Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Just Because You Sent a Message Does Not Excuse Your Lateness

I  really dislike being late. I try to be on time to all my appointments. And I dislike people who do not keep appointments with me. Yes, there are situations where it cannot be avoided, such as a road being shut down, etc. However, chronic tardiness, whether at work or in life is not acceptable as far as I am concerned.

What prompted this little rant was an article in the Tuesday edition of the Wall Street Journal. The article was entitled Sick of This Text: 'Sorry I'm Late' By Elizabeth Bernstein. The author relates a story about a friend who was late, and was chronically late, but thought the tardiness was "ok" because she had sent a text message that she was going to be late. As if the message sent 5 minutes ahead of the appointment was the equivalent of being on time. The ability to send a text message, and thus avoid even speaking to someone, has made tardiness even a bigger issue.  Bernstein concluded in her article that the ultimate harm in tardiness was that you showed a lack of respect for your friend. I agree and think it shows a lack of respect to the other party in general. It cries out "MY TME IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR TIME."

Of course in human resources we have been dealing with tardiness issues forever. We track it, we counsel on it, we discipline it, we make sure it is being dealt with in an equitable manner to keep our collective butts out of court and we fire people over it. But we are also guilty of it as well. I have know recruiters who were chronically late to interviews. In fact I have known some who use that as a power play showing the candidate who had the upper hand in the interview. I have know hiring managers, for whom I had scheduled an interview, to be late and leaving me holding the bag apologizing to the candidate. I have also had candidates be late for interviews. I have never liked any of it. My feelings were generally anger and that anger was due to the fact that I did not feel the person respected my time. So I think Bernstein is onto it but that many others are missing the point.

There are many ways to deal with someone who is late. You can leave before they get there, sending a message that they missed the appointment. You can punish the behavior in some way. But perhaps the best thing is to make it clear that it boils down to respect. Managerial training should include that lesson. Counseling sessions to employees should include that lesson.

Most importantly, teach that lesson to your children. What do you think? Will it work? Do you have other suggestions?


Yu Yu said...

I vote for teaching kids. Once it's in the system, they'll know what's the right thing to do. I was trained that way, and it seems to work with my ward who is 16. No matter what country you move to, or culture, it will stay with that person.

But how do you correct tardiness if it was a cultural and systemic issue? How do you change the entire work culture of an organization?

Shaun Emerson said...


I read the same article and have a real issue with tardiness and agree with your thoughts. I also wrote about it today...