HR in Practice: Addressing Employee Tardiness

Addressing Employee Tardiness

By Paul Edwards, CEO of CEDR HR Solutions


There’s nothing more maddening than knowing your patients are due to arrive at your door at any moment, but because one or more of your employees STILL hasn’t shown up for work, you won’t be able to take the patients back right away.

Despite the many excuses employees come up with to explain why they aren’t at work on time, tardiness is a big and serious problem for managers and business owners, as well as for those members of your team who respect their scheduled start times. And when it happens repeatedly, to the extent that you just can’t count on that employee showing up on time to do their job, then it’s definitely time to begin a corrective coaching process.

In the 25+ years I’ve spent helping employers address HR issues like tardiness and absenteeism, I’ve heard infinite variations of the typical excuses—some repetitive and others that can best be described as creative. But if there is one good thing to come out of this common problem, it’s that my team and I have finally cracked the code for talking to an employee about showing up to work late.

Here are four key points to address that will transform your tardiness conversation:
1. THE ISSUE. Describe the issue of the employee’s tardiness from a practice-wide perspective.

“When you are late for work, it makes us ALL late. This is because, even if you don’t realize it, you fulfil a vital role here as [job in question]. And on days when you don’t show up on time, all those great things we count on you for are missing. But that’s not the only problem...”

2. THE IMPACT: HOW IT AFFECTS THE BUSINESS. Tell your employee how their behavior affects the whole practice.

“When you don’t show up on time, your teammates have to do your job for you—or else it doesn’t get done. That means that they might as well be late, too—because when they’re covering for you, they can’t get their own work done on time. Our entire team becomes less effective. Sometimes our patients even have to wait, and don’t receive the level of prompt, high-quality care they expect and pay us for.”

3. THE RESULT: A CHANGE IN THEIR TEAMMATES’ PERCEPTION. Point out that their tardiness is annoying and unfair to their team members, and changes how everyone else sees them.

“In addition, your tardiness is becoming the first thing that comes to our minds when we think of you. That’s terrible, because when you’re here on time and we can rely on you, we perceive you as an amazing professional doing your best. But your chronic lateness is redefining how we see you as a person—we’re seeing you as someone who needs to be covered for and needs things done for them all the time. I know you don’t want us to think of you that way, or to cause problems and extra work for all the rest of us.”

4. THE REQUIREMENT: THEY NEED TO MAKE A CHOICE—OR YOU WILL. Show your employee that they have a decision to make, and they will have to back it up with action.

“Here’s what I really need from you going forward. I need you to be here on time and ready to work by the time your shift starts, every day. I know you’re capable of getting here on time, but I can’t make you be here on time. That’s a choice you will have to make. However, I can decide who I will continue working with. And if you continue to be late, then I am going to decide not to continue working with you.”

At the end of any coaching conversation, wrap up by making a specific, reasonable request, in which you directly ask the employee for self-correction. For example, “I need your commitment that you will self-correct this issue. Can you be on time?”

Document your conversation and their response. If your employee tries to answer your request for self-correction with anything but a firm “yes,” press a little harder. Let them know that “I’ll try” isn’t going to cut it.

What about throwing the book at your employee?
There’s always the alternative, old-fashioned method of pulling out your employee handbook, looking up the section that says your employee has to be at work on time, reiterating when their shift starts and ends and so forth. And there is a critical use for that—I’m very much in favor of having and using well-written employee policies. The trouble is, that conversation is almost as tired as your typical employee’s excuses for coming in tardy.

Here’s why: This is a situation in which everyone already knows the rules. They’re just not taking them seriously. The four-step corrective coaching described above works better in most circumstances. It adds some fresh perspective and frames the issue in the present.

If you’re coaching a solid employee who has just gone a little astray, this new conversation just may work. Otherwise, for a lagging team member who is slowly inching their way out of your practice, this will strengthen your reasoning and documentation to safely let them go.


Paul Edwards is the CEO and co-founder of CEDR HR Solutions, a provider of individually customized employee handbooks and HR services for healthcare employers of all specialties. He is an HR expert with 25 years of management experience and the author of the blog HR Base Camp. Contact him at pauledwards@cedrsolutions.com or 602.476.1418.

Image copyright Wikimedia Commons/Sun Ladder