Are you managing the age-old problem of habitual late-comers?

Many businesses experience problems because some of their staff members are constantly getting to work late. No matter what type of business you own, some of your staff members will always try to push the boundaries by arriving at work after the start of business.

Many staff members regularly arrive at work 10 minutes (or so) after official business hours have started and always have a valid reason therefor. I have yet to meet the staff member who has arrived at work after the start of business hours and admits to not having a valid excuse.

The excuses vary from traffic congestion to sick family members. In one case, the family pet had to be buried. Even though it is possible for a staff member genuinely to experience such problems and to arrive at work late as a result, the business owner is challenged to identify those cases where the so-called valid reasons are abused by staff members that do not get out of bed early enough. It is the nature of the many South Africans to do exactly what they initially contracted to do and nothing more. Even though this, in essence, sounds good, an analysis of the results of this approach shows that doing the bare minimum is the biggest contributor to your staff members getting to work late.

If a staff members conditions of employment state that working hours start at 08:00, many staff members will aim to arrive at work at 07:59, and in so doing, arrive at work on time. When then, does such a staff member start working? After coffee? After unpacking handbags? Or after discussing last nights soapie with colleagues? It does not matter which way you look at it, but a staff member who arrives at work bang on time, starts working only 30 minutes later.

Let us assume for a second that you are a sole legal practitioner and employ five secretaries. On three occasions during every week, one of those secretaries arrives on time but starts working 30 minutes after the official start of business hours. A simple calculation will show that the firm has lost 360 minutes per month in unproductive time (or six hours). This is very close to an entire day lost due to your inability to manage the problem.

If your firm experiences these sorts of problems, two fundamental things need to change, namely:

  1. You need to realise that your management style may contribute to the problem or, at the very least, may allow for the problem to fester.
  2. The working habits of the staff members need to change.

In this sense, it is important to realise that you are the only person who can change the arrival habits of your staff members. It suits the staff member in question to carry on in his normal fashion, and therefore the staff members arrival habit will never change if you do not play an active role therein. You need to make it happen. The situation will never improve if you do not get involved and sort it out yourself. The management of your firm is always your responsibility. The responsibility to manage can also never be delegated. There is no substitute for getting involved. Try the following steps in your attempts to improve the situation:

  • Realise that the nature of many staff members motivates them to push the boundaries: You need to realise that you are dealing with a problem of habits. People do not continuously arrive late with valid reasons. A staff members poor arrival habit is exactly that . . . a habit to arrive late. Like smoking or alcohol abuse, these habits need to be broken and that may take time and require patience. In other circumstances, shock therapy may be required.
  • Separate the valid reasons for late-coming from the invalid: You cannot accept that every incident is due to the poor arrival habits of your staff members. You need to analyse the reason for each incident and differentiate between those that are valid and those that are not. Simply put, if the same staff member constantly arrives late and has a new excuse for each late-coming, many of the reasons supplied would be invalid.
  • Communicate the rules of your business: Regularly remind your staff members of your business hours and the need for them to be actively working when business hours start.
  • Set the example: You will never change your staff members poor arrival habits if you do not apply the rules yourself. Your staff members will follow your lead and it becomes very difficult to discuss late-coming with a staff member if you are usually late. If your partner is often late, you need to change his arrival habits before tending to those of your staff members. The rule is simple: The boss can never be late.
  • Create a culture: Publicly adopt the rule: I will be here on time; and I expect you to do the same. Enforce this every time someone arrives after the start of business hours. Become known as Mr (or Ms) on time.
  • Find an accurate way to record the correct time of arrival: In many cases, you do not even know when a staff member arrives late. You might be off to court or may be sitting in your office in the back of the building, while a staff member simply sneaks in and looks busy when you eventually walk by. Make use of bio-clocking devices to ensure accuracy.
  • One minute late is one minute late: Do not budget for defaulters. Deal with every incident of late-coming even if the staff member is only just late. Do not create a culture where being slightly late is excusable.
  • Find an easy way of receiving reports on your staff members arrival habits: Numerous systems will automatically e-mail you when a staff member logs in after 08:00. This allows you to manage reactively and only deal with the latecomers.
  • Apply the concept of auto-communication: Many systems allow you to communicate with the staff member on an automated basis. If a staff member arrives after the official start of business hours, he could automatically receive an e-mail similar to the following: Hi Joe, I see that you have arrived late today. Please see me about this later in the day. Please remember that I am here on time and I expect you to do the same.