is it worth making an issue over this employee’s lateness?

A reader writes:

I manage an exempt employee who is frequently late: 15-20 minutes late at least once a week. He has a long commute that can be unpredictable when it comes to traffic, but after a year working here I don’t consider traffic a valid excuse. When I mentioned the lateness, he said in his defense that he stays late, which he does — but at the same time, he works slowly and cannot always finish his work within regular hours. I’ve started documenting these late arrivals and I offered him the opportunity to change his start time, to which he gave a noncommittal answer. This employee is not a top performer and I’ve recently talked to him about performance issues.

My question is whether it is worth making an issue over 15-20 minutes when an employee is exempt. There are no time-sensitive tasks that require him to be at his desk at a specific time, but I find lateness annoying. In the context of other performance issues, small things that annoy me seem magnified, so I wonder if I am making this into a bigger deal than it should be.

Does it impact his work or other people, or does your office have a cultural value around showing up and being available at a certain time? Any of those are reasons to say, “Look, you need to reliably be here on time because of X.”

But is this something that wouldn’t be a big deal if he were otherwise doing a good job? Is it something you’d let go if someone else were doing it?

In some jobs, time of arrival matters for valid, work-related reasons (like clients needing to reach someone then, or morning meetings you need to be present for, or colleagues who have to cover for you until you arrive). In plenty of other jobs, it really doesn’t matter, other than perhaps triggering the lateness antenna of people who care for no reason other than You Are Supposed To Be On Time.

If you determine that it does matter in this situation, say this: “I do need you to be here reliably on time in the mornings. I need you to either commit to that going forward or we can talk about changing your start time — which one makes sense?” And then if it continues after that, you address that as part of the overall work issues he’s having.

But it sounds like there are much bigger issues here, and that’s where I’d keep your spotlight. Paint a clear picture of the bar that he needs to meet, performance-wise, and give him a timeline to show that he can meet it. Punctuality may or may not be part of that, but that’s the place to keep both of you focused.

{ 254 comments… read them below }

  1. HRChick*

    I don’t think the issue is his lateness. He stays late, so he’s working the full paid time. When you are documenting his late arrivals are you also documenting his late departures?

    The real issue is his inability to complete his work in a timely manner and I agree that you need to focus on that rather than the fact that he flexes his schedule 10 -20 minutes a day (unless that time I essential to his work)

    1. Joey*


      ask yourself if you’d care if he was a few minutes late if he was a top performer. Because my guess is you’d go to bat for him if higher ups had a problem with it. The reason you wouldn’t go to bat for him is because he’s not finishing his work and is a poor performer. Focus on that and I guarantee you he will accept that much more than nickle and diming his lateness. Remember he’s exempt, so getting the job done should be the focus, not nickle and diming when he arrives and leaves.

      1. fposte*

        And if he gets there 20 minutes earlier once a week is that going to be the solution to his performance problems? I’d guess no.

        1. LQ*

          Absolutely this. If getting in earlier would fix anything, even lead to it being better then yeah, bring it up. But chances are extremely good getting in earlier won’t change anything. Focus on the actual performance.

        2. Hooptie*

          Well, it could be a start if part of his performance issues are related to setting good work habits and patterns. But I’m just guessing.

          1. fposte*

            But work patterns don’t all come in a group. Not wanting to arrive 20 minutes early is a separate thing from spreadsheet-building speed.

      2. Ed*

        I always think about this post in the Harvard Business Review blog that references a study that “suggests that top performers are roughly four times as productive as average performers. Sometimes the difference is far greater.” If that’s true, then a little lateness is a small price to pay to retain top performers.

      3. Adam*

        Money is the only thing that matters. If he is getting his job done it shouldn’t matter if he comes in late. Again, the only thing that matters is money.

    2. INTP*

      I agree with this.

      On another note, I’ve had those crazy unpredictable commutes before. Planning to NEVER be 15 minutes late would involve planning to be 20 minutes early most days. Unless staff can leave that early when they arrive that early, it’s a very annoying solution if the job doesn’t mandate punctuality. Because salaried jobs usually don’t have very strict butt-in-chair times down to the 15 minutes, being strict about stuff like this with your high performing employees could harm retention without actually accomplishing anything. Better to handle this employee’s performance issue rather than frame it as a punctuality issue which will create issues when it isn’t enforced across the board.

