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Annie Hayes



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Any Answers: Managing lateness


alarm clock
Emma Doherty recently asked the Any Answers forum for advice on how to deal with persistent lateness; Stephen Walker, Director of Motivation Matters responds, sharing his top tips on ways to promote good timekeeping.

Why manage:
We have to manage the effect of poor timekeeping to avoid three major disrupting effects.

  • 1. Line managers make their daily plans around the number of people who have turned up for work that day. Latecomers cause repeated iterations of the plan and a lack of pace.
  • 2. Those operations, contact centres included, are tasked to provide a service level which calls for a minimum staffing level. The more unreliable the timekeeping the more “just in case” capacity is kept on standby and then wasted when not needed.
  • 3. The effect of ignoring lateness is to communicate that the management either do not care, or worse still, cannot take the trouble to notice. Either way motivation is damaged.

There has to be a policy to manage consistently. You will probably want to treat a lateness happening once in six months, differently to one happening twice a week.

Formulas are dangerous as HR Zone member Caroline Miles said. Trigger points are the same as allowances. However secret you keep the rules, experimentation will reveal the triggers very quickly.

I prefer a simple expectation approach. The expectation is that people will come to work at the proper time.

Iain Young, former Head of HR for Cofathec Heatsave mentions electronic systems for attendance time recording. These are essential for organisations with even modest numbers of people. Checking T&A records is a classic “inspection” function which does not add value, merely attempts to mitigate a loss.

Signing-in books work, if positioned locally and monitored by on-the-spot line managers.

HR should manage the data and ensure line management conducts the necessary procedures. Lateness should be discussed on the spot, not in a combative, critical way, but as an enquiry into what went wrong today with concern for the individual’s wellbeing.

Poor timekeeping is a headache for line managers so they need to be instrumental in its minimisation.

There is a skill in having these discussions which allows people to talk honestly about the reasons for being late. People need to feel their attendance is valuable to their manager, their missing contribution a loss.

Sadly whatever you allow once as mitigation you allow forever. Precedent is created with every decision. You are being closely watched too!

The expectation is that people will come to work on time.

Occasional slips are to be expected but should be in the once every several weeks range not twice a week.

If you produce a list of acceptable reasons for being late, you will be surprised at how many of them one person can confront in any one week!

I do not like fines, docking fifteen minutes pay for three minutes lateness and so on. It does not cover the extra costs involved in managing poor timekeeping and incurs payroll management costs too.

People also feel that, as their pay has been docked for lateness, there should be no other penalty.

Obviously when appraisals come round T&A issues are discussed. It is very difficult to advance the career of someone who shows a careless disregard for timekeeping.

Disciplinary action:
The handbook or contract should define the steps that will be followed if there is a persistent habit of lateness. As Sue Chandler, HR Zone member says you have to follow the steps and keep impeccable records!

Young points out the effect of disciplinary processes on behaviour. People listen to what you say but believe what you do.

One of my people, a talented highly valued individual, was, on average, always on time. Half the time he was two or three minutes early, and for the rest two to three minutes late. As a key figure his behaviour, and my treatment of him, was very closely watched for favouritism.

Eventually, he got a speeding ticket on the way to work, which was my fault because he did not want to be late. He asked me to pay the fine and, when I refused, appealed to my boss through the grievance procedure. When he was refused again he accepted that his behaviour was not going to be tolerated despite his value to the organisation. His timekeeping greatly improved from that moment.

The organisation has to be consistent in its behaviour to send a coherent message.

People will believe what you do, not what you say.

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Annie Hayes


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