Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Is Your Co-worker Always Late For Work?

You've started the workday, but where is your co-worker? Oh, she's running late again, just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Let's get an early start on solving her tardiness problem, shall we?

Working with someone who is consistently late is one of the most annoying aspects of office life, and also one of the most common, unfortunately. It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day. And the excuses can get pretty amazing.

Employees became more punctual as the Great Recession lingered, at least according to surveys. Everyone, that is, except for your able-bodied but habitually-tardy co-worker. It's bad enough dealing with tardiness when you're a manager, but it can be even more frustrating when you're a rank-and-file peer without any magical "shape up or ship out" managerial powers. So you get to watch your consistently-late co-worker slip into the office day after day, hoping that no one will notice the time. Then you get to listen to yet another breathless rundown of everything that made her late for work.

I had to drop my child off at school and the kiss and ride lane was crazy long and the traffic was horrible and I had to park on the top of the parking deck and I'm wearing my new high heels today and I think I'm getting a blister already and the elevator was slow and I haven't even had any breakfast yet and...

Blah, blah, blah. Just stop. The more this employee talks, the more angry you feel. If you can get your butt to work on time, why can't she? Besides, you know she'll just come up with a whole new set of nouns and verbs for tomorrow's edition of Tardiness Mad Libs, which, as you half-way listen while working, will make about as much sense as the typical 8-year-old's Mad Libs, only not nearly as funny. The story's basic plot line will be the same tomorrow, anyway: you'll be on time and she'll be late. Again.

What makes these employees run consistently late, anyway? While it's true that some people have poor time management skills, habitually-tardy employees can also be arrogant individuals. The same rules that apply to everyone else in the office simply don't apply to them, and somehow, they never seem sincerely sorry for being late. In some cases, the tardy employee might be the boss's precious snowflake or the office rainmaker who is allowed to get away with it. In these cases, the boss is willing to overlook 10 minutes late here, 15 minutes behind schedule there.

Too bad no one else in the office can do the same. The buzzer really goes off in co-workers' brains when it happens day after day and they feel like management isn't addressing the problem and they aren't cut any similar slack. It's a giant punch card to the gut, and if left unchecked an employee's tardiness problem could fester and spread, leaving management to wonder why everyone is suddenly getting to work 15 minutes late and taking 35-minute-long breaks. The rules of time and space get bent amid a silent office rebellion.

Constant tardiness can also be a red flag of job burnout, particularly for employees who have been with the company for a long time. Perhaps the employee has grown familiar enough with the daily routine to feel comfortable running noticeably late to the consternation of his less-tenured co-workers. In some cases, the tardy employee is secretly begging to be fired, and showing up late to work becomes an outright dare of dismissal. You and your prompt co-workers become hostage to the employee's passive-aggressive stance.

So how should you handle the always-tardy co-worker who is costing employers an estimated $3 billion a year in lost productivity? How do you keep from losing your mind as this person's very punctual but perturbed work peer? Here are five tips:

1.) Don't ignore it. Talking to a co-worker about his or her lateness problem can feel quite tricky, especially if you like the person otherwise. Pull him or her aside and say, nicely and calmly, how tardiness is impacting the team, throwing off break schedules, and so on. Keep your comments focused on the work and productivity matters, and stick to the facts. Don't veer off into I get here on time, so why can't you? territory, which could only cause an argument. Some employees might actually have a somewhat plausible excuse for being late, too. With any luck, the employee will begin to see the impact lateness is having on co-workers and adjust accordingly. If not, at least you're putting the tardy co-worker on notice that you're...noticing.

2.) Don't always fill in the blanks. The employee missed the first 5 minutes of something important and wants you to fill her in. Instead, kindly suggest that she ask a manager to fill in the missing details. The manager will love having to repeat things, and it'll force the employee to acknowledge her absence. Sure, going this route might feel a wee bit underhanded or passive-aggressive, but if you're in a workplace that seems to offer little other recourse it might be effective in ringing management's alarm bell about a looming problem.

3.) Don't be an enabler. Depending on the job, tardy employees could be counting on you to hold your horses continuously. Don't stop and wait for them, however, unless it simply can't be avoided. Start the meeting, begin the lunch date and keep client calls and work flow on time as much as possible. Don't do their work for them unless it's absolutely necessary, either. Otherwise, you're simply enabling the employee's tardiness.

