it is about developing a common idea of ​​fairness and sharpening the communicative skills in order to be able to express one's own needs appropriately.

But didn't the Corona crisis show that unfairness is not a personal problem, but rather a structural one?

That's true. We do need important personal fairness skills, such as constructive communication, conflict management or fairness intuition. But there are also typical structural fairness hurdles in many companies. These include strong competitive situations, pressure to maximize profit, anonymity and short target intervals. Today we know from research and also from our everyday experiences: The fiercer the competition within a team or in a market, the more likely it is that those involved are tempted to use tricks to gain an advantage. The greater the pressure to get a high margin, the more likely it is to engage in unfair business practices. In relation to the sustainability triangle, one could say: Social and ecological goals fall victim to the pressure to be economically successful in many companies. This imbalance is unfair and unsustainable.

How do profit maximization and fairness fit together?

I think the concept of focusing on your own profit maximization is an obsolete model that will experience a much more negative evaluation in the future. There are already concepts today that instead speak of appropriate profit. The aim is to generate a reasonable profit, to exist in the long term and also to do justice to social and ecological interests. Appropriateness arises precisely from this triad (concept of the triple bottom line).

Many medium-sized companies are dependent on large corporations and cannot achieve maximum profits anyway. But if a large corporation does not maximize its profit, but maintains a fair partnership with its suppliers, medium-sized companies also benefit.

Is this realistic?

Yes, there are already recognizable approaches for appropriate profit calculations in practice. Participants from the industry tell me that there are already fairer negotiation practices there. You no longer just try to squeeze your negotiating partner in order to maximize your own profit. Instead, all those involved put their necessary margin on the table and then we look together: How can we design the process so that all (!) Those involved achieve their margin as optimally as possible? This creates stable working relationships. It is remarkable: something like this happens in the automotive industry, in which corporations have lived in fierce competition for decades. The corporations are now also working together on the development of new technologies. They do this because they are learning that in certain market segments they only have a chance against new competitors if they work together.

Many people lost their jobs during the crisis or are afraid of it. How should entrepreneurs and managers deal with such a situation?

Here, too, it is important to adequately take into account the needs of all those affected. This includes transparent communication and the possibility of exchange. Research shows that companies that make the process of job cuts transparent have to reckon with far fewer lawsuits. Transparency, fairness and respect pay off in such critical situations. In the best case scenario, the departing workforce feels taken seriously and treated fairly despite the adverse circumstances. Incidentally, the remaining workforce also registers this very precisely.

Why do many companies still act differently in their day-to-day business?

Firstly, because we humans often think very short-term, secondly, only consider a part of the effects and thirdly, it is very difficult to do without. In addition, the view that fairness is of no use is widespread. Despite Corona, fairness has a major image problem. The positive effects of fairness have long been researched. Employees are happier and more productive when they feel they are being treated with respect and decency. This can be proven both neuroscientifically and economically. Initial studies also show that companies that follow the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, for example, write better numbers in the long term. Managers should be much more aware of these connections.

Can the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals actually make a difference or do companies use them to look good?

When companies implement concrete measures to ensure less plastic waste, cleaner oceans and more climate protection, this has positive effects. It helps companies if, by addressing the SDGs, they realize that profitability is not the only important factor for a company. Companies are a natural part of our world and depend on functioning cooperation and a stable ecosystem. More and more executives understand this. It is also noteworthy that more and more chambers of commerce are offering companies guides on how to implement the SDGs. This is not done without a reason.

What is your fairness conclusion so far after the first few months of the corona crisis?

We have seen that fairness and renunciation are possible. But we also noticed that we sometimes need stricter framework conditions because the market doesn't regulate everything. We absolutely need a fairer, more sustainable economy. We should use the positive approaches since the Corona period and not fall back into earlier times, because I see the risk that we will slide out of the Corona crisis into a much more serious climate crisis.

Finding the balance between economic, social and ecological responsibility will be the greatest challenge for companies in the years to come.

Companies need to rethink. Anyone who dismisses fairness as unimportant has not understood the signs of the times and is wasting a chance of success.

Fairness - the unlearned ability?

Whether on the soccer field, in traffic or at the supermarket checkout: In many everyday situations, fairness is an integral part of human coexistence. The foundations for cooperation and fair cooperation are laid in our cradle and developed in the course of childhood. When we were born, we humans were already born with a genetic predisposition to fairness. Between the ages of three and eight, a strong sense of justice develops based on this. So we can be fair - if we want it and we let each other. Because it seems as if in a certain sense in the course of life we ​​forgot to be fair and decent. Take road traffic, for example: In a recent survey by the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy, 90 percent of the 30 to 59-year-olds questioned complain about increasing aggressiveness on Germany's roads. “If we are shown from childhood that fairness is not rewarded and unfairness is not punished, this value does not and will not receive priority. Rabid behavior in traffic is then only one possible expression of a society that is trained to be unfair. It is all the more important that we mutually demand decent behavior. Anyone who perceives unfairness should not give in or withdraw, but rather represent their own point of view appropriately and thereby improve the image of fairness - whether at work or in everyday life.

What happens if fairness is ignored?

We have been experiencing increasing deregulation of the markets for several decades, but at the same time we have to realize that social and ecological aspects have not been given enough attention. If things continue as they have for the past 30 or 40 years, phenomena such as natural and environmental disasters, but also social inequalities, will increase. Risks that are difficult to calculate are emerging for the economy as a whole. We cannot be interested in that; therefore a conscious countermovement is needed in the form of a greater consideration of all interests. If you will, fairness is a lost piece of the puzzle that restores the balance between market, society and the environment.

The destruction of fairness?

Breaking up communities of states, problems of racism and no common line in climate protection: The world seems a long way from being fair to one another these days. The view of international politics is not more positive: In more and more countries around the globe, politicians are in power who limit themselves to national interests and neglect international agreements such as climate protection goals or the support of the WHO. The unfair behavior of these influential politicians is damaging the value of fairness. The misconception that fairness is a value without utility is becoming more and more entrenched. It is all the more important to strengthen individual fairness skills. Each and every one of us should set an example of fairness at work and in everyday life and address unfairness where it happens. In this way we can create awareness and contribute to a fairer society.