Increase Teamwork by Treating Employees Fairly

employees sticking hands in the middle
Topic(s): fairness, leadership, teams
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2010)
Article: Cooperating when “you” and “I” are treated fairly: The moderating role of leader prototypicality
Authors: D. De Cremer, M. van Dijke, D.M. Mayer
Reviewed by: Bobby Bullock

Research is increasingly examining how teams work together to achieve common goals. One aspect of teams that is important for successful outcomes is the extent to which team members engage in cooperative behavior (rather than self-centered behavior). A new model presented by the authors (De Cremer, Van Dijke, & Mayer, 2010) indicates that cooperation amongst team members is highest when a) members feel that both they and their fellow members are receiving procedurally fair treatment from their leader, and b) the leader embodies the team’s values and norms.


It is definitely a good thing for employees to feel that they are being treated fairly, but sometimes that is not enough. The authors found that individual cooperation was highest when employees felt that the team leader treated them and their coworkers with procedural fairness (i.e., allowing all to express their views, consistent application of procedures). However, this effect was only significant when the leader was perceived as a prototypical leader (i.e., a leader that represents a group’s ideal values and identity). In comparison, when leaders did not represent group norms, their expression of procedural fairness led to much lower cooperation.

Why is this? The authors said this can be explained by pride. When all employees in a group are treated fairly by a leader who embodies ideal values, pride is arguably at its strongest, and so is the degree of cooperation and helping behavior among team members.


Organizations that want to use the findings of this research to bolster the degrees of pride, respect, and cooperation among its various work groups, may wish to do the following:

  • Ensure that the leader upholds and expresses the values and norms of the team.
  • Ensure procedural fairness to all team members; Be objective in decision-making, give all members a voice, and be consistent.

Remember, employees respond not only to their own treatment, but to the treatment of their coworkers as well. If leaders wish to get the most out of their teams, they should pay attention to group norms and be careful to treat each member consistently and with respect.


De Cremer, D., van Dijke, M., & Mayer, D. M. (2010). Cooperating when “you” and “I” are treated fairly: The moderating role of leader prototypicality. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(6), 1121-1133.