4.) Don't mimic bad behavior. Your habitually-late co-worker keeps taking extra-long breaks, and so you will too, right? It can be very tempting to get back at these employees (or the employer) by doing the same thing right back to them, but set a good example by continuing to be punctual and limiting your breaks to acceptable time frames. Think of it this way: your other team members are depending on you to help reinforce a sense of punctuality around the office. Don't let them down by slacking off on purpose just because you're frustrated with a late co-worker. Plus, the boss might notice your lateness and that's not going to be good for your own quarterly performance review, is it?

5.) Don't let tardiness ruin teamwork. Pointing out an employee's continual lateness to management can feel like a very daunting task. No one likes to look like a tattletale bent on getting others in trouble. (Okay, okay: some employees do live to tattle on everyone else in the office, but that's another post entirely.) A 360-degree review or one-on-one offers a legitimate opportunity to hint at (or to say outright, if you're comfortable enough) how a fellow employee's consistent tardiness is affecting the entire team. Or you might say how tardiness is generically "becoming a teamwork issue" if you don't want to call someone out directly. Again, you'll have to assess your own work situation to decide what works best. If enough employees start hinting at a larger productivity and morale problem, however, then the boss will have to address it as a real problem.

Dealing with a habitually-late co-worker takes patience, and a willingness to nip it in the bud earlier rather than later. It's never too late to make things better. Good luck.

If you work with someone who consistently slips out the door before his or her shift is over, then you might enjoy my companion post, "Do You Work With Someone Who Always Leaves Early"?


  1. In none of the examples of how to deal with lateness, did you actually provide any instance of how a person's being a few minutes late--even every day--had any effect at all whatsoever on anyone's ability to get work done. If it's not effecting your own ability to get your work done, then I say that it's none of your business. Remember: just because you're always on time for work, doesn't actually make you a better employee. Everyone has their idiosyncrasies. You're not perfect and if you come across as being spiteful to another employee because that person is late or for whatever other reason, people WILL remember that.

    1. Rory -- When you are hired to do a certain job from a certain time until the shift ends, you are contracted to uphold that agreement.
      That's what makes you an undesirable employee. I am not referring to the unfortunate times that everyone experiences occasionally, such as a sick child or a snowstorm hampering your ability to show up on time.
      When all of the other employees honor their work start time, and just one can't show up on time repeatedly, it is showing that you do not respect the work, the co-workers and your requirements.
      It's very easy to be prompt at your job. By you saying "You're not perfect, etc..." that shows that you are the undesirable, late-for-work employee.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Rory. I write, "It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day."

    By "egregiously late," I'm referring to the employee who is consistently 10-20 minutes (or more) late to work on a regular basis. We've all worked with someone like this.

    Everyone runs a few minutes late here and there -- humans aren't robots! -- but it really depends on the workplace how employee lateness is handled. In my experience, it's when egregious lateness is not addressed that things get quite interesting.

    As for the effect of lateness on one's ability to get the work done: the late employee may (or may not) be more than able to get the work done -- it depends on the employee and the nature of the job -- but that's not the point. The point is, this employee is hurting morale and potentially affecting the overall productivity of his or her co-workers by being late all the time. Idiosyncrasies are what make us human, but being consistently late to work day after day after day does become everyone else's business. If you're not following the company's rules, why am I? Does anyone know where Jane is? We need to start the meeting.

    Managers are right to address egregious, day-after-day employee lateness that is getting out of control. It's how employers define "egregiously late" that's the question. 2 minutes late every day? 5 minutes late? 15 minutes late? Missing half the day?

    Again, thanks for your comment.

  3. I have a lady in my office that comes in two or three hours late every single day and she gets away with it. It doesn't affect how I do my job or has anything to do with me other than the fact she is cheating my employeer out of hours worked and she does get pay rather well for only working 30 hours a week instead of 40 or more. It's bad for morale of everyone else in the office. Good article!

  4. I have someone like this and we all cannot stand it. Wondering what to do when managers have been approached...nice comments made to employee and still NOTHING! Ridiculous. I am thinking about sending our supervisor articles like this...over and over. Sick!
    Just do your job like the rest of us or LEAVE!

    1. Us too...
      She is actually getting better reviews than those of us who have worked harder longer and may be up for promotion. It is sick and sad. It is a shame to see this constant cronyism in our workplace.

  5. I too am experiencing this at work from my supervisor whom is constantly late twenty to thirty minutes daily. And on the odd day when I arrive late the same time as her - she gives me theses pissed off looks, like she's letting me know she upset I'm late - even though I sooo busted her once again coming in half hour late!

