A question for ya: What do you do about employees who are always late for work?

QuestionI got this question from a business owner, who has a problem with some of his employees:

I love what I do and I started this company to become the best employer in this industry.

We now have 22 talents (=other companies say staff or employees), and we prefer to keep a very open, relaxed, warm and nice atmosphere. I strongly believe in the pull rather than push leadership style, but it seems I reached a dead-end.

We have 3-4 guys who are very important to the team. Those guys come late to work almost every single day. If a client is in, they tend to come in just a few minutes before hand, which is also annoying. I tried so many different things, but I am seriously tired with it.

When I ask them, all they are saying is that they were stuck in traffic, got up to late, blabla. In their last evaluation meetings, they said they are 8 out of 10 happy, so not too bad! Only a higher salary would make them more happy. But I I think their late coming is just disrespectful to their colleagues & clients.

So the question is: How to deal with talents who have a unbeatable problem with coming on-time?

Hmmmm… interesting question. What do you think he should do? Have you ever had an employee/a co-worker who was permanently late? Ever been that person yourself? What would you do?

25 thoughts on “A question for ya: What do you do about employees who are always late for work?”

  1. Does the employer really KNOWs his employees? How exactly is the work environment?
    I am a deep believer that open talks and shared beliefs and values in a relationship between managers and employees is key for successfull commitment.

  2. From the other perspective.
    I have been the employee that is regularly late for a while.
    I have found that other than requested meetings are often booked first thing in the morning, forcing me to drive to work during the busiest hours of traffic. Depending on the severity of Rush hour, the last year my travel time to work has varied anything between 45 minutes and 2.5 hours.
    At my current company I can compensate this by coming in really early (and leaving early as a result), but at other companies the office is just closed when you are early, which would mean choosing between sitting (sleep deprived) in front of the door when I manage to beat traffic.
    I’m not a direct hire, and as such am not going to move house to live close to a company, only to find myself far away from where I need to be at the next client when this project is done.

  3. A lot of this comes from aligning expectations with colleagues and clients.

    In two of the places I worked, we took the attitude that as long as you were never late for a client meeting and your work product was good, it didn’t matter what time you worked. Colleagues understood that as part of the culture. If Jonny wanted to work 7-4 because it let him spend more time with his kids, and I wanted to work 11-8 because I liked going out at night, nobody cared.

    In two other workplaces, client expectations were different, forcing the team onto a more rigid schedule. If customers expect you to be in at 9am, you’d better be in at 9am, or your colleagues will cut you down. In this kind of business, you’ve got to set clear boundaries. How late is “late?” At what point does lateness trigger disciplinary action? If you don’t have those questions clearly defined at the outset of employment, you’ll just have warring factions: one team who grumbles about the other who think the rules don’t apply to them.

  4. I would let employees set their own hours except when they have meetings. That gives them the flexibility to adjust the schedule to their biorhythm and traffic problems and makes them more productive in the end. I would also allow them to tentatively block time slots in their calendars during which they prefer not to have meetings.

    I would also introduce a late-jar or something where everyone who’s late for a meeting drops in a predetermined sum of money. You can use the money for team events like a team lunch, dinner or cruise (if everybody is very late)!

  5. We all have a need for autonomy but for some, this need is even higher. For such people, asking them to CONFORM to a schedule might be counterproductive. They will sooner or later rebel.

    9 to 5 is not something natural for the human being. ROWE sound much better.

    Also, the boss THINKS this is disrespectful, he didn’t used the word KNOW. Maybe the colleagues understand them and are not all that bothered by their late arrival. Maybe some colleagues are indeed bothered but not in a work-being-sabotaged kind of way. Maybe for them is a question of fairness and equality. Such problems could be solved creatively. Maybe institute a “being on time bonus” that these ones could get so they can feel that their adhesion to the schedule is not unrewarded.

    The main thing is to try to get all the needs met.

  6. I had a problem with one employee coming in late. His wedding was approaching so I bought him a clock radio as a gift. End of problem.

  7. As long as they are prepared and on time for client meetings then perhaps you would be better granting your whole team some flexibility on their working hours and monitor their results instead. Making it a company wide policy should remove any resentment and mean that everyone is operating on a level playing field. It should result in improved motivation and results as well as being less stressful for you.

  8. Flex time. Our office day starts 7-9am (not a hard rule). You decide when you come in. Essentially, you are never late.

    With scheduling meetings, I always look at people’s calendars and treat everyone on the team just like a VP. (I can’t get a VP to a meeting 30 minutes before or after lunch or first thing in the morning. They just decline my request.)

    BTW, because of this flexible, we’ve picked up several really talented individuals from across our state line. (We’re in Alabama, they live in Florida.)

