Businesswoman checking the time on watch

Late for work every day? It could get you fired, experts warn

Excessive office tardiness can also pit teams against each other and reduce productivity

Businesswoman checking the time on watchIf a manager arrives late every morning, this behaviour could be infectious, while those who do follow the rules begin to harbour resentment (Getty Images/PredragImages)

It happens to all of us: alarm woes, traffic havoc and transit delays send us sprinting into the office late, after everybody else has already arrived.

“There is going to be that occasional time…that’s [not] going to be an issue for most people, managers or organizations,” says David Dial, founder of Calgary-based, Dial Solutions Group, which helps organization successfully develop and manage their people. “It’s when we start getting into chronic lateness.” 

So, what happens when clocking in turns into ducking into your cubicle, and those around you notice the lateness isn’t an anomaly but rather the norm?

Workplace experts—Dial and Beverly Beuermann-King of Work Smart Live Smart—weigh in on how employee tardiness impacts productivity, morale and career success at the individual, team and organizational level.   


Whether it’s the boss or a teammate who frequently arrives at the office or meetings late, negative perceptions about that individual will prevail, says Beuermann-King.

“You end up being perceived as somebody who is not caring, not professional...or not a team player,” she says. “It becomes a disruption to getting work done effectively and efficiently.”   

The more it happens, the greater the chance it will become systemic, says Dial, adding that it ends up impacting morale and permeates attitudes within a team or department. For example, if a manager arrives late every morning, Dial says, this behaviour could be infectious (mimicked), while those who do follow the rules begin to harbour resentment. Questions including “why does he/she get preferential treatment?” or “why does that team have more flexibility?” are sure to crop up, he adds. 

“It’s more than just letting that person do what they want, now it’s a cultural thing,” he says. “You have to make a decision about what is the culture you want? If you put guidelines in place, you’ve got to say [and stick to]—‘these are our hours.’” 


Experts agree that chronic tardiness is usually a symptom of something bigger. Is the individual dissatisfied in their role or with the organization? Is there a challenge occurring in his/her personal life? Is it a scheduling conflict?

This is where a manager can attempt to discern whether the issue is willingness or ability and what can be done to accommodate or remedy it, says Dial. 

“Sometimes it’s ability. ‘I’m not able to do this and it’s every Thursday,’ and we can work on that because they’re willing to make adjustments or do something to make it better,” he says. “When we’re talking about someone who doesn’t have the willingness and treats it as ‘I just don’t care if I’m late,’ then we’ve got to diagnose that there might be something more going on there.”

This, Beuermann-King stresses, is where communication and trust between manager and employee comes in, particularly where personal challenges or mental-health issues are a concern.

“How can you have a supportive conversation? If it [lateness] is uncharacteristic…or chronic, you need to address it,” she says. “It’s helping them address those things and connecting them with the right resources.”

For some people, it’s simply that they are forgetful or unaware of the impact their tardiness has, she adds.   

“Bringing it to [their] awareness and showing how it impacts the team dynamic can be all that is needed to help that situation,” she says. “Most people want to do a good job…[so] help them build those skills and strategies so they can be as successful as possible.”


As much as tolerance and support are encouraged, there are circumstances where lateness can’t be tolerated and accommodations aren’t possible, experts say. This can not only impede an individual’s career success, including eligibility for promotions, but also lead to termination or resignation. 

“The fact that they don’t care about time and that they are doing this on chronic basis puts them at a complete disadvantage [for a promotion],” says Dial. “The other person is going to get the nod nine times out of 10—no matter how great their work is.”

When it comes to termination, says Beuermann-King, it comes down to a performance issue, whereby the employer has the right to take measures so as not to impede the success of the department—and business—overall. 

“If [the employee] has been offered support and given some tools…maybe they’ve either tried them and they are not working, you have to manage it as a performance issue,” she says. “That consequence may be that you have to let them go as they are not a good fit. That’s the hard part when they’ve been a member of the team for a while.” 


With today’s focus on deliverables over time on site, work environments are far more lenient—think flexible schedules and work from home policies, says Dial. This allows managers to meet their employee halfway to get needs met, he adds. 

“[Nine to five] worked because you needed to have people together in the same place…with the technology we have today, now we start measuring people on outcomes as opposed to time,” he says. 

“We are not running an adult daycare where we are going to watch you every minute of every day. We should be able to look at people [and find a compromise].”


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