    My first day on the job at this place - she was nearly an hour late, I was set to meet HR that morning at 10 to sign my contract and go through orientation - I wasn't sure if I should squeal then or hang on...I hung on. Even though I sat in the parking lot for 54 minutes until the other office mates let me in. I thought for sure I had my first day of work wrong!

    Now three months into the job nothing has changed but gotten worse, a new co-worker has caught on and is doing exactly the same. I feel cheated! Why should I work as hard as I do, when I don't see others doing the same?

    I finally reported her to her manager... now I'm worried sick about the office dynamics to come - will she hate me now? Ugh...

  6. This is happening in my office and many people in the office are aware of it. Some think its a big joke, but many are frustrated about it. As a public servant, she is getting paid really good money, with really good conditions and is taking all of that for granted.
    The part-time employee is supposed to work from 7.30-2.30 Monday-Thursday and a full day on Friday. The last week she's managed to work on average 8am-2pm.
    A few comments have been made to our mutual manager and he just brushes it off, saying she works longer hours on a Friday. Well its now 9.15am in Perth and she still hasn't arrived.
    There is a general perception in the public, that the public service employee doesn't really work, and that image is perpetuated by employees like this.
    If you can't work the hours you're contracted, either reduce them further or resign. Take continue to take the piss.

  7. When I was hired I wasn't told I'd be the main receptionist and when I started I was told this responsibility is shared with the sales office (I'm in Accounting). It has now shifted to me being the main receptionist and the others as back up. One woman in sales is always on time but the rest of the company is late (one of my fellow co-workers is usually 30-60 minutes late with long lunches). She was half an hour late today and I was 5 but all the managers are upset because one client called at 8 and no one was here. I know I am the main receptionist but if the rest of the company isn't expected to be clocked in on time then why am I getting slack for 5 minutes? How should I handle this? If they expect me on time everyday shouldn't everyone else be?

  8. I think it stands out as a problem when most team members are working 8-10 hours a day and one person is not managing 7. Provided the work gets done it should not be a problem, but...what about when the work is getting passed on to someone else? I work with someone who is too nice to say no and they work up to 12 hours a day doing the work for others who are not even working 7 hours.

  9. I have a problem with co-workers that make it their business to be the wage police, the time clock police....I had a situation in which I had approval to work from other locations, logging in my time- and being held accountable by the supervisory staff. When I returned to the office- I was met with questions from a colleague- "you must be on a new schedule!" "Where you been?" with a fake smile -- I knew that before long something would happen and it did....however, I had my documentation in hand and was able to move forward. Honestly, this employee could have cost me my job because of not minding his own business and not meddling in everyone else's work practices. I think it is ludicrous in some industries for the whole office to be made aware that "SO in So is doing this-- or that"-- I take care of ME...I don't report people -- if there are co workers that want to manipulate...they will get caught-- at some point and if they dont- it doesn't affect me either way.

  10. I am a small business owner and get this rather annoying behavior sometimes. My office manager is a long term employee that is 5 min. late 2-3 days out of the week. My office manager opens the doors so one other person will also be late because of it. I don't feel I have a decent control over tardiness. I have address this issue in a professional manner most of the time. I am frustrated and have no answer for this. Small business owners are in a difficult spot and firing will not solve this. Hard to find great help and that is exactly what I have. I will find other ways in dealing with it. Hang in there if you are affected by tardiness issues. There is no one answer to this accept to find ways in coping with the issue for the desired employees.If they are marginal employees then just fire them and move on.

  11. I was made to stay for a tardy employee because it's a assisted living without pay that employee rides public transportation I was then fired for insubordnation because after I kept telling them I wasn't getting paid for waiting 20-30 minutes they said your fired.

  12. I work with a tardy co-worker...

  13. I've been working with a tardy co-worker for about 5 years. She used to be on time in the begining but for the past few years she has been coming in 20-30 minutes late everyday, sometimes and lately as much as an hour and 15 minutes late. She is a dental assistant and she is supposed to be here when the dentist arrives at least a 1/2 hour before the clinic opens. We have to clock in and out and she doesn't when she's more than 1/2 hour late and instead of the supervisor saying something to her, she'll complain to me and the dentist will complain to me and so does the patients. Since I am the receptionist I take all of the slack for the office. I have to deal with people's negative attitudes when they have to wait an hour before they are seen by the dentist because the dental assistant is late everyday. She comes in late, then she moves slow as molasses, eating, texting, talking, and the patient sits there waiting looking in my face ready to complain. She never admits to being late, its always an excuse or everybody elses fault and she has yet to be repremanded by management about her consistent tardiness. She's a bit arrogant and I think she takes the job for granted until she's fired. I am so tempted to report her but I don't want to seem like a snitch and I don't want to be responsible for her getting fired either.