    Beyond that, we usually have some minor punishment for being late to a meeting. (You have to buy coffee for everyone else or something.)

  9. I grew up with a father for whom “on time” was a religion.

    In fact, for him, there was no such thing as “on time”: there was “early” and there was “late”.

    When he was chosen as president of PTA, he began his first meeting “on time” (as he said he would) and by the time the school principal arrived was already half way thru the meeting.

    I grew up with a reputation for ALWAYS being early.

    But I was unique. Most kids my age were not “on time” because it didn’t matter to them because it didn’t matter to others. Everyone was always late.

    That said, if this matters to the employer, he is not likely to EVER get it to matter to these few employees. Their die is cast. But he MAY get them to be “on time” just because it matters to HIM by creating results so it matters to them.

    Right now, being late is working fine for the employees.

    They won’t change unless/until being late is no longer working fine.

  10. You didn’t really say so I’ll ask is being on time a requirement for the job? A requirement not a rule? If yes then do you let others come in late? If not this about your willingness to have a healthy conflict discussion. If the job requires they be on time and they aren’t doing it then it is a problem. I understand the desire to avoid conflict but you will be losing trust with your other employees if you don’t address this and quickly. If it isn’t a requirement for the job then let it be known others are not required to come in ‘on time’ and move on.

    If it isn’t a requirement then why do you care? Set the rules, set them for solid reason and hold people accountable to those rules.

    I recommend reading Monday Morning Conversations and The Speed of Trust. Both good books on establishing trust through credibility and accountability.

  11. My experience as a manager has shown me that we all do not work productively on the same rhythms. Forcing people to work on their “off-peak” cycles helps no one. For instance, I am most often more productive at 3:00 in the morning rather than after waking at 6, sitting in an hour of traffic and being hit with an 8:00 a.m meeting lasting an hour.

    The obsession with “face time” is a real problem to the workplace. Management should be by objectives not time. This is a management problem, not an employee problem. Unless there is a chronic behavioral issue, I recommend changing the employees hours or offering a flex-time schedule. Also, our existing managment structure does not fully embrace technology that has been around for a couple decades–telecommuting, teleconferencing, tele-everything!! Office space is the second highest cost–keep it lean!! Driving is expensive–save gas!!

    Unless the job has a requirement to be available on site to clients, manufacturing schedules and such, determine when the employees are most productive or creative and adjust. If they really are “talent” you want to keep them–right? If they do have to be in at a particular time, for a really good reason, this is simply a requirement of the job and if they can’t meet it, perhaps another position would be better.

  12. Has the owner explained to his staff why he thinks it’s disrespectful?

    I’m a natural night owl and this has been compounded by chronic health issues, so I’m guilty of being late. However, I have no problem with being at work until 8, 9 or 10 pm and my VP knows this, as he sees me still there when he leaves for the day. However, if a client is due at 9 am, I’ll be there and make an effort. It’s just hard for me to be at my best then and my performance will improve as the day goes on. If his 3 or 4 guys are like me, then an honest conversation should ensure a better understanding of both sides of the coin.

    Looking at it from the night owl’s point of view, I find those 7 or 8 am “breakfast” meetings that haul staff in early just to emphasise status or power disrespectful. There are people who prefer both sides of the early/late debate. If these staff are really central to the team, they might be working the way they are for a reason. I stay late to work on things where deep thinking is required and the office is blissfully quiet. Of course, this is no excuse to be insensitive to clients and colleagues.

  13. I’m the guy that’s always late, that’s why I’m now a freelancer working from home :)

    but I’m also the guy working through the weekend with no sleep at all to deliver

    when I did have an office job, I just couldn’t justify getting to work at a predefined time (9 sharp) since most other people will take breaks for lunch and to go out smoking whereas I eat at my desk and don’t smoke at all.

    which meant I felt I was putting in just as much as everyone else, I just wasn’t doing it strictly 9-5. and since my job was pretty independent from everyone else’s, I could’ve just as easily been doing it 9pm to 5am, and it wouldn’t affect anyone else.

    so what I’m saying is:
    – if they can do their work independently, let them work when it suits them, to an extent… let them come in an hour late, if they want… but work has to get done, so if they need to do 8 hours of “work”, that means they have to stay an hour longer than everyone else… if it’s a creative/performance job, make sure they hit their targets

    – if they can’t, make sure they know why it’s important that they come in on time. maybe they just don’t think anyone really cares, except for some archaic notion of “work time”

    – offer incentives that are only available to people who show up early/on time… my ex job had a fruit basket on mondays which would dry up by 9.30… I quickly learned to show up on time… on mondays :D

    if there was free fruit every morning which meant you didn’t have to worry about breakfast, but there was just enough that it disappeared by 9.15 – 9.20, people might make an effort to get there early… also it’s a lot harder to be grumpy when you’ve had breakfast and coffee ;)

  14. I would have the hard conversation with each of them. Tell them exactly what is in the email. Let them understand why and how you as the boss feel.
    I would also be a little concerned about the ‘only thing to make their happier is a salary increase’. If your company offered a cash bonus if people leave (ala Zappos style) would those individuals stay?

