Four Things I Need You to Know When You Are Late for Work
How to have an adult conversation with someone who tends to be late for work…or for life.
How long a patient has to wait for their appointment is a big factor in patient satisfaction at most practices. So, it’s no surprise that one of the most frustrating HR issues doctors and practice managers have to deal with is an employee who is habitually late, and who doesn’t seem to understand that this lateness is not just their own problem. Instead, it impacts the practice, the patients, and their fellow employees.
Have you ever heard chronic lateness excused with a breezy phrase like, “I’m just late; that’s who I am!” It must be special to be that person. The whole world is their private stage, and every time they appear, tiny trumpets toot “ta-daaa!” Meanwhile, life gets a little more difficult for everyone around them, no matter how great an employee they are the rest of the time.
My team and I help managers and practice owners address topics like tardiness and absenteeism every day, so we’ve cracked the code for talking to an employee—or anyone, for that matter—about being late. Here’s a sample script containing the four things you need to address.
Thing #1—the issue.
“When you are late for work, it makes us all late. No, seriously, whether you realize it or not, you play a key role here as [position title]. So, when you are not here, all the fantastic things you do are missing. Which leads me to the next thing…”
Thing #2—the impact.
“When you are not here to do the things we need you to do, someone else has to do your job for you. That means that they, believe it or not, might as well be late, too. Why? Because when they are doing your job, they are not doing theirs, so they show up as missing, too!”
Thing #3—the impact of their tardiness on how they are perceived.
“I’m not sure if you realize that, when you are late, the sum total of how we perceive you is “late.” Contrast that with how great it is when you are here, getting things done and being appreciated for all that you do. When that happens, we perceive you as a fantastic professional doing your best. So being late partially redefines you as a person in our eyes: a person who needs other people to get things done for them. I know you don’t want to be defined that way, or to cause problems that the whole team has to deal with.”
Thing #4—they need to make a choice, or you will have to.
“So here’s what I need you to know. I don’t feel like I can—or even should—make you be here on time. It’s a choice you are going to have to make. But what I can control and make decisions around is who we work with. And I am letting you know that we are going to choose not to work with you if you are going to be late.
“Please don’t make us make that difficult decision.”
Your way or the highway: Specifically request self-correction at the end of Thing #4
Wrap up your discussion with a specific, measurable request: “Can you be on time? Because this is something I HAVE TO GET FROM YOU.”
If your employee answers with anything other than, “Yes, absolutely,” hold them to a yes. Tell them that “I’ll try my best” is not what you are looking for as an answer.
If they need time to think about it, have them take it right then. Give them five bucks to go get a cup of coffee, and then they can come back and let you know what their commitment is going to be, going forward. Get an affirmative answer, and thank them for giving you a chance to express your concerns and give them feedback.
Or you can throw the book at them… (except, you know, don’t throw books)
Of course, there’s always the good, old-fashioned method. You can always pull out your employee handbook, tell the employee that the rules say they have to be on time, reiterate that their shift starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m., issue a Corrective Action, et cetera, et cetera. I am all for that, but eventually it stops working, because everybody already knows the rules.
The 1, 2, 3, 4 approach only works if you are up for it and are willing to have a frank conversation, along with, in most cases, a serious close. (For those of you reading closely, this script is really an example of Progressive Corrective Coaching, and a modified version of the FIRR technique I’ve discussed here before—for more info, see the second half of this trainer.) This approach can bring some refreshing honesty to the discussion. Better yet, it should always leave you with a firm commitment from the employee to self-correct and step back up.
For a good employee gone astray, this may be all you need. And for a mediocre one who is already inching toward the door, your documentation of your specific request, and the results or non-results of that request, are critical steps in the process of safely letting them go. Of course, practice owners and managers have to present a united front and be willing to face potential outcomes if the employee does not self-correct.
Need to have a difficult conversation with a member of your own team—about tardiness or something else? CEDR members have unlimited support for issues like these, but if you’re not yet a member, practice owners and managers can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for one free HR issue solved.