  14. I felt bad for a coworker that was always late. The reason was a health problem. Every day he expended a lot of time in feeling good enough to go to the job. He was also going to the Doctor some days. We never suspected of his situation because he always had a nice smile... but he is no more with us.
    Since then, I don't care if a coworker is late, I only care if he is not doing his work

  15. I have a co-worker that is consistently late. She asked our boss if she could change her arrival time from 8:30 to 9:00 because she was 15-20 minutes late every day. He agreed, and now she can't make it by 9:00!! The unfortunate part is that she and I are the only ones in the office as our boss is at another location. I am always on time and it's frustrating because all of her excuses are things we all have to deal with, but we are still able to show up for work on time or early!

  16. to be late is not nice i'm gonna talk about my self,to wake up early doesn't help at the place i am because of the everyday traffic,it's too bad,and to be late if you are in care of everything i mean about the work you become sorry for your self then don't know what to do anymore with your self,even if your boss didn't ask you fill that something just like you are not welcome anymore,sometimes she like to say when i'm late ok don't worry every body was late and the traffic was so hectic to ever body just like that now i don't know what to do anymore,i realy gave up.

  17. constantly have this problem. i commute 2 hours to work every morning and i am often early. people who live 10 minutes away cannot make it on time to save their lives. excuses like the train was slow, my alarm didnt go off, blah blah blah. i am in no position to say anything to these coworkers but i often wonder if the management notices who is punctual and who is not.

  18. Your shift is over 6 pm and the individual who is schedule to beginning working at 6 pm doesn't not show up what will you do?

    Answer please!

  19. The first day of the last job that I had, my supervisor left me waiting outside past opening time! I was let go two weeks later for all kinds of stupid reasons directly related to my supervisor (and her boss') inability to stay organized and communicate properly, when she should have been fired that day for making a brand new worker (that was EARLY) wait after the business was supposed to be open.

  20. So tired of this at work currently-- I get I'm hourly and minimum wage....that makes its so much worse for IMO, you show up 10-15 minutes late for your shift everyday and I have to stay an extra 10-15minutes until you show up--I don't get paid for this even though its 50-75 minutes extra week that really I should be paid hard is it to show up on time, I'm 5-10 minutes early everyday and I walk to work(30minutes), drop my kid of to pre-school and your late 10-15 minutes everyday and live even closer to work than I do....showing up late for work might no effect you but it does effect others and its not fair to expect others to cover your slack

  21. I feel so much better knowing that there are so many people dealing with this same issue. I work in a very small office of 3 (plus the owner makes 4) where my "supervisor" shows up 30 minutes to an hour late and then takes usually an hour to two hour lunch EVERY DAY. Not only is she obscenely late everyday, but she is also a sloppy worker, leaving me to clean up HER work before it is allowed to go back to our clients (remember, she's supposed to be MY supervisor!). It's tough to deal with because our boss asks her to not be late, but is not willing to take any further action to punish her. And when rewards are (rarely) passed out, he pretends that she has not been a terrible employee and rewards her the same as those of us who are doing things with integrity. It is very frustrating to say the least.. I have gotten to the point where I dislike talking to her, hearing her voice, or interacting with her at all which is difficult because it's such a small office. Thank you for your article! And for providing free therapy for me today! :)

  22. I work as a resident assistant in an assisted living facility in Florida. I am scheduled to work 11-7 every night. Our nightly worksheet states wait until relief gets here to leave. Well, thats not hard if its just once in a while they are late by maybe 10-15 minutes or so, but there is this ONE employee management continues to schedule for 7-3 that is always every single time late, like always 30 minutes -even 1-1.5 hours at times, due to her not having but one car between her and her husband, management knows she is always going to be late, always, and expects us on 11-7 to remain at work until she gets there, please tell me what the legalities are on my part, can they do anything to me for leaving on my scheduled time to leave when they are purposely scheduling her when they know the situation?????? What can I do??????????????

