Personally, I can’t stand it if the office cat arrives three minutes late. What is the point of having office hours if people aren’t going to show up on time? And if they start to show up late, how late is “OK”, and how late is “not OK”? Should trains and planes all fly ten minutes late so they can accommodate a few tardy arrivals?

Unfortunately, not everyone in the world shares my excitement about punctuality, especially today.

Why Do Some Otherwise Great, Hardworking Employees Have a Problem Being on Time?

Many good, hardworking people have a tendency to be habitually late, and despite my old Yankee work ethic, you are not going to increase your chances of business success by automatically coming down on them like a ton of bricks. They might have a generally great work ethic but being on time may just not seem important to them. They may also have previously been in workplaces where there was no importance placed on punctuality. Remember, you are the entrepreneur and have a different attitude toward work than do most employees.

When Should You Say Something about Tardiness?

Unless being precisely on time is crucially important, don’t bring up the tardiness issue with an employee who is occasionally late. Such employees will appreciate your tacit understanding and they will take it as a sign of your trust in them. Of course, if the employee is a security guard and you are operating a nuclear power plant, any display of tardiness could be serious. Use your judgment!

On the other hand, an employee who is habitually late can have a demoralizing effect on other employees who arrive for work on time. Furthermore, habitual lateness is an infectious disease. Soon many employees may exhibit tardy behavior.

The key question is, where do you draw the line on tardiness? If a person is ten or more minutes late more than five times within a given month, it’s time for a brief chat, in my opinion.

One person I recently interviewed for an HR position said that she had worked at workplaces that had three-minute, five-minute, and ten-minute tardiness limits. However, especially with high-demand tech employees, the trend has been toward highly flexible hours, let alone any tardiness rules.

What Should You Say to a Habitually Late Employee?

Assuming you want to keep your employees on a standard schedule, I suggest the following when an employee is tardy:

“Linda, overall I really enjoy having you on our team. I would really appreciate it, however, if you could cut back on your tardiness. I can understand being late on occasion for whatever or even no apparent reason. But it sets my day off on the wrong foot when you aren’t here on time. Enough is enough. Can I count on you for a little improvement in this area?”

Virtually all tardiness problems disappear after a gentle talk. Unless the problem is extremely severe, stick to a very light approach. But sooner or later you will encounter an employee who feels he or she shouldn’t have to work on a schedule.

One employee actually told me that she felt “professionals” should be able to come and go within the workplace whenever they pleased. She saw absolutely nothing wrong with arriving two hours late. Well, now she can still come and go whenever she pleases—she just can’t do it at our workplace!

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Habitual lateness will spread if left unchecked.
  • Most tardiness issues will go away after a clear and positive talk.
  • Have a consistent strategy for dealing with tardiness.