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Yes, I’m one of them. I’m one of the keen beans who gets up handy on a Saturday morning to drive to a location and start a 5km run alongside other runners at 9am.  Thankfully, I’m also someone who stays behind for a quick, coffee afterwards (and, yes, I’m well aware that coffee following a dehydrating run isn’t a clever idea but old social habits die hard…)

I started ‘Parkrunning’ in October 2019 and, already, am responsible for dragging two other people into it directly (by giving them lifts) and affecting at least one colleague (and discussing it in detail with clients and Solicitors alike by phone!)  It seems to be one of those things where it is far too easy to get addicted and start setting new targets for the coming weeks, such that you realise that you’re standing in the pouring rain at 8.58am waiting for the starting whistle!  

One of the biggest draws to Parkrun, alongside the communal aspect of running with others, is the competitiveness it can deliver.  Whether you’re an individual who likes racing others or, alternatively, you are all about beating your own previous benchmark (of which I am very guilty!), it provides unarguable results online each time you run.

Now, in my own case, and to use a FRIENDS analogy, I have a Monica-eske competitive drive against myself!  I.e. I can’t resist seeking to beat last week’s time and to end the year on a quicker time than the start of the year!  Some people couldn’t care less whilst, myself, I could happily finish 20 places down if I ran a quicker time than the week before!

How does this link into performance management in the workplace?  Well, parkrun is a set distance (5km) very week and, therefore, it is quite easy to compare each week’s times in terms of performance.  So, for example, if I ran 26 minutes last week (I wish!) and 26 minutes 50 seconds the next week, it seems clear that I ran ‘better’ the first time around.

In the same way, it can be easy for an employer (say a manufacturer of bespoke carbon fibre Pingu figurines) to look at the last 3 full calendar months and, upon noting that an employee produced 70 figurines in October, 50 in November and only 40 in December, insist that it is clear poor performance.  But, in reality, there can sometimes be factors to take into consideration (i.e. illness, team dynamic, lack of materials and/or orders, December having less working days in it due to Christmas close-down, etc.)

And so, in the same way that a Parkrun time can be slower due to being boxed in by other runners, poor weather or simply not feeling 100% on the day (or all three), an employee may sometimes have reason to genuinely explain seemingly reducing figures.  And, because of this, the usual process is to first have a meeting with the employee to discuss potential mitigating circumstances before passing down any formal sanction.

The real question for an employer is whether any of the mitigating circumstances put forward are most likely genuine and reasonable.  Whilst I could explain to people that I ran 2 minutes slower at a Parkrun one week because I had horrible blisters on my feet, saying that I was simply ‘disappointed’ at the ending of my favourite TV show the night before isn’t likely to hold much sway in explaining away a 2 minute gap; performance management processes work in much a similar way.

And, if you fancy trying out a Parkrun and, a few weeks later, find yourself standing in the freezing cold waiting for the run to start, please don’t hate me too much…