tardiness in the workplace: how to handle late employees

Tardiness in the Workplace: How to Handle Late Employees

Unforeseeable events in life happen all the time. It’s not uncommon for employees to be late once or twice due to bad weather, traffic jams, or unexpected circumstances.

But things become troublesome if being late to work turns into a habit. Your business starts to lose much more in terms of productivity, bottom line, and team morale.

Ten minutes late can add up to hours of lost work time. You pay for the hours the late employee didn’t work. If management doesn’t do anything to change the situation, on-time workers are discouraged by late workers. Even worse, they think it’s acceptable to be late.

In this post, we’ll discuss how you can spot, prevent, and handle tardiness in the workplace.

The effects of tardiness in the workplace

Tardiness negatively affects both the inside and outside of a business.

  • Decreased productivity: Tardiness costs US businesses billions of dollars each year due to lost productivity. The late minutes, though small, add up over time.
  • Reduced quality of customer service: If an employee is late, there aren’t enough employees to serve customers.
  • Lower team morale: Employees may feel resentful and annoyed about the habitual lateness of an employee.
  • Lack of respect for management and company policy: If tardiness consistently happens in your business and you don’t have any firm solutions to resolve it, the bad habit can spread. Your workforce might feel like they don’t have to follow the company policy and what management says.

How to handle tardiness in the workplace

You can handle excessive tardiness at work through training, prevention, penalties, and rewards. Here are some tips to get started:

Create tardiness policy

A section on tardiness in your attendance policy sets expectations about employees being on time and specifies disciplinary actions for being late to work.

Set clear expectations for employees

Your policy should detail how much being on time means to the team and the whole business.

Also, be clear about what employees are expected to do if they’re late for work:

  • Employees must call or message the supervisor to notify about their late arrival. Ask them to provide an estimated time for their arrival if possible.
  • If an employee knows they’re going to be late for work, who should they report to?
  • If applicable, how can an employee make up for the time they’ve lost from being late?

Specify disciplinary actions for being late to work

Besides setting expectations, specify the disciplinary actions for each tardy incident within a period. Progressive disciplinary actions are inevitable if an employee repeatedly fails to show up at work on time.

For example, within 6 months:

  • First incident: talk with the supervisor
  • Second incident: a verbal warning
  • Third incident: a formal written warning
  • Fourth incident: termination

After a formal written warning, the tardy employee will have to face more serious disciplinary actions such as suspension or termination if they continue to be late for work.

Communicate the policy to employees

Setting out a policy is not enough. Communicate the rules and updates to your employees and make sure they’ve understood what is expected of them.

Communicate your attendance policy to new hires and current employees. Don’t do it once. Do it periodically.

If many of your employees start to be late for work, hold a company-wide meeting to discuss tardiness. Explain how lateness affects other employees and the whole business. Discuss with employees and see if they can suggest possible solutions to tardiness in the workplace.

Have a conversation with the late employee

Talk to the tardy employee as soon as you spot their pattern of lateness. Don’t wait until other team members are annoyed or until you get angry to have this conversation.

Intervening early sends a message to employees that the workplace doesn’t tolerate unprofessional behaviors. Anyone with repeated episodes of lateness will have to face disciplinary actions.

Talking to the employee may help you figure out the root cause of why they’re late. Sometimes, tardiness goes beyond a one-time accident, but stems from deeper reasons such as lack of accountability, disengagement, or wellbeing problems. In these cases, you can discover a timely solution, be it discipline, support, or a change in company actions.

Respect privacy

Talk to the tardy employee in private rather than calling them out in front of other people. Embarrassing someone in public hurts and is unnecessary.

Employees are more likely to share the true reason for their perpetual tardiness in one-on-one conversations. If they do, see if you can help them improve the situation. If they don’t, you don’t have to know everything. Respect their privacy and simply proceed based on your company policy.

Keep records of conversations and interactions

Always keep records of tardy incidents, attendance, and conversations you have with the late employee. This way you keep information factual and organized, just in case.

Check in regularly

Check in regularly with the late employees to follow up on how they’ve improved. Praise for improvements and encourage accountability. This shows you still keep a close eye on the situation and employees’ progress.

Offer rewards as incentives

Rewards can be a huge incentive for employees to go to work on time. Provide light breakfast for early comers or gift cards for those with perfect attendance. These are small and inexpensive rewards, yet they show your recognition and that you value punctuality in the workplace.

Enrich your company culture

The company culture impacts how employees engage and behave in the workplace. A culture that values professional behaviors will certainly affect how employees show up at work.

Although traffic, weather, and unexpected accidents are common causes of tardiness, there might be underlying reasons such as low commitment or workplace conflicts, and you can only improve that by changing the workplace culture.

Change how you start meetings

Before a meeting, set reminders using calendar apps or emails to remind employees to go to work on time.

Don’t wait for everyone to arrive to start the meeting. Start at the scheduled time or wait for only 3 minutes after that. Discuss important topics first. Latecomers can still join the meeting, but you don’t have to repeat what has been discussed.

If you’re consistent with the scheduled time, employees understand they need to respect being on time.

Make punctuality a factor in performance reviews

Keeping punctuality a factor in periodic performance reviews can increase employee accountability. Being on time reflects a professional attitude and respect for workplace policy.

Distribute work schedules early

Sometimes, employees are late because their personal schedules conflict with their work schedules. You can prevent this by sending out work schedules in advance. This gives employees enough time to check and arrange their personal events, as well as notify the supervisor if they expect being late on a specific day.

Allow flexible scheduling options

Some companies allow employees to stay 15 minutes later at work to make up for the 15 minutes late. Some allow staff to swap shifts with coworkers if they know they can’t show up at work on time. These flexible work arrangements don’t work for all jobs and workplaces, but they’re worth considering.

Use a time and attendance app

A time and attendance app can send reminders to your employees’ phones when it’s close to their work time. Managers can also view who’s late in real-time and take action timely.

What to say in a conversation with the late employee

Here are some tips to hold that conversation with the tardy employee:

  • Approach the conversation with a calm and constructive attitude. Don’t make it personal.
  • Present specific details of the tardy incident and tell the employee your concerns over their lateness.
  • Ask about the reason why they were late. There’s no need to make a fuss if it was something out of their control, for example, a car wreck that blocked the traffic. If it was something you can help, for instance, mental health issues or schedule conflicts, provide possible support.
  • Remind the employee of the importance of being on time and the negative effects of being late.
  • Remind them of the company’s attendance policy and the disciplinary actions for being late.
  • Set goals for future improvements.

Taming tardiness in the workplace isn’t impossible

Most of the time, employees are late once or twice because unexpected things happen. It’s only when tardiness becomes habitual and intentional does it bring trouble to your business.

To tame tardiness in the workplace, take a closer look at how your employees show up at work. Spot perpetual lateness early, find out the reason why, and take suitable actions to resolve it.

Establish a clear attendance policy and promote a culture that values punctuality. Be firm while providing thoughtful support. You’ll see a huge difference in how employees attend the workplace.

Have trouble keeping tardiness in check? Try the Camelo app to remind employees to go to work on time and receive alerts when someone is late. Try it for free →.

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