Employee Lateness: Why It Happens & How to Eliminate It

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about employee lateness, including why it happens and how to stamp it out.
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Time Tracking Fundamentals
Understanding Labor Laws
GPS Tracking
Tracking More Than Time
Time Tracking Benefits
Choosing A System
Implementing A System
Time Tracking Fundamentals
Understanding Labor Laws
GPS Tracking
Tracking More Than Time
Time Tracking Benefits
Choosing A System
Implementing A System

Always Know The Whereabouts Of Your Field Workers With Workyard

Have you ever seen those memes that glorify employee lateness? The ones that depict someone strolling into work 15 minutes late with an iced coffee in hand, literally flaunting the evidence that they prioritized the Starbucks drive-thru over punctuality? 

Those memes might give us a chuckle on Facebook; everybody can relate to the need for a morning coffee boost and the struggle of commuter traffic. But these relatable memes highlight a common problem: employees don’t always take time management seriously and this can have a detrimental impact on your company’s bottom line. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at the ins and outs of employee lateness, how it can affect your workplace, and what you can do to prevent this problem from wreaking havoc on your business.

What Is Employee Lateness? 

Before we begin unpacking the effects of employee lateness in the workplace, we need to establish a clear definition of what employee lateness actually is. On the surface, lateness probably sounds really straightforward; if you don’t arrive on time, you’re late— simple as that! But it may surprise you to know that the problem of employee lateness isn’t actually that simple. 

Instead, employee lateness exists on more of a fluctuating gradient scale, with some forms of lateness being more problematic than others. So, for starters, we’ll explore the different types of employee lateness, the impacts they can have on your workplace, and what you can do about them. 

  • Occasional lateness 

Everybody is late sometimes. Whether it’s the result of traffic jams, unforeseen circumstances, or public transport delays, even the most time-conscious person will occasionally be a minute or two late due to circumstances beyond their control. This is especially true for working parents and employees who live in busy cities known for commuter gridlock. 

So, if an employee gets stuck in traffic once or twice and arrives at 9:01 instead of 9:00 am, you don’t necessarily need to read them the riot act. Why? Because infrequent occasional lateness is typically the result of normal human error or circumstances beyond that person’s control. In these instances, an employee was likely doing their best and had taken active, intentional steps to avoid being late in the first place, but was simply unable to avoid being a couple of minutes late. 

These are exactly the qualifiers that distinguish occasional employee lateness from its more problematic counterpart, chronic or persistent employee lateness. 

  • Chronic lateness 

Being late on a couple of occasions is an understandable mistake. And arriving at 9:01 instead of 9:00 once or twice is pretty forgivable. But being 15 minutes late to work every day is a lifestyle choice. Whether you arrive with or without Starbucks in hand, a pattern of persistent lateness isn’t just a one-off due to circumstances beyond your control. 

This is the type of lateness that can be problematic for a company and that’s why businesses need policies in place to address chronic and persistent lateness. But how you handle this type of lateness will depend on the root cause. 

What Causes Employee Lateness?

There’s no doubt that chronic lateness is problematic. But identifying the cause of chronic lateness can guide you toward the best solution for addressing it. So, let’s take a look at a few of the common reasons why people are repeatedly late. 

  • Personal problems 

When an employee is late on a regular basis, it’s easy to assume that they simply don’t care about their job. But in reality, people often struggle to arrive on time because they’re stretched too thin and they’re struggling with conflicting responsibilities in their personal life. 

Whether they’re experiencing difficulties with childcare, struggling to help a vulnerable relative, or battling the breakdown of their personal relationships, all of these personal problems can bleed into an employee’s professional life and prevent them from prioritizing punctuality. 

Many employees may feel uncomfortable sharing these difficulties with their managers or colleagues, so they may be struggling in silence as they try to handle their problems alone. 

  • Mental health difficulties 

Living with mental health conditions like chronic anxiety, depression, or PTSD can make it very difficult to get to work on time. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that more than 40 million adults in the United States (approximately 19.1% of the population) struggle with some form of anxiety disorder. 

