The management series: what about the employee who is chronically late?
What is to be done with employees who are chronically late?
In some cases, managers are right to attribute chronic lateness to an employee’s blasé attitude or a lack of care, consideration, or diligence. But so often, believe it or not, you might just be dealing with an employee who has never really mastered the fundamentals of living by a schedule. You might be the first person to hold them accountable for being “on time.” In the process, you might end up doing this person a huge favor.
I’ve heard countless stories like this one from a very experienced call center manager: “I had one employee who was always on time for the evening shift but always late for the early morning shift. Sometimes it makes sense to just put someone like that on the late shift where he is on time. Of course, I didn’t want to reward him for being late in the morning, but I also didn’t want to keep setting him up for failure by having him do the early morning shift because he was obviously having a hard time with that. Funny enough, when I talked with him about it, it turned out that he preferred the early morning shift! The early morning shift was the tougher one to staff, so it’s good to have people who want to work the early morning. I just had to figure out a way to manage him to success.
“This guy was young and inexperienced and he confessed that he really needed some help. I had to help him learn how to be on time. So I taught him how to make and use a schedule: At first, I wrote out a schedule for him, working backward from the 5:00am start time: ‘Walk in the front door here at work at 4:55 a.m. That means driving away from home by 4:30am. That means you need to be out of bed by 3:45am. What time do you need to get to sleep the night before?’” The manager went on: “We made that little schedule and then I used that schedule to really talk him through it. I think it helped him to just have it spelled out.”
Sometimes managers ask me, “Is it appropriate to help an employee plan out details for their after work schedule? Or details as personal as what time he goes to sleep and what time he gets out of bed?” My answer: Only if the employee can’t figure that stuff out on his own, sufficient to get to work on time and not leave early.
Are some employees insulted or annoyed by the explicit focus on the petty details of living by a schedule? Perhaps they are. But almost always they start coming in on time, staying all day, and taking fewer breaks, at least for a while. A lot of employees will be genuinely grateful for your helping them get better at living by a schedule.