Having a conversation with employees who are always late to work

An employee who is consistently late can cause problems for a manager on several fronts; there's the impact on service delivery or productivity; the loss of goodwill from their colleagues if it's not managed effectively; and damage to company reputation if they're customer facing. These are just some of the more obvious problems.

If the employee works for you, then you will be expected to resolve the situation, but how do you go about it? What do you say? What can you do? What if it doesn’t work?

You’ll be relieved to know there are a number of options open to you and they are simple to put into effect.

The first thing you need to do is prepare for the conversation you're going to have with them. This needn’t take long. You need to check what company policy is with regards to lateness. Is it considered to be a discipline issue? Does it go to a discipline meeting or do you have power to give certain sanctions locally? How does it fit with your company discipline policy? Is pay docked?

With regards to the individual, how often have they been late? When and how late have they been? Is there a pattern, for example, does it coincide with Mondays, weekends or night shift? Is this the first time they have been spoken to? What has been done before in similar cases? (This is important to ensure you treat everyone fairly.) What leeway is there for giving people time or support for improvement? For instance, do you have the power to vary work patterns? Will they have the right to have somebody accompany them at any meetings with you?

Now you've done your preparation you need to talk to the individual. It is important to give them the opportunity to tell you why they have been late. Having specific dates and times enables them to give you specific answers in return. Do they have transport problems? A health condition? Childcare issues? There may be a variety of reasons they have for being late. You need to listen to them, then you can decide what you are going to do, and as always in business, the better the information, the better the decision.

As a manager there are things you can do to help ensure the problem is resolved. You can make your expectations clear to the individual; you can look at a temporary or permanent variation to work patterns (providing this is within your company policy and fits the business); and you can give them time to improve in accordance with company policy. You will be able to identify what will and won't work both within your team and with that individual. And, more importantly, what is appropriate.

You need to make a note of the conversation and ideally, get the employee to sign it as accurate. If you want to take things further, you don’t want to have to start from the beginning again.

Deal with the problem promptly and fairly and the individual will improve (or suffer the consequences you will have warned them about); their colleagues will be reassured that they’re not expected to carry extra work; your service or productivity levels will be maintained; and you won’t have to worry about struggling to defend your actions if things get messy.

The key thing to remember is that, however sympathetic you might (or might not) feel, there are very few organisations where it is not the employee’s responsibility to get themselves to work on time. That is what should be at the core of your discussion with them.

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