These words are almost a rite of passage for parents – once toddlers start talking, it's not long before unfairness enters the conversation.
Even from a young age, children have an incredible radar for fairness. It’s as if they’re born with a built-in fairness detector – before anyone has explained the concept of fairness, children inherently understand that getting your fair share feels right, and not getting it feels wrong.
As the years pass and once-toddlers turn into teenagers, our innate sense of fairness doesn't fade away. Teenagers, with their growing intellect and expanding worldviews, become even more attuned to issues of fairness and justice. No longer confined to squabbles over sharing toys, they now navigate the complex realm of social dynamics, ethics, and societal norms. The conversations shift from "It's not fair that they got the bigger biscuit" to "It's not fair that certain groups of people are treated differently because of their background."
Over time we may learn to cope with these experiences – but we don’t leave them behind. Even as we employ a more pragmatic approach to fairness that acknowledges the complexities of life, personal experiences of unfairness or observations of systemic inequalities can still trigger our inner child or teenager.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, fairness is something we care about deeply.
In July 2023, we surveyed a representative sample of 1,022 New Zealanders aged 18 and over. We found that 68% of New Zealanders believe that fairness is important, according to our recent study, with 42% reporting to care more about fairness now than they did five years ago.
Fairness is deeply ingrained in how we see ourselves as a nation. This code has evolved over time, with the importance of a ‘level playing field’ shifting from individual success to combatting systemic inequities for the progression of the community, informed by a heightened sense of empathy and compassion for others.
However, despite the value we place upon fairness, New Zealanders believe that the country is becoming less fair. In our study, 54% of people said that New Zealand has become less fair in the last five years, with 32% believing that it will become even less fair in the next five years.
In our July 2023 study, we found that while fairness is a universal value across all New Zealanders, there are key differences in the ways we think about fairness between groups.
Established migrants, for example, have the most positive and optimistic views on fairness in Aotearoa. They rate New Zealand highest in terms of fairness and believe we’ll continue to become fairer.
MindSets also have a significant impact. People with a Traditional MindSet, about two thirds of the population, lean toward thinking that life is fair in general (not specific to New Zealand). By comparison, a lower percentage of people with a Progressive MindSet think life is fair – 71% and 63 % respectively.
Our data supports the idea that New Zealanders have a strong and unique sense of fairness, and they believe that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity. At TRA, we refer to this sense of fairness as "fair go" culture.
There are contextual issues impacting this feeling of course – cost of living, climate change impact. However, fairness – and how New Zealanders are experiencing it – has a direct impact on organisations and brands. Organisations are part of the fabric of society, so they too have a role to play and to understand the broader context of New Zealanders views on fairness.
New Zealanders experience fairness and unfairness in many parts of their lives. Personal relationships, employee experiences, broader societal experiences and organisational and brand behaviour – all of these factors have an impact. In this latter case, people have first-hand customer experiences of fairness, plus they also form views based on the experiences of others and by media coverage.
Fair go culture is evident in many aspects of New Zealand life, from the way that people interact with each other to the way that businesses operate. For example, New Zealanders are generally willing to help others in need, and they expect businesses to do the same and specifically to be honest and fair in their dealings with customers.
It seems relatively common sense that businesses that are seen as fair are more likely to be trusted. However, it seems that many brands and organisations are missing the mark – with 1 in 8 interactions that people have with organisations deemed unfair.
When considering how many different engagements people have, it’s clear these interactions can lead to a lot of heightened negative emotions.
It's important to consider that not all industries are created equal when it comes to fairness – in fact, there are large fairness gaps across and within industries.
Despite differences, there are some universal trends we can track across industries.
One of the most common causes of unfairness in customer experiences is a lack of clear communication. Here are some direct quotes that address this breakdown in communication from people we interviewed:
“My neighbour got a new plan that is being offered and it's way better than mine. They never told me about it”.
“You sold me on No.1 in customer service, local call centre, but it takes me 45 minutes to get hold of you.”
Unfairness is often exacerbated by people feeling they are made to wait or put in extra effort to achieve their desired outcome:
“I waited six months for my flight credit.”
“I ordered online, only to see the next day you had a special going. Before my product was sent, I asked for the cheaper promo price. You said I would need to return the first purchase before you could process the next item.
In other circumstances, strict T&Cs can leave people feeling unheard and uncared for, especially in moments of crisis:
“When there was flooding in Auckland there were no refunds [on event tickets] I felt that was very unfair and unreasonable, not in a good spirit, they were expensive.”
"I introduced my cousin to my power company because I was loyal to them and he got a really good plan – but I was told I couldn't because I was on a contract.”
Other examples of unfairness include hidden charges, pricing on essentials, lack of planning, monopoly/duopoly exploitation and employee and supplier treatment. These examples highlight the importance of transparency and fairness in all aspects of business dealings.
Ever heard of the saying ‘leaves a bad taste in my mouth?’ It has a scientific basis – research has shown that unfairness can elicit the same physiological response as bad tastes and insect bites.
It’s clear that strong negative emotions result when people experience perceived unfairness – and that these emotions have a direct line to behaviour. If people feel unfairly treated, they try to counter that with their own behaviour to regain balance - through complaints, churn, detraction, reviews and punishing the brand. By understanding the different types of unfairness that people experience, businesses can take steps to avoid them and build trust and loyalty with their customers.
So, what can businesses and organisations do to be seen as fair?
What does it mean to be fair in today's world? What are the different ways that businesses can promote fairness? And how can businesses make sure that they are being fair to all their stakeholders, including their customers, employees and suppliers?
These are just some of the questions that businesses and organisations need to consider as they strive to live by the Kiwi sense of fairness. The answers to these questions will vary depending on the specific circumstances, but the important thing is that businesses and organisations are willing to have these conversations and take steps to align themselves with fairness in their decision-making.