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Move early on lateness

Don't let tardiness become chronic problem

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If we're honest with ourselves, we can admit that each of us has a hot button word, phrase or action that simply sends us off on a tizzy.

My hot button is the word late. In other words, I abhor an employee who is continually and chronically late for work, late to submit reports, late to respond to customer needs and late to communicate with their colleagues or their boss for that matter. It's almost as if they live by another clock as there just isn't any sense of urgency in anything they do.

Sometimes latecomers even have a sense of entitlement and so you'll find they rarely apologize for their actions. They don't seem to realize the impact their chronic lateness has on colleagues and on the organization as a whole. For instance, colleagues who are working on a team project become frustrated when an individual is continually late with their share of the responsibilities. In other words, one latecomer causes the entire team to be late and on occasion pushes the team toward a sense of emergency with respect to meeting a deadline.

Lateness is more frequently related to employees who are chronically late in arriving at work. This is extremely frustrating for both managers and colleagues and over time, this lateness will cause a general decline in morale, especially if employees perceive the latecomer as receiving preferential treatment. After all, people resent having to wait for colleagues who are late and they resent being directed to fill in until the late employee arrives. Resentment can build to a fever pitch especially if their colleague becomes a chronically late offender and even more so if the managers are perceived to do nothing about it.

So, why isn't this situation dealt with more effectively? From my experience, I believe the reason chronic lateness is not well managed is that the manager is not comfortable disciplining the employee. They may be reluctant to confront the employee because the individual may be perceived to have valuable skills that are not easily replaced. On the other hand, the individual may be a long-term employee who outranks the manager in seniority and they are thus reluctant to deal with the issue. Or, the employee may be perceived to have political connections at a higher level. Finally, in most cases that I am aware of, the manager is simply not comfortable dealing with conflict.

Yet, the trick is to not let tardiness turn into chronic lateness and the only way to stop this behaviour is to nip it in the bud, so to speak. It doesn't take long for an individual to be labelled as tardy but before you move into a disciplinary phase, ask yourself how you define late -- is it five, 10, 15 minutes or half an hour late? How do you define chronic? Then, ask yourself if being precisely on time is critically important, especially if the individual leaves later at the end of the day. Track the individual's lateness and confirm there is a pattern and if so, begin to address the problem.

Review your HR policies -- check your HR policies for guidance on how to manage tardiness. Some organizations will tolerate lateness up to 30 minutes prior to deducting pay. Still other organizations specifically state how many late situations will be tolerated within a six-month timeframe. If you are uncertain of your procedure, meet with your HR manager and/or a senior manager and develop a critical path to resolving the lateness issue.

Arrange for a frank discussion -- set a meeting with your employee and direct attention to their pattern of lateness. Be concrete by describing specific dates and times. Explain to the employee how their behaviour is affecting their colleagues and the business as a whole. Ask if there is anything the employee wishes to share with respect to a personal issue that may be causing the lateness. Ask how you might be able to assist with their situation. Indicate to the employee that their lateness is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Finally, indicate that your discussion is the first step in the disciplinary process.

Coach for timeliness -- many employees who are chronically late are also poor managers of their time overall. They are unrealistic about and/or are poor judges of what time allocations are required for different tasks. They may pack too many things in their schedule prior to arriving to work. During your discussion, involve them in developing a solution. Help them develop realistic timelines with respect to their tasks such as dropping children off at daycare. Teach them to arrive early so that they are never late.

Monitor and document -- while it may seem to be a nuisance, it's important to monitor and document the situation over a period of time. This is because as you move toward more formal disciplinary procedures, documentation is very important. Be sure to inform the individual they are being monitored and state specifically what your expectations are for timelines.

Proceed to formal discipline -- if an employee has had sufficient warnings and verbal discipline meetings, you will need to be firm and move to the next steps in your disciplinary process. Typically, organizations apply a five-step disciplinary process, beginning with the first verbal disciplinary meeting. Stay focused and consistent in the application of your process, be sure to follow up each and every time there is lateness. Be sure to document each step.

Overall, it's important a manager recognize dealing with chronic lateness will more than likely take several months to address effectively. It is also important for the manager to be a role model and to stay cool and calm as they progress through the disciplinary process. If you as the manager continue to be uncomfortable confronting the problem employee, then seek assistance from manager colleagues, write out a script for each meeting and do not stray from this document. Stay positive and keep in mind that helping a tardy employee to rectify their behaviour most often reaps good rewards.


Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 H1

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