Poor Punctuality in the Workplace: Is It a Deal Breaker?

Punctuality is important to any organization, and especially to employers. In fact, 41% of employers have fired one of their team members for being late. As you’re working through the hiring process, at what point do you ask the applicant about their punctuality? Does it even come up? Or is this a question you save for their references during the background check?

Depending on your industry and the position in question, the issue of punctuality may not register high on your list of hiring priorities in comparison to other industry-specific qualifications. But in general, punctuality and reliability is a boon to employers. Read on to learn more about punctuality in the workplace, and why it’s important to any team or company. 

What Is Punctuality and Why Is it Important? 

Punctuality is a simple concept: It means showing up when you say you will. When you are punctual, it signals that you care for your team members, you take your job seriously, and you care about meeting deadlines. In almost every workplace, punctuality is synonymous with professionalism. 

When someone is punctual, it doesn’t just mean that they’re able to get places on time. It also means that they have a great deal of respect for their workplace and for their colleagues. When someone is late to an important meeting such as a job interview, it can signal to the interviewer that the candidate isn’t serious about the position — and that they’re likely to be late to work if they join the organization. Consequently, many interviewers will immediately write a candidate off if they are late to an interview without prior notice. 

The Effects of Being Late to Work

Punctuality is a positive trait not just in employees, but in people in general. No one likes to be kept waiting. Waiting for someone to show up can be frustrating and downright irritating. But in the workplace, punctuality has considerable effects. When someone is late, they might cause meetings to be pushed out, impacting colleagues’ schedules. They may also miss important tasks, adding an extra task to another team member’s to-do list. 

Most employers won’t terminate an employee for a single offense, and 30% are okay with employees being late to work every once in a while, as long as it doesn’t become a habit. Some employers are far more lenient, with 18% accepting tardiness so long as the employee completes their work. However, some employers may not consider hiring an applicant if their references report a chronic habit for tardiness. Interestingly, 16% of employees admit to showing up late to work at least once a week according to a CareerBuilder survey. And 29% reported being late at least once a month.

Reasons for Being Late

The same CareerBuilder survey included more than 2,600 hiring managers or HR personnel and at least 3,400 workers across a range of industries. The most common reasons for employee tardiness included oversleeping (32%), traffic (49%), and bad weather (26%). Some other reasons included procrastination and being too tired in the morning to make it to work on time. 

In an article by CareerBuilder, the results of this survey were compiled to include a list of the most outrageous reasons workers gave for their tardiness. Here are a few that made the list:

  • I forgot it wasn’t the weekend.
  • I put petroleum jelly in my eyes.
  • I had to watch a soccer game that was being played in Europe.
  • I thought Flag Day was a legal holiday.
  • My pet turtle needed to visit the exotic animal clinic.
  • The wind blew the deck off my house.
  • I overslept because my kids changed all the clocks in the house.
  • I was cornered by a moose.
  • My mother locked me in the closet.
  • The pizza I ordered was late being delivered, and I had to be home to accept/pay for it.
  • The sunrise was so beautiful I had to stop and take it in.
  • My mother-in-law wouldn’t stop talking.
  • My dad offered to make me a grilled cheese sandwich, and I couldn’t say no

Have you heard any of the excuses above, or something similar? If punctuality is a problem, the best advice is for the employee to avoid outlandish excuses and simply tell the truth and commit to doing better in the future.

What to Say When You’re Late to Work

No employer or interviewer wants to listen to excuses about tardiness. Often, a supervisor can tell when an alibi is genuine. If an employee is running late due to legitimate reasons like traffic, weather, or oversleeping, the best course of action is to communicate as soon as possible, giving colleagues the chance to expect a different time of arrival. A simple text message or call can make a world of difference when it comes to an employee’s reputation for punctuality. 

If an employee is running late or has been late and needs to make amends, here are some ways to communicate with a supervisor or interviewer: 

  • “I’m so sorry, but I will be 20 minutes late to the meeting. I ran into some unexpected traffic, but I’m on my way.” 
  • “I want to apologize for missing the first half of today’s staff meeting. I know that punctuality is important to the team and the company, and I will work to be on time in the future.” 
  • “My daughter has a stomach flu so I’m arranging a last-minute babysitter. However, I won’t be there until 11 a.m.”

If your workplace allows it, you could avoid being late to work in the first place by working from home. Just be sure to let your supervisor know ahead of time or as soon as you know you need the accommodation.

How to Avoid a Tardy Workforce 

If you’d like to make sure habitual tardiness does not happen in your workplace, it’s important to ask applicants about their history of punctuality during the hiring process. But to avoid the issue altogether, be sure you’re targeting the right type of employee — one with a strong work history and a proven punctuality track record. VICTIG helps you filter out applicants who might not be the right fit for your organization. Learn more about our employment screening services here, or contact VICTIG today to get started.

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