Late staff cost businesses money

In a recent survey 82% of our customers said that employee punctuality improved with a new time and attendance system. One customer told us that even the threat of deploying a new system had improved punctuality! This got me thinking about punctuality and lateness.

Most of us have friends who are never on time for anything and generally arrive in a flurry of apologies which much as we love ’em can be frustrating. But what makes some people turn up on time and others habitually late?

Some say being late is about individuals being disorganised, others have identified personalities who just like to wing-it enjoying the thrill of possibly missing the flight, bus, train, etc.

In a 2003 study of 181 subway operators in New York, psychologist Jeff Conte from San Diego State University found that those who preferred multitasking, dubbed polychronicity, were more often late or likely to be absent from work than colleagues who were one task at a time oriented or monochronic. When asked to estimate a minute the monochrons called it on average at 58 seconds the polychrons at 77 seconds – time is indeed different for some!

North / south divide

Various research studies have looked at cultural attitudes to time and there is some evidence of a north / south split, the UK, parts of Europe and North America have a different concept of time to some more southerly countries. There are many reasons given for these differences.

But thinking about it, much of Northern Europe (the UK and Germany in particular), and America, industrialised early on, agricultural rhythms were replaced by manufacturers needing employees to be on time at agreed times in order to produce the new products and deliver the services the emerging middle class Victorians were demanding.

Benjamin Franklin created the phrase “Time is Money” in 1746, the concept of time as a quantifiable resource not to be wasted was born.

But national stereotypes can change, apparently Russians have become far more time conscious now many more are working for themselves rather than the state.

It’s just rude…

A report some years ago by US consulting company Proudfoot reckoned that many top US CEO’s were late for meetings at least 60% of the time costing the US economy $90 billion a year at the time. Some suggest senior management lateness is down to arrogance and ego, others may simply be trying to pack too much into a day. It’s no surprise that the survey found Japanese bosses the least likely to be late for meetings.

An article in USA Today came up with various examples of employees getting their own back on bosses arriving late for meetings, or more politely ‘managing upwards’, which included locking the meeting room door 2 minutes after the meeting start time and forcing the boss to knock to gain entry!

At whatever level in an organisation, the habitually late seem to cause resentment. If you have employees late for a shift, those who were on time probably feel obliged to cover for them and consistent lateness may start to cause friction in the team. Biometric time and attendance systems capture accurate clocking in data, you can see exactly who’s in and who’s not, the system can fire off emails to supervisors and managers if someone clocks in late. A biometric attendance system can also eliminate ‘buddy clocking’. Biometric clocking in uses unique features such as fingerprints, hand or facial recognition, employees won’t be able to clock in for a colleague running late. The accuracy of a biometric time and attendance system makes it fairer for everyone.

How late is late?

A recent YouGov survey of US SMEs asked managers about lateness amongst employees. 44% of bosses said between 5-10 minutes was ‘acceptable’ lateness. 24% of managers said there were employees consistently late every day or at least once a week. The most common reasons given for lateness were traffic and weather.

Translate that time into money and losing 10 minutes a day is certainly costing businesses money. A person working full-time spends at least 104,850 minutes at work a year. If 10 minutes are ‘lost’ each day it adds up to around 2,330 minutes or 39 hours per employee a year – that’s nearly 5 lost working days!

Health and caring issues

Time and attendance systems can potentially help employers pick up on underlying issues associated with individual lateness.  In 2013 the UK Daily Mail highlighted the plight of Jim Dunbar who’d been late all his life (and had lost many jobs because of it), at the age of 57 he was diagnosed with ADHD. Some people with ADHD have been found to be less able to manage their time and are consequently late. Medical practitioners in the US have been working with ADHD sufferers to help them understand and manage time more effectively. Depression has also been shown to sometimes affect people’s ability to manage their time.

Family issues were often cited as reasons for lateness in the YouGov US SME lateness survey. It may be that employees who are consistently late are having caring issues but feel uncomfortable about reaching out to employers for help.  Being able to identify lateness patterns means employers in this instance could offer employees more flexible working hours so that they are able to cope better with balancing caring responsibilities and work. Our time and attendance software makes it easy for employers and employees to track flexible working and flexitime hours.

Leaves on the line may still be a valid excuse for being late for work for many rail commuters up and down the country come the autumn, but a good time and attendance solution helps businesses to monitor and manage lateness. HR and line managers can respond appropriately and in a timely way to issues caused by lateness to minimise the impact on individuals, teams and ultimately the organisation.


The Wall Street Journal

USA Today

Psychology Today

For more information about our solutions and products call 01761 410015 or email