Are Fines Dandy?

Putting the punitive back into work.

Are Fines Dandy?

If you’re a professional soccer player on the London team Chelsea FC this season, not following the rules of new head coach Frank Lampard will cost you more than your teammates’ goodwill. Late to a meeting? That’ll be $650 a minute. Your mobile rings during a team meal or meeting? Expect it to cost $1,300. Late for the start of training? $26,000.

Fines are commonplace in sports, fairly uncommon at the office. But should it be that way? London-based commercial property firm Savoy Stewart surveyed 1,566 U.S. office workers about workplace fines. The respondents showed support for fining colleagues’ transgressions, albeit at a lower cost than Chelsea FC. Some are: not meeting a deadline (79 percent support, average fine $28); being rude or offensive (72 percent support, average fine $24); making multiple personal phone calls (64 percent support, average fine $14); and being more than five minutes late to a meeting (58 percent support, average fine $10).

Peggy Andrews, a senior lecturer in management at Hamline University, has questions.

“It seems like this fine system is being implemented as some sort of substitute for good management,” Andrews says, noting that managers and supervisors should already be giving feedback on such behavior.

Well-managed workplaces are inclusive and inspire people to do their best, Andrews says. “I have a hard time imagining a fining system doing that. So if employees brought that forward to me, I’d really want to know, ‘What problem are you trying to solve and what leads you to believe this system is going to do it for you?’ ”

Andrews says interest in a fine system seems like a workaround to a basic feedback loop. “I think employees who want to do this are signaling to you there’s something that needs to be heard.”

Fines can also backfire, says Katherina Pattit, a University of St. Thomas associate professor. She cites a 2000 study of day care centers in Haifa, Israel. Parents arriving after close caused some centers to institute a fine. But the lateness only increased, making it less about morals and civility and more about a financial transaction, Pattit says.

She cites money’s ability to serve as a common language. Learning the values co-workers assign to different transgressions helps “kind of know what the values are that usually people wouldn’t necessarily tell you directly. So it’s an efficient way of communicating how ticked off someone is.”

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