If over 40 million adults are living with mental health difficulties, it’s obvious that some of the people who fall in that category are going to be working professionals. And it also stands to reason that an employee’s relationship with mental health may have an impact on their performance at work. 

But although there are many resources available to support employee mental health and reduce the stigma associated with mental health difficulties, employees may still feel reluctant to disclose information about their mental health to their employers. Whether they fear being judged, labeled, or treated differently, many people don’t like to bring their personal or emotional problems into the workplace, even if doing so could offer a legitimate explanation for chronic lateness. 

  • Being overworked 

Sometimes employees are also late due to fundamental issues with their workload. If your company culture encourages employees to live dangerously close to burnout and take on more than they can reasonably be expected to handle, this can cause employees to feel overworked and undervalued. 

Being overworked can also cause workers to struggle with work/life balance. After all, it’s pretty tough to find that balance if you’re spending the majority of your time at work and feel as though you can’t say no. 

Employees who are experiencing burnout or the feeling of being overworked may struggle to maintain healthy sleep patterns. As a result, they may reach a point where they simply cannot get up in time. Oversleeping, forgetting to set their alarm, or failing to hear their alarm in the morning can all be symptoms of sleep disturbances brought on by an insufficient work/life balance.  

  • Procrastination 

Procrastination can also be a symptom of mental health difficulties, personal struggles, and burnout. If employees feel stressed and overwhelmed, they may struggle with time management and task prioritization, which can lead to a pattern of chronic lateness.  

  • Lack of motivation 

Employees may experience a lack of motivation for a couple of different reasons. In some cases, it may be a symptom of a larger problem like those mentioned above. After all, when someone is struggling with depression, anxiety, or difficulties in their personal life, it may feel impossible to find enough energy to get up and seize the day. 

Conversely, however, sometimes an employee’s lack of motivation is as simple as those funny Starbucks memes. In some cases, an employee may be chronically late because they are disinterested in their job, do not take pride in their work, and fail to prioritize time management. 

The Negative Impacts of Employee Lateness

For a business to run successfully, you need employees who will show up on time and do their jobs with excellence. When some employees are persistently late, your entire team suffers. Chronic employee lateness can: 

  • Result in costly delays and missed deadlines
  • Impede project success 
  • Cause communication breakdowns 
  • Prevent other employees from doing their jobs to completion 
  • Incite negative feedback from customers 
  • Lead to poor reviews of your business 

Although the specific impacts of chronic lateness may vary from business to business, these are just a few ways that a team member’s chronic lateness can negatively impact any company. But if we view the impact of repeated absences through the lens of a dollar amount, it gets even scarier. 

According to the Well-Being Index developed by Gallup and Sharecare, businesses across the US lose over $84 billion every year as a result of chronic employee lateness and employee absenteeism. The poll also reports that $40 billion of that loss comes from management positions and other skilled professional roles. 

If we consider employee lateness through the lens of the money you’re losing, it’s easy to see its impact on your company’s overall success and profitability. But persistent lateness can also impact your employees and your company culture. Let’s take a look at how. 

  • Team dysfunction

You know that saying ‘no one is an island?’ This can be especially true in the workplace. Chronic employee lateness can affect an entire team, resulting in communication deficits, missed deadlines, and general impediments to the success and motivation of the team. 

  • Unfair distribution of labor 

Co-workers are sometimes happy to cover for each other in little ways if a colleague is struggling. If an employee has missed a meeting or forgotten to send an email, it’s probably not too much trouble for their fellow team members to let them know what they missed or help out with an email here and there. 

But if an employee is chronically late, asking co-workers to pick up their slack may transition from an occasional favor to a regular habit. Colleagues may feel awkward about saying no and so they may continue to cover for someone who is late on a regular basis. 

Over time, this can put a strain on the employees who are taking on extra work. As a result, employees may struggle to keep up with their own workload and feel depressed, overworked, and burned out. 

  • Negative impact on employee morale 

In addition to causing communication breakdowns and an unequal division of labor, chronic lateness can also have a negative impact on employee morale. When one or more employees are persistently late, it may cause their colleagues to feel that your workplace does not prioritize punctuality and accountability. 

