Worker Punctuality Improves, but Tardiness Excuses Don’t

By SHRM Online staff Mar 18, 2010

"Get me to the job on time" might be the theme song for workers trying to survive in a tight job market, according to a new survey that found the percentage of workers arriving late to work in 2009 at least once a week is down from 2008.

The percentage of workers straggling in late at least once a week fell from 20 percent in 2008 to 16 percent in 2009, according to findings from a CareerBuilder survey. The survey was conducted in November 2009 with 2,720 full-time hiring managers and HR persons working in the United States. In addition, it surveyed 5,231 full-time, nongovernmental U.S. employees.

The percentage of workers coming to work late at least twice a week fell from 12 percent in 2008 to 8 percent in 2009.

“Some workers may be more concerned with the nuances of their on-the-job performance these days, resulting in fewer late arrivals,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of HR at CareerBuilder, in a news release.

“I’ve been on a calendar but never on time,” the actress Marilyn Monroe once said. Some workers have outrageous reasons for arriving late to work, CareerBuilder found, including:

  • It was too windy.
  • I had an early-morning gig as a clown.
  • My deodorant was frozen to the windowsill.
  • My car door fell off.
  • I got mugged and was tied to the steering wheel of my car.
  • I had to go to the hospital because I drank antifreeze.
  • My dog swallowed my cell phone.
  • A roach crawled in my ear.
  • I saw an elderly lady at a bus stop and decided to pick her up.
  • I dreamt I was already at work.

Frequent tardiness, though, is not a laughing matter for many employers.

A study published in the December 2002 issue of The Journal of Social Psychology cited various studies on the effect of tardiness on an organization, including loss of productivity for colleagues who might depend on the late employee, loss of time by administrators who might have to deal with the late employee, and disruption in the day’s work schedule because of appointments or meetings that are not kept.

Additionally, “a tardy employee, especially one who is not penalized for his or her behavior, may have a negative influence on employees who arrive on time, specifically on those who have to ‘cover’ for him or her,” Miriam Dishon-Berkovits and Meni Koslowsky wrote in their paper, Determinants of Employee Punctuality.

CareerBuilder’s Haefner notes that punctuality is valued differently depending on the work environment or culture.

“Regardless of the economy, though, getting to work on time can be more of a priority in some workplaces than in others. It’s important for workers to be aware of their company’s tardiness policies and make sure to be honest with their manager if they are going to be late.”

About one-third of employers have terminated an employee for being late, CareerBuilder found.

It’s important, though, that employers are aware that a strict adherence to a no-tardiness policy poses potential pitfalls. SHRM Online reported in August 2007 that an employer lost a case against an employee—who otherwise had a strong work performance—who was sometimes late a few minutes for medical-related issues.


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