  23. OK, I am on the other side of the game. I am constantly late. Today I got reprimanded by boss' assistant. She is perfectly right, it is my fault. I have developed this habit back in my country because nobody cared when I got to work. So I created my own work style. I come late, but I work my 7.5 hours or even more. Nobody notices that. So be on time is more important than to work late.
    Also it does not help that I get up earlier. Today I got up at 5:30 am and was 12 minutes late.

  24. Tardiness in and of itself is rarely the problem. Few of the problems mentioned or complaints in the comments were really about tardiness (coming in late to work). For those who have to wait around for their replacements to get there, yeah, you are getting screwed by someone elses tardiness.

    They were about people not doing their jobs, having to be covered for by their coworkers, not making it to meetings, wasting other people's time, not being there when teamwork was required, etc. Generally being a bad employee or an a-hole. Pretty much all of the examples were of really bad employees, but in most of them it wasn't tardiness that was the real problem.

    Tardiness is only the problem when the job has a time sensitive start (i.e. the business opens at 8am and they are the one who opens the door or answers the phone, they have a meeting with someone at a particular time, others cannot work until that person arrives). But that is about the only time that it is THE problem.

    If you really want to change tardy people's habits (or their manager's lack of action) address the real problems. It doesn't matter if Bob was 30 minutes late getting to work, because being late to work does not always mean a loss in productivity or that work isn't getting done, or much of anything really. It does matter if Bob missed an important meeting, or caused 5 people to sit idle for 30 minutes waiting for him to arrive. Make it about the impact/problem, not the tardiness. If you can't explain how it is a problem beyond it making you feel bad because it is unfair, then there isn't a problem. If you can explain how it is a problem, then you have laid out what needs to be addressed.

    If it doesn't impact your ability to do your job, or their ability to do theirs, you need to pay more attention to your own work and stop worrying about what others are doing.

    Most of your managers and business owners have worked the grind where they put in the hours working the unglamourous jobs doing what had to be done where they look back at their 80 hour week and realize that there is nothing magical about 8:30 or whatever time, it's if the work is getting done. Yeah, the work day is there for ease and so they don't have to settle every squabble between coworkers over every little thing being fair. There it is, one set time so everyone will shut up and you don't have to worry about chasing everyone down, but it is really a matter of conveinence. So, if you go and complain about a co-worker's "tardiness", their first thought is "so what, they are getting their work done" and they don't hear an actual problem. If you aren't being heard, put it into the terms they will get. All the things that are mentioned that aren't "tardiness". They will hear it when you talk about how you have had to cover for them and it has kept you from getting your work done, or you had to lie to a client, etc. because those things have meaning.

    It may be a subtle distinction, but "tardiness" generally has very little meaning in the workplace. It's all the other stuff that matters. When it comes down to it, it doesn't really even matter if they do have to open the store. It is only if customers were waiting outside or you missed that first call that came in 2 minutes after start time.

  25. I work for the provincial government in an administrative role. These roles are well paid. One of my team mates is consistently 30 - 40 minutes late every day. This person has been in that position for over 20 years. Her lateness causes other team mates to feel slighted. Although management over the years has (evidently) tried many things to motivate this person to be on time, it just continues. I feel it is disrespectful to the rest of us. Yes we can cover her work for the first half hour, but why do we have to? She also seems to think that she doesn't have to do jobs that are less important, that we all share. In an effort to get more money for what she does, she has been attempting to do a part of my job to beef up her job description. My perception of her is that she sees herself above the rest of us. Granted her long service and experience is valuable, and she is a very likeable person. Even staff that we serve, will ask us admins to do certain tasks, but she will be left off the list of people they ask. This has been a trigger for me in the past. There is little room for promotion in this workplace, and although some of us have much more responsibility than she does, we are all paid the same. I think it is arrogance. I don't know what the answer is. She has even said in the past that they won't fire her because they would have to pay her out for all the years she has been there. Very frustrating.

  26. okay, today a sub filled in for a co-worker. The sub was in on time and I felt so relieved to actually have someone in on time. I mentioned to the supervisor that it extremely refreshing to have someone in on time. " Hint hint" and they acted puzzled. I then told the that the current co-worker is always late everyday at least by 10 mins. Her tardiness effects myself and other co-worker because she really needs to be on time to watch children. But she strolls in everyday late. So I kinda feel bad but at the same time. She was hired to supervise if she is late then we are down a person. I am actually nervous because i am not ready for drama. SHould I have just stayed shut? Did I do the right thing? I dont know?