Personal Circumstances and Work Performance

Activity Description:


To encourage students to reflect on how personal circumstances matter in the workplace;  notably how gender and non-work commitments impact the way employees are perceived at work. To start a discussion on whether personal circumstances should matter or not when taking a management decision.


The case is adapted from a real-life situation, in a French bank. The person fired was Mike and not Kelly, because the manager was concerned Kelly had children to provide for. He thought that Mike, being younger and single, would find another job easier. This case can start a discussion on cross-cultural differences as well, as personal circumstances have a different status in Europe and the US.


Give students 10 minutes to read the Bacofis Bank case individually and answer the questions individually. Then divide the class in small groups, ideally 3-4 students, and give them 10 minutes to reach a group decision. Each group explains its decision to the class.

A quicker alternative would be to give them 10 minutes individually, organize a vote and ask volunteers from each position to argue for it, starting with the minority group.

Bacofis Bank Case:

Bacofis Bank operates in the financial markets and is structured as such:

  • The front office takes positions in the market, selling and buying stocks, bonds, commodities, futures and options;
  • The middle office manages portfolio risks;
  • The back office handles the administration of the positions taken during the day, ensuring that stocks are transferred to the bank that bought them, and so forth.

You are a manager at Bacofis Bank, in charge of the back office team that handles administration for all futures and options sold and bought by the traders.  

Your team is comprised of six persons. Because of the recent economic downturn, you have been told two weeks ago that you have to downsize and let go of one person. You are to select the person to fire, and the Head of the back office will make his final decision based on your recommendation.

You have been examining last year’s performance appraisals and considering the unique skills that you cannot afford to lose in your team. There are two persons that you could let go, who are the lesser performers and who do not possess indispensable expertise.

Kelly is 45 years old. She has been with Bacofis Bank for 10 years now. She is a mother of 3, the youngest child being 5. She is reliable in her work and her error ratio on operations handled is only 4%. Yet, she sometimes needs to miss work because of a sick child or other unexpected duties and this has been bothering you because operations need to be handled the day they are initiated.

Mike is 29 years old. He has been with Bacofis Bank for 3 years and is single. He seems to be less focused in his work than Kelly, maybe less committed as well, and as a result his error ratio on operations handled is 8%. However, he is more readily available than Kelly and typically covers for her when she needs to be off.

Both Kelly and Mike are well integrated in the team.

Who should you fire? Based on what criteria are you going to make that decision? How are you going to communicate it to the person you let go of and to the team?

Indications for debriefing

Ideal worker norms

Decision criteria:

  • Performance, career potential (lesser for the working mother)
  • Legal implications (severance pay linked to tenure, discrimination issues; in France: legal coefficients to protect those with a family)
  • Work climate -” insecurity for all if the most tenured is fired ; on the contrary send a signal that high performance is required
  • Personal circumstances (less in the US than France).

Activity Source:

Suggestion submitted by Ariane Ollier-Malaterre, Rouen Business School