Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart

Zero tolerance is a bad idea

Ever had the idea to put a “zero tolerance” policy in place on some issue at your workplace? It’s a bad idea.

“We now have a zero tolerance policy on swearing in this department,” might be a response to a string of embarrassing situations where staff said the wrong thing at the wrong time.

The next week one of your best and most loyal staff has their fingertip crushed in a door and utters a bad word that she quickly cuts off with embarrassment. Same day, another staff, one that you had in mind when the zero tolerance policy was put in place, openly calls one of her co-workers a very inappropriate and offensive name. Both these incidents are witnessed by other staff and reported back to you.

Your zero tolerance policy now demands that you treat them both the same.

Zero tolerance policies imply:

  1. We really mean it.
  2. We accept no excuses.
  3. The punishment is the same regardless of the severity or the circumstances.

no "zero tolerance policy" signWe usually put a zero tolerance policy in place for the 1st reason: “We really mean it,” and that is fine. It is the second two implications that cause trouble. If there are no legitimate excuses allowed and everyone gets the same punishment, you are undermining the authority of the leaders involved to deal with each situation on its own merit.

“Zero tolerance” is not a good idea.

Thanks to Linton Sellen for inspiring this post.