How effective is 'zero tolerance'?
Well likely only as effective as a company allows it to be.
1) Should it be part of a company's policies?
2) How believable is it?
3) Should it be removed altogether?
Kristy Grant-Hart outlines a great argument for the first point in her post Why I have ZERO TOLERANCE for Zero Tolerance!
In the post she states that truly there is no such thing as 'zero tolerance'. Here's why.
Many companies will have to deal with minor infractions that never lead to any 'zero tolerance' action. Whether it's an employee who may have used a small gift for a prospective client, or another employee who does not disclose a conflict of interest, are these employees suddenly out of a job?
Are they disciplined in any way?
Likely no, they are just given a warning.
Fair enough, you say, it's their first infraction.
But then why the 'zero tolerance' enforcement in writing?
Discipline should always be the outcome of any minor infraction, right?
Well here's why 'zero tolerance' doesn't happen.
Because companies are afraid of being sued. Plain and simple.
And we live in the land of 'second chances'. People make mistakes. People make bad choices.
Which brings us to our second point. Employees who blow the whistle on wrongdoing won't believe their company's 'zero tolerance' policy because nothing happens.
Remember, second chances.
They see that their company's policies aren't being followed and enforced, so what type of message does that send?
"If you use the words, 'zero tolerance,' and employees see that those words are hollow, that attitude will spread throughout the employee population and to all areas of your compliance and ethics program."
Which then brings us to the last point and an interesting spin on the argument.
What if employees won't blow the whistle on wrongdoing because they are afraid of 'zero tolerance'?
What if they are unsure they want to speak up because of what could potentially happen to the person they are exposing?
They know the person did wrong, but they are scared of being responsible for the consequences delivered to that person.
The consequences could be life altering and affect more than just that person. Families could be at risk.
Yet we still rely on 'zero tolerance', and it's probably not quite as reliable as it is intended to be.
So perhaps it's time to start promoting a different concept altogether.
What about a 'committed to education' policy instead.
Or maybe a 'work together for change' policy.
What employees do respond positively to is when a company brings truth to polices and actions. Truth is more tolerable.