      1. Suzanne*

        Yes! At a former position, more than 2 minutes late was considered an offense worthy of an “occurance”. I had a 45 minute commute so I left early so I wouldn’t be late. I often arrived 15 minutes or more early but couldn’t clock in that early. So I’d sit at my desk & twiddle my thumbs until I could clock in. I was doing work that could have been done from 9 to 5 as easily as 10 – 6 or 7 – 4 and would happily have stayed 10 minutes longer had I been 10 minutes late, but no. Not allowed.

        Commutes of more than a few miles can be unpredictable-road construction, accidents, power outages, snow, etc can be a huge problem if you are coming from very far away. You can easily leave in plenty of time and get hung up. If being 10 minutes late doesn’t effect the work, why make it an issue?

        1. Kyrielle*

          This! I have a morning commute that is often 40-45 minutes. And yet, it can suddenly be 1:15 on occasion – not, unfortunately, rare enough occasion in my opinion. There’s three freeways involved – a lot of space for something to go wrong.

          1. Vicki*

            I had a 75 minute car – train – shuttle commute that could become 90 minutes, or 2 hours, if something “went wrong” with the train. And things “go wrong” with the train about once a month.

        2. INTP*

          I had a boss with a similar outlook – and if anything, it would have made more sense for me to be on a skewed schedule from most of the office. She would make comments if people did stuff like start packing their purses at 4:57 (despite those three minutes saving 15 minutes in getting to the freeway first). So when I came in 5 minutes early, I would deliberately not start turning on my computer or anything remotely productive until the clock struck 8.

          One time I was 20 minutes late because there was a car literally hanging off of the freeway overpass I needed to exit under. I did not text because texting while driving was illegal and there were obviously cops everywhere. This bothered her so much that it was brought up in my performance review as an attendance concern. She said she was “worried” but when I got to the office everyone was aware of the situation (word tends to get around when a car is dangling from an overpass with people in it).

      2. rphillips*

        I have one of those crazy, unpredictable commutes now (it involves bridges, where an accident can cause a 30 to 60 minute delay, and where obviously an alternate route is not available). I’m non-exempt, but not in a role where my arrival time matters. I’m so fortunate that my management doesn’t nickel and dime me over arrival time, as long as I make my hours and get my job done.

      3. HRChick*

        I used to work on a navy base – depending on what ships were in, it could take me anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour and a half to get on base. And I lived about 5 miles away!

      4. land of oaks*

        my commute is killing me right now, the bus schedules have all been shifting and in the meantime completely unpredictable. I have been trying different things to get to work a few minutes early instead of 5 minutes late, but for example, if I leave my house 20 minutes earlier, I only get to the office 5 minutes sooner. Which is just irritating. I don’t want to be late, but I cannot predict when transit will show up right now.

        1. frequentflyer*

          This is my situation too. If I leave my house 20 minutes earlier, I only get to the office 5 minutes early. If I leave my house 15 minutes later, I get to the office just 10 minutes late. I would think it’s ok for an employee to be slightly late if it cuts the commute time down by about 15 minutes, and if the employee usually knocks off late anyway. But that depends on the department. :(

      5. Amy*

        Agreed! I use public transport and my options are to arrive at 8.45 or 8.15 for a 9am start. There’s no job-specific reason I have to start at 9am, and I was told the office was a ‘fan of flexi working’. Now my manager has said that if I’m 5 minutes late, I’ll be disciplined. But I can’t start work early if I arrive 45 minutes early. Not sure where the flexi-working exists there!

        I’m one of the top performers, but now I’m looking for a new job. I have no time for companies that have ‘rules for the sake of rules’, and I feel disrespected that they are willing to discipline (and eventually sack) me for not being willing to twiddle my thumbs for 45 minutes unpaid. The company is losing an excellent employee for no reason other than blindly sticking to their rules.

