How to Confront Staff Who are Constantly Late (Without Upsetting Them)

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HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

If lateness has escalated from a minor concern to a serious problem for your business, it's important to think about how you can address it in a diplomatic way.

Article 4 Minutes
How to Confront Staff Who are Constantly Late (Without Upsetting Them)

Employees showing up late for work is a common issue for businesses, and one that’s extremely difficult (if not impossible) to fully eliminate.

There are many possible reasons for lateness, and when it only happens occasionally, it's something most employers will understand and be willing to accept. However, when poor punctuality starts to become a habit for certain individuals, it can cause serious problems for the company, from lost productivity to diminished morale among staff who are having to pick up the slack when their co-workers don't turn up on time.

This raises an important question: how can you address the issue of constant lateness without souring employee relationships and making people feel like they're under attack?

Start from a position of understanding

While it's possible that people who frequently turn up late are simply not making enough effort to be punctual, or are just trying to get away with doing less work, there could also be legitimate underlying reasons why they're struggling to make it in on time.

People could have family caring commitments, for example, or might be experiencing personal problems at home that are making it difficult for them to leave the house promptly in the morning.

Situations like these require a tactful and considerate approach from managers. If an employee is already going through a difficult time outside work, giving them an angry lecture about punctuality could cause irreparable damage to your relationship with them.

Sit down and have a conversation about how the business might be able to help them manage the issues that are affecting their punctuality. Constructive solutions might include allowing flexible working arrangements for people who have caring responsibilities, or letting employees work remotely at times when it's difficult for them to get to the workplace.

Be consistent

Lateness can quickly become a serious problem if there's a perception in the workforce that the business doesn't have a clear policy on the issue, or fails to take a consistent approach to managing it.

If employees see other workers frequently turning up late and facing no consequences, they might start to wonder why they should be making an effort to get to work on time. You could also face accusations of unfair treatment or discrimination if some staff are reprimanded for tardiness while others are thought to be 'getting away with it'.

The process of dealing with people who are frequently late becomes much easier when you have documented rules and policies on punctuality. These should cover:

  • The working hours employees are expected to keep
  • How working times are tracked and recorded
  • Procedures for reporting lateness
  • How employees are expected to make up time lost due to lateness

Having clear and unequivocal policies to refer to means you can take all emotion and suggestions of impartiality out of the equation when dealing with people who have poor attendance.

Act swiftly

It's important to take swift action as soon as you notice that punctuality is starting to become a problem with a particular member of your workforce. Addressing the issue promptly and professionally shows all employees that you take this subject seriously and they're expected to do the same.

This is a good way to nip tardiness in the bud and encourage staff to find a routine that will help them make it to work on time every day.

Furthermore, if you take too long to address the issue, there's a risk of it escalating to the point that other employees start to feel frustrated, both with the person who's often late and with the business for not dealing with it. This can have an impact on morale and satisfaction across the workforce, making it even more important to act quickly.

Be discreet and don't embarrass anyone

As noted, there are many reasons for workers to be late, some of which could be of a personal or sensitive nature.

It's important to bear this in mind when starting a conversation with someone about their punctuality. These discussions should be private and discreet, firstly so the employee can talk about their reasons for being late in confidence, and secondly to ensure they don't feel like they're being publicly attacked.

You should always be careful to avoid humiliating an employee who’s struggling to be punctual. Openly shouting at someone if they arrive late, for example, or mocking them in front of their co-workers will embarrass them and impact their morale, engagement and productivity at work.

It's vital to take a carefully considered approach to the issue of chronic lateness, since mismanaging it can create even bigger problems for the business in the long run.

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