This can cause employees to feel demoralized and disillusioned and, over time, that can really drag down employee morale. 

How to Prevent Employee Lateness

Now that we’ve explored some of the common reasons for employee lateness and their detrimental consequences, let’s take a closer look at the resources you can implement to nip this issue in the bud. 

How you combat this problem will depend on the root cause of your employees’ chronic lateness, so we’ll examine a few different resources that can help you. 

  • Have a conversation 

If an employee is chronically late because of difficulties with their mental health, their finances, or their relationships, an honest conversation will highlight the ways you can support them. 

Lateness that stems from personal struggles is very different from chronic lateness that’s driven by apathy or a poor work ethic, so identifying the root cause of persistent lateness is key to finding the correct solution. 

  • Establish a lateness policy 

Although you may be able to work with employees depending on their individual circumstances, it’s important to have a holistic policy that applies to your whole company. 

Your employee lateness policy should clearly outline: 

  • How your company defines lateness 
  • The negative impact of lateness on your company 
  • A grace period if you have one— for example, some company policies include an excused lateness grace period of 5-7 minutes
  • Reasons for lateness that are classed as unexcused absences— for example, stopping for coffee on the way to work, oversleeping, poor time management 
  • Excused absences— these typically include family emergencies, illness, etc. especially when these absences can be verified via a doctor’s note. 
  • Your company’s procedure for reporting lateness
  • How your company tracks and records attendance 
  • Consequences for repeated absences 
  • Support options for employees who are struggling 
  • Set clear expectations 

It’s one thing to have a lateness policy but that policy can only be effective if your employees have a clear grasp of your expectations. Ensure that each employee has read your lateness policy, understood it, and agreed to abide by the rules outlined in it. 

A warning letter for attendance and lateness can also help you set and convey clear expectations. Workyard offers a great template that clearly outlines why an employee’s absenteeism is problematic, what specific lateness policy they’re violating, and the consequences of their actions. 

  • Develop a plan

Sometimes, if an employee is struggling, they may develop a pattern of lateness despite understanding and agreeing with your company’s lateness policy. In this case, it’s important to work with your employee. 

Together, you can identify ways you can support them and agree on a plan for the future. This plan may vary according to each employee’s individual circumstances and needs but, on the whole, it should outline practical action steps that will help your employee realign with your lateness policy. 

Best Tools For Tracking Employee Lateness

If your employees report to an office or another in-person location, you may be able to identify employee lateness by simply seeing who didn’t show up. But what happens when you have employees in multiple locations or even different time zones?

Let’s take a look at some different options for tracking employee lateness. 

  • Employee time tracking apps 

If you have field teams or employees dispersed across various projects, consider an employee time-tracking app powered by GPS. A GPS time clock app like Workyard leverages precise GPS data to track employee locations, driving routes, and mileage. As a result, you get real-time proof of where your workers are and what they’re doing. This is especially handy if you’re dealing with dishonest employees who are persistently late to work.

  • Physical time tracking devices 

Physical time tracking devices are best suited for employees who report to an office in person. Similar to the old-school method of clocking in and clocking out, physical time tracking devices— that have been digitized and adapted for contemporary convenience— can help you keep track of employee office attendance. 

  • Employee time tracking software 

Last but not least, employee time tracking software is perfect for remote employees. When your team works from home, you may not be able to track their location on a job site or stop by their desk, but it’s perfectly reasonable to ask them to clock in remotely. 

Whether that means logging their hours via an app or utilizing screen-recording software, online time tracking options can ensure accuracy when measuring remote attendance. So, what are you waiting for? Sign up for a free trial of Workyard today!

The Bottom Line on Employee Lateness

Companies can only run successfully when employees work together as a team. In practice, on a day-to-day basis, that means that everyone shows up on time and strives for excellence. Chronic employee lateness undermines those essential components of success by causing communication breakdowns, productivity bottlenecks, and an overall loss of both employee morale and company revenue. 

That’s why it’s important to prevent employee lateness by establishing a company employee attendance policy, setting clear expectations, and having open, honest conversations with employees who are late. Implementing employee time tracking apps can also help you measure employee lateness in an accurate and objective way.

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