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Fairness and Performance Standards


I occasionally get questions about fairness that go something like this:  If I treat people as individuals, does that mean that everyone should have different expectations around standards?


The simple answer is “no”. However, it can be more complex and requires a bit more explanation.


If standards are equal, reasonable, and applicable, then they SHOULD apply to all employees. Standards should be the expectations of results for the company.


For example: I expect that all store employees are able to lift boxes up to 20lbs when moving inventory. 

  • Equal? Yes, the role of the job is to handle inventory and everyone is expected to do it. If this

  • Reasonable? Yes, 20 lbs isn’t a huge amount and we can expect most people to do it.

  • Applicable? Yes, staff have to restock inventory, so it would apply to the role.

The same would apply to sales targets, production targets, etc.


Standards are set as a baseline and it is fair to expect everyone to meet the standards, regardless of their individuality.


Managers (and companies) have to decide what are the standards that they want to enforce. For a cashier (job performance relies on being physically at the cash register), the standard of being physically at the cash register at the start of the shift is fine. For the office worker who is doing knowledge work that really can be done anytime, enforcing a standard of being at your desk at the start of the shift doesn’t make sense to me.


I can only think of two common exceptions. 

  1. ADA compliance - but even in this case, the law has stated that the requirement is fine, but the company has to provide “reasonable accommodations”.

  2. Inexperienced employees - some standards need to be adjusted for inexperienced employees. For example, someone brand new to a role should not be expected to have the same performance as a 5-year vet. Standards should have a reasonable ramp up time.

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