Difficult Employees 2: The chronically late employee
By Alisa

Nothing is more frustrating than an otherwise-great employee who is regularly late. You know the type- rushing into a meeting 10 minutes after it started, with some excuse or another. Or, worse, late and unapologetic, as if it doesn’t matter. Late to work, late to appointments, late to the airport when you’re traveling together – all of it. It seems rude and disrespectful, it is disruptive, and occasionally it is down right counter-productive. What can you do?

Well, it is absolutely within your power to insist that all employees be ‘on time’, to meetings and to show up for work. First, however, make sure it is not you that is setting the tone for this. Are you always on time, ready to start meetings? Is there, perhaps, a company culture that may give the impression that being on time is not valued? Is the boss/CEO regularly late? If so, you will have to be more overtly clear about it, but it is still possible.

It’s gentlest to start with a one-on-one meeting. Start by affirming the employee’s value to the company. Ask some questions: do you realize you have been regularly late to the staff meetings? or, I’ve noticed you rarely are at your desk before 9:15, and we generally start work here at 8:30, or whatever the recurring issues are. Make it clear that you aren’t talking about a one-off incident, but that it is a pattern you have noticed over a period of time. Perhaps there are external issues (with child care, parents, a spouse, transportation) that can be addressed. Being late for internal meetings may have a different cause – ask why the employee has trouble being on time.

Nonetheless, it is always fair to say what the expectation is, and that you expect to see a change. It’s not your job, as a manager, to fix the issue, but you can be compassionate, offer suggestions, and listen. Maybe there is some schedule flexibility you can offer. Maybe there isn’t. You can remind the employee that his/her late patterns give the impression of rudeness, and disrespect. Tell the employee that timeliness will be a part of his/her next performance evaluation, and then follow through. Find ways to “catch” the person being on time, and recognize the efforts being made to fix the issue. And, of course, set the example by always being on time, yourself.

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