No Remote Work for Locals? That’s UnfairMarch 30 , 2022

Wrestling with equity, fairness, and potential resentment.


  • Inconsistency and unfairness breed resentment: a toxic emotion that kills engagement and team happiness
  • Folks who have other options, a.k.a. your company’s best employees, may leave for an employer with fairer, more employee-friendly policies.

Q: Some of my co-workers, even my supervisor, have moved out of the region during the pandemic. Now that vaccines are well distributed in my area, company leaders say we’re returning to our old, strict “no working remotely” policy, except for those who’ve moved. I want to continue working from home at least two days a week. Should I pretend I’ve moved to another state?

A: Setting up a PO box in a distant state and telling everyone you moved might sound like the perfect solution. But that (1) is fraud (so probably a no) and (2) puts you at risk if your company’s “no working remotely” policy ends up meaning that those who moved get fired over time. Given your company’s militant stance, I wouldn’t put it past them.

The problem here is inequity: those who chose to move can work at home and those who stayed must come into an office. That kind of inconsistency and a sense of unfairness breed resentment, a toxic engagement- and happiness-killing emotion.

Most of us with more than a handful of months of work experience have seen the damage caused by a sense of unfairness; it often shows up around pay, time-off policies, work distribution; basically, any topic where either the rules or the outcomes treat folks differently. Humans have a finely tuned sense of what’s “fair” and when we’re being wronged.

When faced with something we feel is unfair or inequitable, some folks will protest in place: the crossed arms, try-and-make-me attitude of the actively disengaged. And that can have disastrous consequences for productivity: according to Bain & Co. research, an engaged employee is 45 percent more productive than a merely satisfied worker, and an inspired employee — one who feels a deep personal connection to their work and or their company ― is 55 percent more productive than an engaged employee, or more than twice as productive as a satisfied worker.

And not everyone will protest in place. Folks who have other options — a.k.a. your company’s best employees — may leave for an employer with policies that feel more fair.

Sharing the perils of inconsistency and inequity may be a good place to start, and the damage that it can do to their bottom line: explaining how a sense of fairness is core to trust in management, which is core to engagement, which drives productivity and profit.

Of course, this strategy may be fraught, if they decide everyone who moved has to go (although if you dislike your now-distant supervisor, this is a fiendishly clever way to get rid of them). The bigger issue may be their underlying belief that working remotely can’t work; find ideas for tackling that challenge here.

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