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Annie Hayes

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Beating the clock: Tackling lateness

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alarm clock
HR Zone member, Nik Kellingley, workforce development project manager at the National Day Nurseries Association responds to an Any Answers posting by Martyn McShane on how to tackle persistent lateness in a tele-research outfit.



”I want to cure an increase in lateness in my team. More and more colleagues are coming in late to work and when they arrive don’t seem to think they should apologise and then go and hide at their desks. We have run a policy where employees can make up time if they are late, but as we are a B2B outbound tele-research centre the time they make up is not in a very productive period for us i.e. lunchtime.

“This is now getting out of hand and I want to curb it, as we see timekeeping as important to us. I was reading that punctuality is affective only in colleagues who are happy and loyal to the company; we use a mix of temporary and permanent colleagues in a 60/40 ratio. I am also happy that you may reply that as a line manager I have become complacent, which has caused this to escalate, but given the difficulties in recruiting into the environment over the last year I have allowed that to happen rather than curtail the contracts of some colleagues, causing myself a manning level problem.

“How best can I bring it back into line and are there any penalties for lateness and attendance that we can introduce that will ‘help’ to cure our problem. I do recall in a past position that employees who were over three minutes late in the morning were docked 15 minutes pay, can this still be done?”

Martyn McShane


Lateness is a problem:
Persistent lateness can be a real issue for employers, a recent survey found that 17% of UK based employees are late at least five times a month!

Many employers complain that staff, particularly younger members, have a poor attitude to time keeping and that their business suffers as a result.

Recently the Royal Mail announced a series of incentives for staff based on attendance, giving those members of staff with perfect attendance records the opportunity to win prizes – including cars and holidays.

The HR community reacted to this with somewhat predictable outrage, citing the injustice of punishing those who are genuinely late (or ill) whilst rewarding people for just fulfilling their basic contractual requirements of turning up on time (or at all).

It’s all their fault, because it can’t be ours:
The trouble with this attitude is that it removes any responsibility for lateness from the employer and places it all with the employee. In this query the writer admits that the business has tacitly or even openly encouraged a lax attitude towards timekeeping amongst the workforce.

But now that the issue has become a problem, their first instinct is to punish their staff by docking their wages!

This maybe an easy, quick fix solution to the issue but the impact of this kind of policy is simple to predict – staff members will quit, morale will drop and any increased productivity from better timekeeping will be lost in the mix.

Communication is key:
There is of course a better solution. And it starts with dialogue. Firstly the employer needs to start talking to his staff. In order for this to be effective the communication needs to be two-way.

The employer needs to let the employees know why this lateness is becoming a problem and the impact on the business of time being made up at lunch time rather than the more productive early morning period. Also they need to make it clear that basic manners would require a late employee to apologise for and explain the reason for their lateness.

But the employer also needs to listen to the reasons that their employees have for persistent lateness, for example parking availability locally may be completely random.

An equitable solution:
Once the issues are in the open, an equitable solution needs to be reached. Employees need to commit to improving their attendance, but equally the employer needs to commit to assisting them in their efforts.

So if parking is a problem, subsidised parking or reserved spaces might be a solution alongside a commitment from the employees to set out five minutes earlier to improve their chances of getting a space in the first place.

You then need to agree a period of time over which you expect to see an improvement.

Reinforce the message:
Next comes the need to reinforce the correct behaviours, team leaders should be asked to praise those who have come on board with the new programme. Small rewards could be distributed to those with the best time keeping (I’m not suggesting cars here, but surely it couldn’t be that hard to supply some drinks or a half hour early finish one Friday for the best performer(s)).

This should continue for a short while, around a month, and then the situation should be reviewed. If you have seen no improvement then it’s time to tell them about your disappointment in the lack of change and set a deadline for improvement.

If this fails then it may be time to reach for the stick at last, you could utilise your disciplinary process for this. But if you want to dock their wages this will mean contractual negotiations unless you’ve already allowed for it in their contracts.

Other things to consider:
The ratio of temps to permanent members of staff in this situation seems very high – is there anything you can do to address this? Permanent staff are often more likely to take their commitment to your organisation more seriously than their temporary counterparts.

Are you complaining of lateness in an environment which requires a lot of overtime? Often staff see a little tardiness in the morning as a trade off against the demands of late nights.

Is your working environment a place that your employees can take pride in? Are their roles fulfilling and varied? If not addressing these issues could make all the difference.

One Response

  1. Lessons from manufacturing
    It should be no surprise that those working in call centres and those doing repetitive administrative work are generally disenchanted with their lot. Many employers experience a high incidence of staff problems and a horrifyingly high rate of labour turnover.
    These problems were common in munufacturing. They were thoroughly studied between about 1900 and 1970 , and many were found to be soluble by a combination of good management, and techniques of humanisation of the workplace, job enlargement and enrichment,progressive development, amongst others.
    It is sad that the search for the ‘lowest cost highest technical efficiency solution ‘ has led to the unrecognised costs of premature loss, high recruitment and replacement, turbulence , stress,poor quality and poor service.

    We have produced guidance notes on the management of such repetetive admin work which set out some of the ways the position can be improved, and would be happy to discuss them with those who might be interested.

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