A typical reaction to the question “does your company need a lateness policy?” is probably going to be something along the lines of “yes”. After all, showing up to work on time is seen as being pretty much a prerequisite of being a good employee.
But is showing up on the dot really that important? Obviously there are many, many situations where being punctual is imperative, important - and polite, socially speaking. But is being late to work really that big a deal? Depending on your company’s set up and industry, maybe it’s not.
Let’s take a closer look about how you can shape your organization’s attitude to workplace timekeeping, devising and implementing a fair lateness policy, and what to do about individuals who are consistently late.
Does your company need a lateness policy?
The answer to this pretty much boils down to one thing: how affected is your business by your employees being late? It’s tempting to go straight for the ‘very affected!’ But take a moment to think about it in a bit more detail.
And while we’re not suggesting you turn your hours of business into some kind of ‘show up when you feel like it’ kind of free for all, is there some wiggle room for a bit more flexibility?
So how can you discern where or not your business will suffer if your employees are late?
Consider the following scenarios:
Your company is a small chain of clothing boutiques with 3 members of staff working per day. You open your doors at 9am to the public. Two of your employees are late. The other employee needs to open the shop by themselves and is unable to help customers or look in the stock room for other sizes because they need to stay on the shop floor and man the till.
As a direct result of those two employees being late, your customers have received poor service and you may have lost sales.
This is a business model in which there is no room for lateness. Let’s compare that to:
Your company is a marketing agency working with a variety of clients. And while your receptionist or sales team will need to be in the office to receive visitors and answer calls, chances are your copywriters or your web designers can be given a little more flexibility.
For them, it is not imperative that they’re in the office at 9am sharp. For example, even though the official office hours are 9am to 5.30pm, what happens if your copywriter suddenly gets a great idea for that website homepage headline while they’re at home watching TV? They end up logging on, and doing three hours of work on their own time and finishing the copy.
Surely that means they’re entitled to come into work a couple of hours later the next day? After all, the work has been completed.
This is a business model in which there can be some leeway: as long as people are working their contracted hours, if the deadline has been met, then it’s been met. Even if it wasn’t during the typical working day.
Of course, not every organization is the same but our two scenarios point out the difference between needing to work certain hours, and the possibility of being flexible.
And when you look at your business from these perspectives, you should be able to work out quite easily whether or not punctuality is a big issue for you - and then you can craft a lateness policy around that.
What sort of lateness policy does your business need?
If you need your people to be at work on the dot, then you need to clearly state this in your lateness policy - and you need to make sure your employees know about it.
That means including your expectations for timekeeping in your new employee onboarding checklist and your employee handbook.
And don’t forget that if you have remote employees, you will also need to make it clear to them what you expect their hours to be and how you would like them to manage their time.
If your business model could withstand flexible start and finish times, then this also needs to be clearly stated in your onboarding checklist so that it isn’t “open to interpretation” - i.e. abuse!
Being transparent and coherent in your company policies is crucial. After all, it’s not fair on employees who are trying to do the right thing if your policy is incomprehensible. And you certainly don’t want to give less than stellar employees the opportunity to wriggle out of non-adherence to a policy by saying they didn't understand it.
What to include in a lateness policy
Your lateness policy needs to include:
- Why timeliness is crucial to your organization / why you can allow a certain amount of flexibility.
- What time people are required to start work if there is no flexibility.
- If there is flexibility in your start time, how much, and who does it apply to?
- If someone arrives late, are they required to make up the lost time after work or during their lunch break?
- If someone is going to be late and it is not allowed, do they need to call in to let their manager know?
- If someone is going to be taking advantage of a flexible start time, do they need to let their manager know?
- What are the ramifications of being late, once or twice, or consistently?
Managing lateness fairly
We’ve all been there: sometimes being late is simply unavoidable. The bus didn’t show up. The train was late. A tube line was closed. A child got sick. We can’t control everything and when circumstances that are genuinely out of an employee’s control occur, a little compassion is called for.
Lateness really needs to be handled on a case by case basis. Providing you act with consistency and without bias. It’s your call: if someone is 20 minutes late one Tuesday because the traffic was terrible, threatening them with being fired is probably not your best course of action!
However if this same person makes a habit of rolling in late and blaming it on the traffic, it could be time to have a conversation with them about it. If the traffic really is that awful, all of the time, they probably need to start leaving home a little earlier!
If the situation doesn’t improve, then it’s time to start acting upon the consequences as laid out in your employee onboarding checklist and handbook.
You might also want to keep a note of arrival times so that you can identify long term tardiness and take action, whether that’s checking in to see if someone is coping okay, or if something at home has changed - or if they just can’t be bothered to show up on time.
Does your company need a lateness policy? Conclusion
It’s probably safe to say that your company, no matter how small or how relaxed it is, will require at least some sort of lateness policy. After all, you have maternity and paternity leave policies and annual leave policies, so why not a policy concerning lateness?
Maybe you don’t think you need a policy now - perhaps you’re a family run business that only employs relatives and friends. But that might not always be the case: think about your growth. If you hire someone from outside your immediate circle, handling issues surrounding lateness will be a lot easier if you have a policy in place.
The other issue is employee retention. If you have one or more individuals who are playing fast and loose with your start (and finish) times, you’re only going to end up with disgruntled employees - i.e. the employees who do show up on time.
Issues of constant lateness therefore need to be addressed - and it will be a lot easier to do so if you have a policy that you can refer back to and enforce.