Summary: While being treated fairly in a workplace setting is important, distinctive treatment, where a person’s skills and qualities are recognized, also provides a sense of value while reinforcing a person’s sense of inclusion. Distinctive treatment also boosts mental health.
Source: University of Exeter
Being treated fairly is important – but fairness alone isn’t enough to make people feel valued in a workplace or other groups, new research suggests.
Researchers found that “distinctive treatment” – where a person’s talents and qualities are recognised – provides this sense of value while also reinforcing their sense of inclusion. It also promotes mental health.
The findings suggest there is no conflict between “fitting in” and “standing out” in groups – in fact, they complement each other.
But while the importance of fairness is widely accepted, the researchers say distinctive treatment is often overlooked.
The research was carried out by the University of Exeter, UCLA and Sonoma State University.
“Organisations and other groups often recognise the importance of members treating each other fairly – with dignity and without bias,” said lead author Dr Christopher Begeny, of the University of Exeter.
“In six studies of workplaces and other groups, we find that this is indeed key to fostering individuals’ sense of belonging.
“However, individuals also need to be shown that they have some distinct value to the group.
“When colleagues or fellow group members show interest and appreciation for an individual’s more distinguishing qualities, that individual benefits.
“This kind of distinctive treatment has real benefits for mental health too, including less anxiety and depression.
“To be clear, fair treatment is a must – but our studies show it’s also woefully insufficient on its own.
“Individuals need to feel more than inclusion. As well as ‘fitting in’, they need to ‘stand out’ – to feel that they have some distinct value and worth that they bring to the group.”
Asked how organisations could embed distinctive treatment in their workplace, Dr Begeny said: “It helps to have supervisors with the time and energy to recognise and tap into the particular skills and knowledge of the different people they supervise.
“Another method is to create well-developed systems of mentorship, allowing people to share their experience and expertise.
“This can also foster a workplace culture that is not just inclusive, but value-affirming – where people regularly seek each other out for advice, which is beneficial to both parties.”
Dr Begeny added: “Expressing distinctive treatment does not simply mean sending out a mass email saying ‘if anyone has any ideas about this project, please let me know’.
“It’s about going to an individual, or small group of individuals, and saying, ‘hey, I really think your insights and perspectives could be an asset to this project. Would you be willing to offer your thoughts?’
“It’s not a passive process of hearing people when they have ideas to share.
“It involves actively seeking them out – taking the initiative to learn what an individual has to offer -and showing recognition and appreciation for it.”
Of the six studies, four were based in workplaces, while the others examined fair and distinctive treatment in student communities, and in racial/ethnic minority communities.
Being treated fairly in groups is important, but not sufficient: The role of distinctive treatment in groups, and its implications for mental health
Organizations and other groups often recognize the importance of members treating each other in a fair (dignified, unbiased) manner. This type of treatment is key to fostering individuals’ sense of belonging in the group. However, while a sense of belonging is important, individuals also need to be shown that they have some distinct value to the group–enabling them to not only “fit in” but also “stand out.”
Building from research on fair treatment, we explicate another form, distinctive treatment, whereby others show interest and appreciation for an individual’s more distinguishing, group-relevant qualities. In six studies using multiple methods (e.g., experimental, longitudinal) and in multiple types of groups (work organizations, student communities, racial/ethnic minority groups), we show that fair and distinctive treatment play fundamentally different roles–shaping individuals’ perceived belonging versus intragroup standing, respectively–and with downstream benefits for mental health (less anxiety, fewer depressive symptoms).
Overall, this illustrates that promoting fair treatment in groups is important, but not sufficient. Experiencing distinctive treatment is also key. Each type of treatment provides unique social evaluative information that fosters a healthy sense of self.
This research further indicates that distinctive treatment may be a vital yet overlooked element to promoting diversity and inclusion in groups, as it provides a path for recognizing and appreciating, and thus encouraging, a diversity of ideas, insights, knowledge and skills that individuals bring to the group.