Employees who are always late can throw off the productivity of an organization, as well as have a negative impact on morale. Habitual lateness can decrease quality, result in fractured work relationships with colleagues, and potentially even cause the company to lose customers. Getting a handle on an employee’s tardiness is essential to maintaining smooth operations.

Why Timeliness Matters 

Some staffers may think, "It’s just a few minutes here and there, what’s the big deal?" The big deal is the impact their lateness has on others, including:

  • Making a colleague cover for you.
  • Failing to open on schedule, irritating and even losing customers.
  • Costing the company money in terms of lost productivity.
  • Creating animosity with co-workers who are essentially logging more hours than necessary.

If you don’t already have a written policy for employees regarding tardiness, put one in place, and reference it during new-hire training and orientation. The policy should clearly state the course of discipline employees will be subject to if they violate the rules.

Assessing the Situation 

While some late staffers may have a bad attitude or poor time management skills, others may have legitimate and even unavoidable circumstances that contribute to them being late. Consider the following steps when assessing the situation:

  1. Start to document how often the employee is late, and by how much. 
  2. Once it’s obvious there’s a pattern emerging, set a private meeting to discuss the situation. 
  3. Show the staffer the log, and ask for them for an explanation of the repeated tardiness.

    Once you know what’s behind the lateness, you can take steps to correct the issue. 

The Employee With No Excuse

Some employees are just blase about being on time, or apathetic to whatever problems they create for others. If a staffer doesn’t seem concerned about his tardiness, explain the negative impact his running behind schedule creates for the company. Issue a warning, per your guidelines, and document the exchange in his employee record. If the problem persists, move forward with your disciplinary steps. This could include docked pay, suspension or even termination.

The Employee With Time-Management Issues

If the employee is contrite about the trouble caused by her lateness, but blames poor time-management skills, offer to help her overcome her problem. It’s a move that will potentially make her more efficient in other areas of work as well. Consider a time-management skills program or setting alarms on electronic devices. Following your counseling session, the employee should be held to the same attendance standards as everyone else, or face disciplinary measures.

The Employee With a Legitimate Excuse

If an employee takes the bus or subway to work, has to drop children off at school, or has another reasonable excuse for being late, attempt to work with him. This might include altering work hours to accommodate specific scheduling needs, and avoiding opening and closing schedules that have the potential to inconvenience others or frustrate customers. Once you have something workable in place, hold the staffer to the same accountability standards as everyone else.

This multipronged approach to discussing tardiness, making reasonable accommodations and then holding staffers accountable can help you create a smooth-running operation.