Dealing With Lateness
Solving Punctuality Problems
Do you have a colleague who regularly arrives late for meetings? It's an annoying habit, and it's even worse if everyone else must wait for him because he's a key person in the decision-making process.
Or perhaps you have a colleague who frequently turns up late at the office, complaining about "nightmare traffic" on her drive to work. Worse still, are you the person who is always late?
Lateness is bad for team productivity or team morale, and it may point to a wider lack of responsibility. So, what can you do to stop it?
This article helps you understand how to stop persistent lateness – whether you're the guilty party, or it's a member of your team.
Whoever the habitual latecomer is, identifying why the lateness occurs is the first step toward eliminating it. Sometimes the causes will be obvious. Other times, the reason for habitual lateness can be rooted in the person's subconscious.
Here are some common reasons for lateness:
People who are late due to disorganization simply lose track of time. They're not effective schedulers, or they're overly optimistic about what they can accomplish in a certain amount of time.
Disorganization can also be caused by an inability to say no to commitments. For instance, you might have said yes to that 10:00 meeting, but you really don't have time for it. You try to do everything on your morning schedule, but you're still late by 15 minutes.
Some people also subconsciously stay disorganized because they like the adrenaline rush – the "buzz" that comes with just hitting a deadline. Unfortunately, where people do this, the smallest delay can cause them to be late.
2. The Power Play
Using lateness as a "power play" is more common at work than in social settings, and it can become quite widespread in an organization's culture.
Sometimes people use lateness, especially when arriving at meetings, to show that they're more important or more powerful than everyone else. Waiting for someone is a subtle form of deference and respect for that person, and making others wait can give that person's ego a boost.
People may also use lateness to prove that they're busier than the rest of the team. They're so busy doing all of their work that they can't possibly show up on time!
3. Anxiety or Avoidance
People can be chronically late when they want to avoid certain situations. For instance, if you're managing someone who's always late to meetings, perhaps that person is being bullied by someone on the team. Or, perhaps that person is worried about his or her performance, or doesn't feel adequate in the position.
Because this person fears the situation so much, he or she may take as much time as possible to get there. The lateness means the person has to spend less time in that situation.
Or perhaps he resents the meeting and views it as a waste of time. Here, lateness is a "passive aggressive" way of registering an objection.
4. Poor Social Skills
Sometimes people are late because they simply don't have the emotional intelligence to see how their lateness affects others. They don't see it as a problem, so they think it must not be a problem for anyone else.
5. Medical Reasons
If you, or someone on your team, recently became a chronic latecomer, then this could be a sign of a much larger problem, like depression, chronic fatigue, or another illness.
How to Stop Lateness
So, how can you stop habitual lateness?
There are several strategies you can use. We'll break down each of them by cause, and we'll include tips if you're a manager of a habitual latecomer.
- Keep a schedule with you at all times. Write down every meeting or commitment you have. It also helps if you schedule travel or transition time to and from each meeting or commitment. Online schedulers are useful if you're always late, because a computer alarm can remind you when it's time to leave for a meeting or appointment.
- Stop procrastinating. Procrastination uses up your time, and it's a common cause for lateness. Promise yourself a small reward each time you show up promptly for a commitment.
- Put a "lateness buffer" into your schedule. For example, if a meeting starts at 9:30, put it on your schedule for 9:15. This extra 15 minutes will give you extra time to get where you're going.
- Put the person's lateness into perspective. If she's 15 minutes late for a meeting with eight other people, then he just cost the company two hours' worth of work. Looking at lateness from this viewpoint can motivate the person to be on time. It's also helpful to put a monetary figure on this lost time.
2. The Power Play
- Look at this from the perspective of everyone who is waiting for you. Wouldn't you feel devalued or taken advantage of if you always had to wait for someone else? Is this really the image you want to present to your team?
- Analyze why you need to feel more important than others on your team. This can be an uncomfortable conversation to have with yourself, but it can be enlightening if you're willing to be honest. For instance, you could discover that you really have low self-esteem, and you therefore overcompensate by being late. If so, this may enable you to take steps to improve and grow.
- Arriving late to prove to others that you're more important is just
bad behavior. Other team members may have to stay late to make up for the lost time they spent waiting for you. Would you want to be treated this way?
- If you suspect that one of your team members arrives late as a power play, then have a sincere, but firm, talk with her. Let her know that you value all team members equally, and you don't appreciate her chronic lateness. If she continues the behavior, it might be time for disciplinary action.
- If you suspect that a team member is late to prove to you how busy he is, then acknowledge the good work he's doing and remind him that lateness wastes everyone's time, including theirs.
- If a team member is consistently late for meetings (even if the meetings depend on her presence), then take control! Use effective meeting skills, and start without her. She'll get the message.
3. Anxiety or Avoidance
- If you're subconsciously arriving late to avoid a situation, then you must confront the situation, at least within yourself. If you feel that you can't handle your job or assignment, then take steps to improve your skills. This will give you more self-confidence and help you cope with your workload.
- If you avoid a situation due to someone else behaving unpleasantly, then raise the issue with him in a neutral zone. Be honest, but firm, about how he makes you feel. If his behavior persists, then it might be time to inform your boss.
- If you're late because you resent attending the meeting, perhaps because you consider it a waste of time, or perhaps because you're busy and you've got other things you need to focus on, then it's time to brush up on your assertiveness and negotiation skills. Talk with the leader of the meeting and see if you can stop attending, if you can shorten the meeting, or if you can limit your attendance to only one, short part of it.
- If you suspect that someone on your team is late because she feels overwhelmed or inadequate in her position, then have a one-on-one talk with her. Offer her additional training or tools so she feels more prepared.
- If you suspect a bullying situation, then it's important to know for sure before taking action. Watch your team carefully. If you notice bullying, take action to stop it immediately. Bullying not only lowers morale, but hurts productivity and may increase absenteeism.
- If you suspect that someone is late because they don't want to attend, talk to them, and explore what they think. Where their attendance is necessary, explain the business reasons why this is the case. Where it is not, be open to allowing them to skip the meeting, or attend only part of it.
4. Poor Social Skills
- If you want to learn whether your lateness truly affects those around you, then ask. Your colleagues might not say what you want to hear, but these conversations can tell you a lot. Hearing how your lateness impacts others can be a powerful motivator for change.
- Remind the person that his lateness makes others on the team, who did arrive on time, feel resentful and angry. His chronic lateness can really annoy others, and damage teamwork.
5. Medical Reasons
- If you used to be punctual, but now you drag yourself to work late every day, then it's important to make sure there's no underlying medical issue. Have you been feeling especially tired or depressed? If so, then you should see your doctor.
- Try going to bed earlier and drinking more water. Lack of sleep and dehydration can cause feelings of fatigue and moodiness.
- If you suspect medical issues, then try working with your team member. Can you give her time off to rest and recover? Could she telecommute a few days per week until she's feeling better?
There are several reasons why people are late. They could be disorganized, trying to make a power play, anxious, have poor social skills, or even have underlying medical issues. Stopping habitual lateness must start with identifying the real cause.
Once you know why you, or your team member, is chronically late, then use the appropriate strategy to confront the lateness – and end it.