  15. I agree with most posters here: loosen up. At the same time, there should be an expectation that those who arrive later will stay later. Hopefully this does not mean that the boss has to arrive early and stay late, to check up on everyone. (I assume they are not paid by the hour, and that everything that gets done does not require everyone to participate together in real time.)

    Offer people some flexibility. Don’t clients sometimes call late, as well as early? If everyone covers for each other, then the office is functioning throughout longer hours. And, frequently it is quieter early or late, there are fewer distractions and productivity could increase.

    Have a meeting and discuss it, mentioning these benefits. I would think that most people will want flex-time. If so, make it an official policy. This will take the edge off, and stop people from thinking that anyone not at their desk at 9 sharp has broken a rule (reduces carping). Then, accommodate late and early arrivals when scheduling meetings, when possible. Have afternoon meetings just as often as morning meetings.

    One thing I have seen with flex time is to have everyone keep a consistent schedule, if not the same schedule as each other. If you are an early person, you’re expected to be early all the time, etc. People will know when to expect you to be present and accountable. Maybe it’s not really flex time, it’s more like choosing to be on the 7AM shift or the 10:00 shift, etc.

    But, loosen up about the hours. Some may put in long days in the office, but goof off quite a bit. Others may work from home more often. Who is more productive? Who knows. Focus instead on accomplishments.

  16. Hi there,

    I can imagine how nervous I would feel if the client is waiting in the office and half of my key people are still missing. I would also worry how the other team members might feel about this

  17. Thanks for all the excellent suggestions people – you guys are a great resource. I may have to start charging for access to your problem solving skills :o)

  18. Just as an addition. Perhaps you can schedule short (15 minute) pre-client meetings where you sort out what everybody knows, has to do, or not do etc.
    There are actually 2 benefits here:
    1) People will be there when the client arrives.
    2) everybody will be up to speed and know what to pay attention to, leaving a much better impression on the client.

  19. I will say, in my last position as Senior PM, my client asked for a status update first thing in the morning. My developers came in late but worked late as well. I was unable to get an update late the previous evening (even as I asked for just an email summary). It was maddening to wait until 11 to get updates to my client.

    In terms of disrespect to fellow employees, it breeds an air of exclusivity. Others are on time (as you should be) yet late people are not reprimanded or held accountable. Either everyone is allowed to come in with flex hours or everyone should report on time.

    Perhaps you hold a vote at your next company huddle. Ask if everyone wants this flexibility or if they feel the need to keep a tighter schedule. This will take the blame from your shoulders if the vote is for a timely arrival.


  20. Hi All.
    I am the owner who originally asked Alex the question. Just wanted to thank all of ‘ya’ for your great input, ideas and suggestion. Coming week I’ll sit down with the late-comers and try to have an open conversation about it. Will tell them again why I think it’s important that they are on-time, and will just listen well what ideas they might have. I love Scott’s idea to do a vote in this matter, this ensures that everybody feel heard and has a say in it!
    Thanks to all again, and also thanks to Alex!

  21. This is my husband and business partner. It is a nightmare to run a business with someone who doesn’t show or show on time for meetings. It IS dis-repsectful of my time and of my energy.

    He has ADHD that is very poorly treated. But he shows up for client meetings. Sometimes late but usually not and even early. They somehow matter more than a business management meeting with me. He’s learning that as much as he doesn’t LIKE those meetings we can make them very productive and have fewer of them. (as a partner I want/need input from the other half of the business).

    No easy solutions here. Just a long, ongoing discussion about respect, teamwork, input and how we can work around and through his ADHD. (trust me, I hate 9-5 as much as the next person which is why I’m in business with the husband).

  22. Although I do think this guy is being disrespectful, I also think that “we” as a planet need to have a serious look at working hours and location and make it the norm that no-one is expected to arrive at an office at 9am.

    I understand that exceptions have to be made for shifts and “core” hours (say, from 11am – 2pm) may need to be maintained for in-person collaboration but the expectation that everyone arrive at every office at the same time every day is causing chaos for absolutely no reason.

    Would be great if someone had some stats on how much CO2 emmissions would be saved by letting people come to work at staggered times.

  23. Working hour should be in the contract.
    An employee should neither be late to come in nor be late to go home.

  24. Found my way here via a link on Centresource. They were right, the comments were enlightening! Thanks for the thought AND feedback provoking blog.

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