Does Tardiness Even Matter Anymore?

Is employee punctuality a business idea from a bygone era? While some may say yes, I think that being on time isn’t something to scoff at or dismiss; it’s essential that employees show up on time to help drive your business forward.

In fact, I’ve tried to be “modern” about this issue. We tried flex time at my company and it was disastrous. People weren’t on the same page, meetings were difficult to hold, and sadly, perhaps the worst part was that people abused the system. Thus, I am an advocate of the “old school,” 9-5 business day – work starts at the agreed-upon time and no later.

So, how important is the issue of tardiness for your business? Should you fire employees who are consistently late? Before you take any action and reprimand or let habitual latecomers slide, ask yourself these five questions.

1. How Late is Late?

The first thing you need to ask yourself is “what constitutes late?” The answer is simpler than you think: if work starts at 8 and your employee shows up at 8:05, he or she is late. Technically speaking, 8:01 is late. There is no way of arguing around this, it’s an excuse after this point. You should be intellectually honest, however, you don’t have to be a drill sergeant in your response to this tardiness.

Once your employees understand that you expect them to be to work before or at the desired time – this should be explicitly laid out in their contract – they should act accordingly. If you give off a managerial vibe that seems like it’s okay with you to show up late, employees will take advantage of this leniency. If you seem frustrated or act as though it’s not okay, employees will adjust their habits and try to come in earlier.

People will acclimate to your definition of what late is – if you make a big deal of being on time or make people know that two minutes late is still late, employees will adopt this line of thinking.

2. Does it Affect Work?

So, you’ve established a time at which work starts, but someone on your staff continues to be late. The next question you need to ask yourself is “is their tardiness affecting their work?” Now, if they are late every day, you obviously need to say something. However, if they are late once a week by 10 minutes or so, but they get all of their work done, is it worth rocking the boat?

To me, it’s all about results. Sure, you want everyone to be there on time, but the end result is what matters. I think of it like a college class – if someone missed a couple classes, but did all of the work and aced their tests, do those few and far between absences really matter? I would say they don’t matter at all. You don’t need to be completely Machiavellian with regard to your business (dismissing all infractions and thinking only about the end result), but you should keep things in perspective.

Gently remind the tardy employee about their lateness, but quickly move on and talk about one of their upcoming tasks. This way, you can bring up the tardiness issue, but not scold or chastise one of your top performers.

3. Can You Help Your Employee Avoid Tardiness?

There will be some instances where your employees are late and it is completely out of their control – traffic delays, subway shutdowns, or weather-related occurrences. However, most of the time, tardiness is simply due to someone not planning well or neglecting their responsibility to show up on time. But, unlike some other problems that you may have with employees, this is often a fixable issue!

If someone is consistently late or is beginning to make a habit of being tardy on certain days, I would approach them in a non-threatening, friendly manner. Ask them questions about their commute and present some alternatives if they sound like they aren’t using the best-possible option to get to work on time. Also, suggest they look at ride-sharing tools or new applications that can service commuters in high-density areas.

Just by showing interest in their commute, you will be getting the message across that they need to be a little more proactive about getting to work on time.

4. What Do Your Other Employees Think?

In the modern workplace, bad habits can spread like wildfire. You need to make sure that one worker’s tardiness isn’t one of those habits that other employees begin to adopt. One way to do this is to make it clear that you aren’t tolerating this lateness – you don’t need to harshly reprimand the worker publicly, but you should comment about their tardiness in a way that gets the message across.

The best way to do so is to make a lighthearted remark about their lateness (if it begins to be a habitual occurrence) in front of everyone. You don’t want to say anything too cutting, but it should be enough to slightly embarrass the employee. Try something like “So, we are still operating on Eastern Standard Time,” while looking at your watch.

This will signal to employees that you see that this employee is late, it bothers you slightly, and you’re addressing the issue in front of everyone. Make sure the employee doesn’t take it too hard – if they seem to be sulking, call them over and have a brief chat about it.

The best possible scenario is that your employees will say something to the consistently tardy individual. Even just a slight comment from a peer will make someone realize that it’s not fair to be late when everyone else is showing up on time.

5. Is the Tardy Employee Replaceable?

If you’ve asked yourself the four above questions and are still without a solution, it may be time to take more drastic action. You need to see if that employee is a replaceable member of your team – it is perfectly reasonable to fire someone for being consistently late to work, especially if you’ve addressed the issue with them.

I would generally give someone “one last chance” and if they begin to show up early or on time, I would let their past transgressions slide. If, however, they fail to show up on time even after you give them this “last chance,” it’s time to let them go.

You shouldn’t have to worry about your employees coming into work on time; you have enough on your plate as it is. Get rid of people who don’t value your time or your policies and you will be happier and more productive. It’s important to not take things personally as a business owner, but sometimes a consistent violation of your trust is a sign that someone isn’t worthy of your hard-earned money.