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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cure Employee Tardiness With These Steps

From the Leader's Digest Mailbag


Dear Leader’s Digest,

We expect our hourly employees to be ready to work at the start of their shift. But I have several employees who have been written up because they consistently arrive after the grace period. Of course, they would have been on time if it wasn't for the fact that "my mom didn't wake me up" (And the employee is 31 years old), or "my ride didn't pick me up," or "my alarm didn't go off, so I didn't get up," or for more legitimate reasons. These employees feel the policy is unfair and intolerant and they have the empathy of some of the employees who arrive on time.


Needing Discipline

Dear Needing,

First, let us congratulate you for confronting the problem early and consistently, so that the late arrivers are already on the progressive discipline track. Employees’ lateness for shifts, meetings, and other workplace events is frustrating and costly. Ideally, a simple, clear policy and a responsible workforce would remedy the situation. However, as you know, even if you have such a policy, many people simply resist complying with the clock. Enforce your lateness policies consistently. Unevenly applied tardiness policies (Watch out for any favoritism here) are one of the biggest causes of lateness. The most common mistake we make is to let these kinds of problems slide, and as a result, give our tacit permission for bad behavior.

Here are five strategies for handling your late arrivers:

1. Make sure the rule is clear. If you inherited this problem and your predecessor gave his/her tacit permission to let people come in late, you will want to give "fair warning" before beginning to enforce the policy. You will want to talk to the team, and specifically to the late arrivers, to explain the policy and to let them know that you will be enforcing it.

2. Encourage peer pressure. While some employees resent late coworkers, many others will tolerate lateness and even cover for late employees. Channel that energy into responsibility. For example, hold a team meeting and discuss the importance of being on time. Ask for suggestions about what individuals can do to remind each other to arrive on time. A cooperative effort may accomplish what warnings can't.

3. Have the TLC (Tough Love Conversation). You usually don't notice the first time an employee comes in late, you notice when it's become a pattern. The key is to have the conversation as soon as you realize someone is consistently coming in late. Describe the gap between what you expect and what you've observed, and probe for the cause of the problem.
Problems are caused by motivation (the person doesn't share your priority) or ability (the person is unable or has difficulty complying) or a combination of both. If your employees don’t share your priority for arriving on time (motivation), explain the natural consequences for his or her coworkers, customers and the organization. If necessary, explain the imposed consequences involved in your company’s tardiness and attendance policy.

Identify conflicts. Some employees may be very busy with personal and family responsibilities at the times business events occur. For example, dropping off and picking up children ruins many folks’ schedules. Options: Can the employee reschedule personal events? Or can you reschedule store meeting times or flex the schedule?
If the person is having difficulty arriving on time (ability), ask for his or her ideas for making it happen. Encourage the employee to develop a plan that will work for him or her. But don't allow ability blocks to become excuses. The employee needs a plan that results in on-time arrival.

(The Six Steps for Curing Tardiness outlined at the end of this post has proven helpful for people who struggle with punctuality.)

Often, the person will end up with both short-term and long-term plans. The long-term plan might be to get his or her car repaired; the short-term plan might be to get a ride with his or her spouse. By the end of the TLC, the employee should explicitly agree on who will do what by when. Take care that you don't transfer the burden to your back. People need to develop a viable solution that they buy into. And they need to understand that, if their solution doesn't work, consequences will be imposed.

Be sure to hold the right conversation. You talk to someone about being late for the second time. Then the third time. Your blood begins to boil. Then you bite your lip and give another gentle reminder (After all, this employee is a good worker or has a good attitude). Finally after your resentment builds up, you become angry. You make a sarcastic or cutting comment and then end up looking stupid because your reaction seems way out of line given the minor offense.

Once again, look for the patterns. Don't focus exclusively on a single event. Watch for behavior over time. Then talk about the pattern. For example, if a person is late to meetings or for their shift and agrees to do better, the next conversation should not be about tardiness. It should be about his or her failure to keep a commitment. This is a bigger issue. It’s now about integrity and trust.

4. Impose the consequences. It sounds as if you have arrived at this step. If you don't think you’ve had a full and frank discussion, then have it now. However, if you have already had a counseling conversation, the latecomers have already agreed on a plan, and they have failed to live up to their agreements, it's time to impose consequences.
Take care to involve the right people in your up chain—your boss and HR—where appropriate. Try to avoid blindsiding anyone.

Before you meet with an employee, take some time to get your head and your heart right. Ask yourself what you really want—you want the person to be successful somewhere, but you can't continue the costs to your team and business. Then meet with the employee and explain the situation—you established a plan you both agreed to, and the employee has failed to live up to it—and the next step in the disciplinary process. Keep the conversation professional. Create as much respect as possible, but understand that the employee is likely to be hurt or angry.

5. Dealing with others. When an employee is terminated, it's normal for other employees to feel sympathy for that person. It's also normal for people to feel some fear about whether they will be next. You can't share personnel information or feed the rumor mill. Our guess is that, while many will have sympathy and empathy for the person, they will also feel relief that they won't have to carry that person's load any longer.

Best wishes on handling this tardiness issue. You should feel proud of yourself for stepping up to these tough conversations. Without your actions, problems like these would linger, festering in your team and undermining your ability to run your store efficiently.

All the success!

For those who genuinely struggle with punctuality but want to improve, here are six easy steps for curing tardiness.

1. Commit. Begin by making up your mind that you will be punctual from now on. You can't expect to overcome your lateness habit until you've made a firm mental commitment to do so.

2. Record.
Since studies have shown that we're more likely to fulfill written goals, it's important that you record your commitment to be on time. Write "I will arrive on time" on several pieces of paper and post them in key places, such as your TV room wall, your bathroom mirror, and your car dashboard.

3. Calculate.
Determine how early you need to leave your home in order to arrive at work on time—or better yet, to arrive a few minutes early. Allow extra time for traffic tie-ups. Record your proposed departure time in your day planner, on your schedule or just on a piece of paper.

4. Plan.
Set yourself up for success by filling up your gas tank on the way home rather than on the way to work, laying out your clothes the night before, getting to bed early, and setting the alarm a few minutes ahead.

5. Prioritize.
Don't fall prey to the urge to do "just one more thing" before leaving the house—even if you think you have a few extra minutes to spare. Instead, get to work a few minutes early and do your "one more thing" there.

6. Practice.
Tardiness, like punctuality, is a habit. And since it takes only about three weeks to a month to replace one habit with another, a little practice should make perfect.

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