The Crucial Role Of Equality In Organizations: Understanding And Meeting Psychological Needs

leadership organizational performance psychassets

  June 3, 2024

Marnie, a seasoned graphic designer at a thriving advertising firm, had always been passionate about her work. Her creativity was a cornerstone of many successful campaigns, and her dedication was never in question. Yet, over the past few months, Marnie found herself increasingly disillusioned and emotionally distressed. The root of her turmoil was subtle but persistent - she felt overlooked and unfairly treated compared to her colleagues.

Marnie noticed that while she and her colleagues put in the same effort, only a select few received public recognition and the most exciting projects. She began to feel that her contributions were undervalued and that favoritism was at play. This sense of inequality gnawed at her, leading to anxiety, decreased motivation, and a decline in her work quality. Marnie's performance began to suffer, and her once-bright enthusiasm dimmed.

The situation Marnie faced is not uncommon in many organizations. The feeling of being treated unfairly can have profound psychological effects on employees. When individuals perceive inequality, it triggers a deep-seated response linked to our inherent need for fairness and justice. Neuroscience research has shown that perceived unfairness activates the brain's anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex, regions associated with emotional pain and distress (Tabibnia & Lieberman, 2007). This reaction is not just metaphorical, it is a tangible, physiological response.

As Marnie's story illustrates, the repercussions of perceived unfairness extend beyond emotional discomfort. When employees feel that they are not treated equitably, it can lead to a decrease in job satisfaction, increased stress, and a lack of engagement. These effects are not isolated, they ripple through the organization, impacting team dynamics, productivity, and overall morale.

Recognizing the importance of equality in the workplace is the first step toward fostering a healthier, more productive environment. According to the PsychASSETS model, meeting the unique psychological needs of team members, including their need for equality, is crucial for high performance and well-being.

Understanding the Psychological Need for Equality

Equality, in this context, refers to the perception of fairness in the treatment and opportunities provided to employees. This includes equitable recognition, fair distribution of work, and unbiased access to growth opportunities. Addressing this need involves both organizational policies and individual actions.

Steps to Foster Equality in Organizations

  1. Implement Transparent Policies: Transparency is key to building trust and ensuring that employees feel treated fairly. This involves clear communication about how decisions are made regarding promotions, project assignments, and recognition. Organizations should establish and adhere to consistent criteria, ensuring that all employees understand the process.
  2. Encourage Open Dialogue: Creating an environment where employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns is essential. Regular check-ins, anonymous feedback systems, and open-door policies can help employees express their feelings without fear of retribution. Leaders should be trained to listen actively and respond empathetically.
  3. Provide Equitable Opportunities: Ensuring that all employees have access to the same opportunities for growth and advancement is critical. This means offering professional development resources, mentorship programs, and career progression paths that are accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or personal connections.
  4. Recognize and Reward Fairly: Recognition and rewards should be based on merit and contribution, not on personal relationships or favoritism. Implementing objective performance metrics and peer recognition programs can help ensure that all employees feel valued for their efforts.
  5. Train Leaders in Fair Practices: Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the organizational culture. Training programs that focus on unconscious bias, recognizing individual differences in psychological needs, equitable leadership, and inclusive practices can help leaders become more aware of their actions and make fairer decisions.

Marnie's Turnaround

Returning to Marnie's story, her journey toward addressing her feelings of unfairness began when she attended a workshop on psychological needs at work. She learned about the impact of perceived inequality on her psychological well-being and recognized that her reactions were valid. Equipped with this knowledge, Marnie decided to take proactive steps to address the issue.

She started by having an honest conversation with her manager, expressing her feelings and providing specific examples of perceived unfairness. Her manager, who had also been trained in equitable leadership practices, listened attentively and acknowledged her concerns. Together, they devised a plan to ensure more transparent communication and equitable recognition within the team.

Marnie also took it upon herself to become more involved in the company's feedback mechanisms. She joined a committee focused on improving workplace culture and advocated for policies that promoted fairness and transparency. Over time, she saw positive changes not only in her own experience but also in the overall team dynamics. Marnie's motivation and enthusiasm returned, and her work quality soared.

The Science Behind Equality and Its Impact

The importance of equality in the workplace is underscored by numerous studies in psychology and neuroscience. Research has consistently shown that perceived fairness is a significant predictor of job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and overall well-being (Colquitt et al., 2013). When employees perceive fairness, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and productive.

Neuroscientific studies reveal that our brains are hardwired to seek fairness. The anterior insula, a region involved in processing emotions and social information, is particularly sensitive to unfair treatment (Singer et al., 2006). When fairness is perceived, it activates the brain's reward centers, leading to positive emotions and reinforcing fair behavior.

Moreover, the PsychASSETS model highlights that meeting psychological needs, including the need for equality, is crucial for optimal performance. The model emphasizes the interconnectedness of psychological needs, all of which contribute to an individual's overall well-being and effectiveness.

Practical Tips for Employees

While organizational changes are vital, individuals can also take steps to address feelings of unfairness and promote equality in their workplace:

  1. Self-Reflection: Take time to reflect on your feelings and identify specific instances where you felt treated unfairly. Understanding your reactions can help you communicate your concerns more effectively.
  2. Communicate Assertively: Approach conversations about fairness with a solution-oriented mindset. Provide specific examples and suggest constructive changes that could improve the situation.
  3. Seek Support: Don't hesitate to reach out to mentors, HR, or trusted colleagues for advice and support. They can provide valuable insights and help you navigate challenging situations.
  4. Get Involved: Participate in committees or groups focused on improving workplace culture and equity. Your involvement can drive meaningful change and ensure that diverse perspectives are considered.
  5. Practice Emotional Intelligence: Developing emotional intelligence can help you manage your reactions and respond to unfair situations more effectively. Techniques such as mindfulness, empathy, and self-regulation are valuable skills.

Final Thoughts

Equality in the workplace is not just a moral imperative; it is a fundamental aspect of organizational success. By recognizing and addressing the psychological need for fairness, organizations can create a more inclusive, motivated, and high-performing workforce. Marnie's story serves as a powerful reminder that change is possible when individuals and organizations commit to fostering an environment of equality and respect.

By implementing transparent policies, encouraging open dialogue, providing equitable opportunities, recognizing contributions fairly, and training leaders in fair practices, organizations can ensure that every employee feels valued and treated justly. The positive impact of such efforts extends beyond individual well-being, driving overall organizational success and creating a culture where everyone can thrive.

Colquitt, J. A., Scott, B. A., Rodell, J. B., Long, D. M., Zapata, C. P., Conlon, D. E., & Wesson, M. J. (2013). Justice at the millennium, a decade later: A meta-analytic test of social exchange and affect-based perspectives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(2), 199-236.
Singer, T., Seymour, B., O’Doherty, J., Kaube, H., Dolan, R. J., & Frith, C. D. (2006). Empathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others. Nature, 439(7075), 466-469.
Tabibnia, G., & Lieberman, M. D. (2007). Fairness and cooperation are rewarding: Evidence from social cognitive neuroscience. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1118(1), 90-101.