How Your Tardiness Is Holding Your Career Back (And How To Be More Punctual)

There are times in our lives when something big happens and you just can't help being late to work. Most workplaces are fairly understanding, but when you're regularly tardy, it could damage your professional reputation. We drill down on exactly how being late can impact your career and discuss steps you can take to fix your chronic tardiness.

A race against time image from Shutterstock

When you make plans with your friends and commit to meeting them, it's only polite to show up on time. While your friends may forgive you for being five or ten minutes late on more than one occasion, your employer may be less lenient when you regularly turn up late to work or to pre-planned meetings.

Yes, we do live in a fast-paced world and work life, for most of us, can get hectic at one point or another as we face back-to-back meetings and tight deadlines. But don't forget your colleagues are likely to be in the same predicament. If you're being tardy while they continue to be punctual, it's an indirect gesture that shows you don't think their time is as valuable as your own.

Being late all the time also tells your manager that you're unreliable. That's something employers do notice. As recruitment expert Greg Savage noted in his widely-read blog post:

"I am not talking about the odd occasion of lateness. I am talking about people who are routinely late. In fact, never on time. You know who I am talking about!   And certainly I consider serial lateness a character flaw which I take into account when working out who to promote, who to hire and who to count amongst my real friends; it’s that important."

Considering how many time I've seen this blog post republished and quoted since it was published six years ago, I'd say punctuality is a sore point for many people.

So what happens if you are one of those people who repeatedly exhibit tardiness at work? Identifying the problem is the first step. According to Jemima Grieve, HR manager at online employment marketplace SEEK, you need to address the issue with your manager and explain why you're always late.

Is it because you have some family issues at the moment? Do you struggle to get out of bed in the morning because you're a naturally a night owl? Explaining yourself can help your manager find a solution to your tardiness. A lot of workplaces are more flexible than ever before and are able to cater to the unique needs of their employees. Perhaps your manager can allow you to work from home once a week or change your set working hours so long as it doesn't inhibit you from doing your job or adversely impact the company.

"Agree on a trial arrangement, where you start later and finish later, for example. Or take a 30-minute lunch break rather than one hour," Grieve said in a blog post. "It all really comes down to developing an honest relationship between employee and leader, so that these sorts of issues don’t become bigger than they need to be."

Another way to improve your punctuality is to make sure you leave some breathing room between meetings. A 10 to 15-minute buffer should accommodate for the possibility of your previous meeting going overtime. Being obsessive with setting calendar reminders on your phone and computer also helps and that is a method that I've been using for years.

Ultimately, it's about recognising your chronic lateness, owning up to it and taking steps to be more organised. The 10 minutes that you're late every day could mean the difference between staying in your current position and getting that promotion you want.


    In my experience, very, very, very few places in corporate Australia will actually cater to night-owls.
    Being a morning person is still very much seen as a virtue; the mark of a professional.

    You can make all the 'flexible work arrangements' you want to ensure that you work just as long - if not longer - than anyone else, but any work you do past the point that everyone else clocks out? It never happened. They didn't see it, so it didn't happen.
    But they did see that you turned up later than they did, so no matter what a timesheet or email timestamps might tell them, they don't think you work very long or very hard.

    It's utter bullshit, and if you call anyone on it and present stats to back it up, they will admit that they understand this academically, but you will never, ever change the fact that this is how people subconsciously think and it WILL affect their opinion of your work ethic.

    You will need to make extraordinary achievements and effort to overcome that, more than you would if you simply turned up slightly earlier (even by ten minutes) than most other people and leave ten minutes after them, without actually doing any extra work.

    It's just how most of your coworkers' and boss' brains work, unfortunately. So if you REALLY want to improve your career through perceptions of tardiness, accept the fact that you need to do the whole 'first to arrive, last to leave' bullshit. Even if it means taking a day off every 2-4 weeks due to the extra time you've racked up.

    (This makes a lot more sense in the context of some study I saw but can't for the life of me find that indicated managers generally can't tell the difference between workers who are being productive and those who only look productive.)

    Last edited 11/04/16 1:58 pm

      Weirdly, this is the opposite where I work. I like to start around 7am - I wake up early, especially in summer, and I do my best work first thing - but management doesn't usually get in until close to 9am. I've had people make comments when I get up to leave around 5pm about me being a "clock watcher", but there are never any comments about people who get in at 9am and leave around 530-6ish.

        Same where I work I start at 7 and my manager doesn't get in until anywhere between 8:30 and 10.

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