Dealing with an employee who's often a little late for work can be frustrating. It's one of those problems that can take more time and energy than it seems worth. Most of us don't want a confrontation over five or 10 minutes. But 10 minutes a day adds up to nearly an hour a week. That's a lot of lost time. Plus, employees who clearly understand the rules and keep on being late aren't just tardy; they're testing your willingness to use your authority as a manager.
To analyze a tardiness problem and plan appropriate action, ask the following questions:
What are the rules? Is there a clearcut, generally enforced rule on tardiness in your enterprise? On your team? If not, you'll find it almost impossible to get results. In many organizations, this rule is a written policy that's easy to reference. But even if your rules and expectations aren't written down, you can still ask that they be followed as long as you enforce them consistently.
What are the rewards? If there are rewards, or at least few consequences, for being late, but no real rewards for being on time, it's not surprising that employees will get into a habit of tardiness. You can increase the costs of being late, but you can also increase the benefits of being timely.
What are the obstacles? If employees are late for a consistent reason, you can work together to avoid or remove those obstacles. This can often involve cooperation between employees as well. And if a tardiness problem is chronic and very hard for an employee to control, you can always consider making changes to schedules when feasible.
When you need to counsel an employee about repeated tardiness, here's a step-by-step approach:
1. Briefly state the problem. Let employees know that tardiness matters and that you would like to help them develop a plan to get to work on time every day.
2. If employees resist, point out the work rule covering tardiness. Read it together and respond to any questions employees may have.
3. Let employees suggest solutions. This reinforces the message that punctuality is employees' personal responsibility, while at the same time conveying that you trust their ability to solve problems. If workers hesitate, ask a few questions to get them started.
4. Listen closely to the comments employees make. This will help you understand what rewards they receive for being late—getting to sleep in, finding easier parking and less traffic, and so on. This will in turn help you plan ways to make being on time more attractive and being tardy less so.
5. State clearly the behavioral changes you expect to see. Ask for a commitment and express your confidence in the employees' ability to manage a proper arrival in the future.