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The chronically tardy employee.

The topic of lateness is an interesting one. We know that some people place a low priority on being cognizant of time and how time relates to a task to be done or a place to be and others place a very high priority on it.


Sure, there are people who are so free from the rat race that when they say they are late because they are "blithe spirits unfettered by time", they are telling you the truth. I'll bet, however, that the vast majority of tardy people are tardy simply because they were never taught the importance of being prompt in today's society. Another possibility could be that they never suffered a serious enough consequence of being late when they were children and so, never really learned the lesson.

When I was a kid my father was fanatic about being on time. I remember him shaking his finger at me that it was very important to be on time for everything. He would get mad if you were holding him up and making him potentially late. To him it was an embarrassment to be late; he felt it made him appear irresponsible. Remember Woody Allen in Annie Hall, when he wouldn't go into the movie because the opening credits had already started? My father was like that. I'm glad he was though, because his "way" about punctuality (I like to think of it as his ethic), has always served me well.

A few people have lucked out all their lives and never really suffered a serious consequence of their tardiness. When it comes to being late for work however, a person not cognizant of the time on a chronic basis, can end up learning their lesson the hard way.

From a manager's perspective it is important to remember that several factors can contribute to the occasional lateness of even the most conscientious employee and as we all know, the occasional latecomer is neither a serious problem for a manager nor really disruptive to department operations, thus occasional lateness really should be understood and excused. True emergency lateness, no matter the duration or impact on operations, must also be understood and excused by the manager--if it's occasional. The manager who offers understanding and extends an offer of help in a personal way during these times will also be perceived as humanistic and caring by the employee. The key word here, however, is occasional. Counseling the occasionally late employee is usually not warranted and brings with it the risk of being perceived as a "nit-picker".

The chronically late employee, however, can be a headache for a manager and can often be disruptive to the flow of the department workload. Worse, is the proven fact that "chronics" become excuses to others who might consider being tardy more frequently if they notice their co-workers getting away with it.

Because punctuality is often a learned behavior, we find that most punctual employees are people who are proud of this aspect of their work ethic; after all, it often does take extra hustle, better planning, etc. to get to work on time in today's busy society. Luckily for managers, these people usually do not take advantage of a situation and become tardy when they see their co-workers getting away with lateness; their faithfulness to that aspect of their work ethic prevents them from doing so. They will, however, resent the latecomer for what they see as irresponsibility and laziness. They will also look upon the manager who allows the behavior to go on, as a poor manager. For these reasons and others, lateness that has become chronic has to be handled. The first step is to address the problem directly by speaking to the employee: "Charlie, every-body's late now and then, but your lateness has become a chronic problem lately. What's going on?"

"I had to take the kids over to my sister's this morning."

"Alright I can understand that, but you probably knew that last night. I would think you could have gotten up earlier or made arrangement's in advance."

"But, Joe. ..."

"Charlie, you know we've got work to do here and I've excused you already a few times, you're going to have to organize your personal life so that you get to work on time. As I said, everyone's late once in a while and I'll understand when you're occasionally late as well, but the department and I need this lateness to stop today."

Naturally the manager has to be firm, but understanding. The emphasis should be on the fact that chronic lateness is the problem, not just lateness. And, of course, your employee's definition of chronic may be different from your own or your institution's, so, you may have to spell it out very specifically.

"Charlie if you're late any time in the next 90 days I will have to formally counsel you in writing for inclusion in your file. The letter will state that you have been warned about chronic lateness. Now, if a true emergency should arise, we can discuss it, but I will be considering and reviewing any episodes of lateness as an on going, uncorrected problem on your part".

Some consultants espouse other methods of handling chronic lateness from changing people's shifts to changing their duties. Changing a worker's shift however, is not likely to cure irresponsible behavior as it pertains to punctuality. It also may not be possible to change shifts for logistical reasons. Certainly it would be unfair to impact another member of your staff to change shifts in order to make room for a "problem child".

When tardiness is truly occasional it should be excused. When you've ascertained that tardiness is due to a temporary problem in the employees life it should be understood and worked with, whenever possible. In cases where counseling efforts have failed, there really is only one alternative.

Tardiness is actually one of the easier problems for a manager to handle because it is a tangible deficiency easily monitored and documented. As with many personal problems, correction is up to the employee who may have to change a behavior they've exhibited all their lives.

By Bob Miglino BSRT MPS RRT
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Title Annotation:MANAGEMENT
Author:Miglino, Bob
Publication:FOCUS: Journal for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2011
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