Turning Over a New Leaf in the New Year

How to Get Chronically Late Employees to Report to Work on Time

Is your New Year’s resolution to “never be late again?” Do you wish your employees would make such a vow?

Tardiness may not matter in some professions, but in libraries, where customer service is so important, being at one’s work station on time and ready to work matters a lot. Chronic tardiness often means present co-workers must scramble to cover for missing employees. Customers may eventually complain about sub-optimal service, although they probably will not realize the cause. In the worst case, the library-or portions of it-may not open on time. Less obvious to the public, library employees may find their schedules thrown off for the rest of the day, especially if meetings or appointments start late. Or those same meetings may run late because participants repeat themselves for the benefit of latecomers.

How to deal with chronically late employees? Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged, recommends creating a “corporate culture” that encourages timeliness.1 Writing in the November 2005 issue of HR Magazine (“Running late: Dealing with chronically late employees who cost the company in productivity and morale”), she recommends these four steps:2

Work with your human resources department to develop a policy on tardiness. Then publicize it, include it in “new-hire orientations” and enforce it consistently, she says. Consider penalties such as written warnings, suspensions, docking workers’ pay and termination. Of course, first determine how any collective bargaining agreement affects discipline for tardiness. Also investigate under what circumstances your state allows employers to dock a worker’s pay.

Don’t accommodate latecomers at meetings. Close the door after the scheduled start time. Don’t prevent latecomers from entering, but don’t rehash any discussions they may have missed, either.

Reward employees who have perfect attendance or punctuality. DeLonzor recommends anything from free employee parking to department store gift certificates to “spot bonuses”—assuming that your library’s compensation policy allows for such rewards.

Coach individual employees as needed. DeLonzor recommends arranging a meeting with recalcitrant employees (individually, of course) to outline company policy and to inquire about “extenuating circumstances or logistical problems.”3 Casey Fitts Hawley, author of 201 Ways to Turn Any Employee into a Star Performer, refers to this as the “big talk,” a concept undoubtedly familiar to most managers and human resources professionals.4 Not surprisingly, DeLonzor recommends using this time to “set goals for the future and clarify the consequences of being late.” In keeping with what is undoubtedly standard practice in most companies, she recommends documenting the conversation in writing and keeping a written record of future incidents. She also suggests scheduling a follow-up meeting, in part to signal that the manager is serious about resolving the issue.5

Perhaps more important, DeLonzor suggests making an effort to understand why some people are chronically late. Some, she says, simply underestimate the time needed for travel to the job, phone calls, and other last-minute tasks. Getting them to record how long daily activities actually take might help them change their ways, she says. Other latecomers, she says, hate the idea of waiting-anywhere-once they arrive. They tend to over-schedule and thus are always too busy to be on time.6 Still others, she says, get “an adrenaline rush from the last-minute sprint to the finish line.”7 Planning to do at least one task earlier than normal every day might counter this last tendency, she says. Planning to arrive 15 minutes early might help the over-bookers, she says.8 Jeffrey Mayer, author of If You Haven’t Got the Time to Do It Right, When Will You Find the Time to Do It Over? echoes this theme. He suggests that the chronic latecomers plan to arrive 15 minutes early and then make phone calls or read newspapers. “Give yourself a cushion and take the pressure off,” he says.9

Hawley warns that tardiness may be an employee’s way of expressing passive-aggressive anger toward an employer. She suggests adapting the “big talk” for this purpose, asking the employee if he or she is unhappy—a kinder word, she says, than “angry”. She suggests that, depending upon what they learn from the employee, managers consider offering the employee a transfer to a position where promptness is not so important—or a telecommuting option.10 She also suggests using peer pressure to get an employee to be more prompt. For example, she suggests asking an employee to work with co-workers on a project that requires timely arrival. Or, she says, a manager may ask the chronically late to open a facility needed by co-workers, such as copy room. Hawley’s theory is that the prospect of colleagues waiting will motivate the chronic latecomer more than any manager ever could.11

And what if the chronic latecomer is your boss? Don’t worry. You need not offend your time-challenged supervisor. DeLonzor’s web site, www.neverbelateagain.com allows users to send an “anonymous lateness citation” from the “National Department of Punctuality and Attendance” warning of “lost friendships, damaged client relationships, and/or forfeited career advancement.”

And if you are the culprit? DeLonzor suggests asking yourself: Does this really need to be done now? Am I being realistic about my time? What are my priorities?12 The new year may be a perfect time to start to lead by example.


  1. Diana DeLonzor, “Running Late: Dealing with Chronically Late Employees Who Cost the Company in Productivity and Morale,” HR Magazine50, no. 11 (Nov. 2005): 110.

  2. Ibid., 110.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Casey Fitts Hawley, 201 Ways to Turn any Employee into a Star Performer (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), 61.

  5. DeLonzor, “Running Late,” 110–11.

  6. Ibid., 112.

  7. Ibid., 110.

  8. Ibid., 112.

  9. Jeffrey J. Mayer, If You Haven’t Got the Time to Do It Right, When Will You Find the Time to Do It Over? (New York: Fireside, Simon & Schuster, 1990), 101.

  10. Hawley, 201 Ways, 65–66.

  11. Ibid., 60–61.

  12. DeLonzor, “Running Late,” 112.

Christine Martin is a freelance writer and 1997 graduate of the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science.