If you’re like most employers, there is that one person who can’t consistently make it to work on time. Let’s call this person B (we’ll call them A when they show up on time). B knows what the start time is. But B continually and regularly fails to abide by the start time.

This problem appears to be widespread. Accusations, not surprisingly, point toward the younger generation’s work ethic, failing schools, absent parenting, etc. The problem is these accusations don’t solve the problem, even if they are well-founded. I’m all for solving these societal issues, but the employer has an issue today. So what steps might an employer take?

Be fair and be consistent

First of all, it would be wise to establish whether or not a fixed start time is essential. Of course, for many positions it is. But if it’s not, perhaps there is no problem at all. For many jobs, the focus should be on results, not on the clock. If performance matters, counting the minutes a person sits at a workstation is misplaced. So before we try to solve a problem, let’s make sure there is a problem that needs to be solved.

Second, an employer should be consistent in whatever approach to the situation. If you hold B to a standard, that same standard should apply to B’s peers. If not, the employer opens the door to accusations of favoritism or discrimination. Let’s stay far away from those potential claims.

Third, if the start time is critical, this should be made clear during the hiring process. And, more importantly, every instance of deviation needs to be addressed. If not, it sets a precedence and it’s more difficult to gain compliance with a policy not consistently enforced.

Third, address the tardiness the same day it occurs. But don’t use a hammer. The key here is to approach the situation with finesse. Begin by asking B why they were late. Then ask them what they intend to do to prevent this from happening again. If this is B’s first occurrence, that’s probably the extent of the conversation. Take B at face value and move on.

Fourth, if there are continued tardiness issues, change the conversation. Again, don’t use a hammer. This time, even more finesse is required. Begin by asking B why they were late and what they intend to do. But then remind them you had this conversation before, and here we are again. Explain to them in very clear language what your expectations are and that this is not negotiable. Help B understand how it impacts the company. Help B see that this affects how people view them. Does Des B really want to be seen as an unreliable person? Is this the reputation they want? Maybe B never thought about these things before.

A fifth step may be providing assistance or support to help B solve the problem. They need to take ownership, but perhaps you are able to provide resources that will help them do so. This obviously is not always possible. But if it is, it’s probably worth the investment, especially if B is a key person.

Document, document, document

Beyond this, everything is punitive. And that’s the last place we want to go. Taking away a privilege or creating written documentation leads to B leaving the company or B’s termination. Sometimes discipline is productive, especially if the employer has the ability to manage a performance improvement plan with finesse, but many employers are ill-equipped to do so.

A better approach is to take the proper steps I outlined in this article. Be sure to layer on a heavy dose of nurturing. If B feels cared for, valued, and respected, their response will look very different than if they don’t.

Final comment: managers often feel like they have too much on their plate to address something as minor as punctuality. However, as the old adage says, you get what you tolerate. I’m guessing our busy manager also doesn’t have time for recruiting, onboarding and training. Address the issue when it arises — with finesse. You just might solve the problem.

Now go forth.

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About the Author:

Phil Harwood is a Senior Advisor with Tamarisk Business Advisors. Contact him at

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