Everyone can’t be the red-headed stepchild…


While statistically this is true,  I can’t tell you how many people I have heard use this phrase to describe how their department is treated within a company.  What I find especially interesting is the way people say it… almost like they are proud of it in some cases.

My most recent encounter of this happened on the Caesar’s Palace behind the scenes tour – from the tour guide!!  It got me thinking about where the phrase comes from, why do so many people feel that way, and what can be done about it?

First things first.

From the varied listings of origins I could find for this phrase dating back to the 1840’s, the general idea is that when a red-headed child was born to non-red-headed woman, it was an indication that the child could be the off-spring of a wayward Irish traveler.  This often happened out of wedlock, so when there was a marriage later, the youngster became a stepchild who just happened to have red hair.  Because of the questionable lineage, this child was often treated with less favor than their siblings.

So it sounds like we are using it to refer to when we feel we are not being treated fairly.  I can see that.

I can also see that sometimes our efforts to be fair with our teams works against us… mostly because we inadvertently mistake treating people the “same” as treating them “fairly”.  Same does not equal fair.

In fact when the idea of “same across the board” becomes the norm, fair goes out the window.  Fair is about what’s right for the situation.  Same disregards the situation.

The problem with being fair is that it takes a heck of a lot of communication and explaining to let people know that you really are doing the right thing for the circumstance.  As long as you can explain in clear, concise terms WHY different positions require different wages, perks, or resources, feel free to NOT apply the “same” mentality to them.

Back to our story, I am starting to feel like maybe this phrase is used when the standard of “same” is no longer being adhered to, at least to the satisfaction of the person who wants to be treated the same.

So what do we do?  For starters let’s throw out the concept of trying to treat everyone exactly the same.  Next, take anther look at things like reward and recognition programs, incentive programs and anything else that tends to get labeled as “global”.  Is it really working to recognize equal effort or results, or is it actually designed to try to make everyone feel the same?  Lastly, be ready to explain your actions again and again.  People will want to know why they are not being treated the “same” as everyone else.

You can just tell them that wouldn’t be fair.

Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Everyone can’t be the red-headed stepchild…

  1. Pingback: I’m published in FUNWORLD! « LeaderTips

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