    3. neverjaunty*

      Yes. Sounds like you’re at the “bitch eating crackers” stage, OP.

      And if you focus on his late arrival, you’re going to be distracting from the important issues (his work performance), because he’ll be seeing you as petty and unreasonable.

      1. Zillah*

        I was about to say this, too.

        And here’s the thing, OP: he’d be right to see you as being petty and unreasonable, because while you seem to have a lot of totally reasonable complaints about this employee, this really isn’t one, particularly since he’s staying late when he has to. Rather than fixate on something that sounds like it’s pretty insignificant, focus on the real problem.

        1. Kelly O*

          I tend to agree with this.

          Focus on the performance problems. Leave the tardiness out of it, if it’s not truly an issue. If he has any aspirations to improve, adding that will feel like piling on and will be counterproductive.

    4. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

      I also don’t understand why it’s such a problem if OP is willing to change his start time? At that point it’s just a matter of wanting employee to fall-in-line (so to speak) and follow apparently arbitrary rules, since the time he arrives doesn’t really affect anything other than OPs perception of him being on time.

  2. Mike C.*

    OP, why the focus on being late? Do you believe that those extra 15-20 minutes once a week would make the difference in their performance?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This. I have seen so many bosses do this and I don’t understand why. Unless attendance is much easier to measure rather than trying to measure how shoddy the work is.

      But here is what happens next, OP: You end up being a Major Clock Watcher because this is your method to get a handle on this guy. So the guy tells you, “Jane was 4 minutes late Tuesday and Bob was 12 minutes late Friday.” Peach, now you feel compelled to watch everyone’s times. So you start watching everyone’s arrival and departure. You can feel the anger brewing but you are not sure why. You don’t hear people saying, “Boss can’t get a handle on Sam’s crappy work so until he does we all have to arrive exactly on time and have to leave exactly on time.” In other words, you look pretty silly to your people.
      Allowed to go on for too long you find that people are resigning. They won’t tell you, but it’s because they have lost their faith in your ability to lead.

  3. AnonAcademic*

    I had a coworker who came in early AND left late AND was still low performing. She was hoping to compensate for working way too slow by working longer hours. It didn’t work.

    The work hours seem like a red herring. I wonder if the OP would rather focus on something concrete and easy to make rules about like work hours, rather than deal with the more complicated discussion about actual performance. It’s an understandable impulse but I think it’s misguided.

  4. Sunflower*

    Hmm I have a lot of follow-up questions! How does he take critical reviews of his performance? Does he seem like he wants to change or does he seem kind of aloof about it? Has he always had performance problems or is this a new thing?

    I’m leaning towards him being burnt out and he just doesn’t want to be at work. What sticks out to me is that you’ve offered to change the start time and he wasn’t receptive. It sounds like he could be slacking during the majority of the day then playing catch-up at the end of the day.

    Also can you clarify what you mean by ‘doesn’t finish work in regular hours’ Are we talking he stays 20 minutes late or 3 hours? I agree with Allison to focus on the bigger issues but if it’s just 20 minutes, ignore that completely. If he’s putting in extra hours, you should talk about time management issues.

    1. Folklorist*

      I think that these are good insights. Once upon a time in my first job, I WAS this employee. I always thought that because my job didn’t necessitate having my butt in the chair at a certain time, that it was OK to come in and stay late. When my employer asked me about it, said that it was necessary for me to either be there on time or to change my start time, I was really embarrassed about my on-going problem. I never meant to be late–it just happened sometimes. And then, I stupidly thought that his bringing up the possibility of changing my schedule meant that we had had the discussion and that it had changed–so I kept coming in late! (Aaghh, so embarrassing to write this out!)

      I was really naive about the work culture and thought that since I was doing a great (albeit, sometimes slow because of tedious projects and undiagnosed ADHD) job and getting otherwise excellent reviews, it shouldn’t matter and I didn’t listen close enough, or communicate well enough, with my employer about the lateness issue. There’s a lot that I wish I had done different. I got laid off from that job at about the same time I was planning on quitting. I have no doubt that my lateness and slowness were a part of that decision. Now I’m lucky enough to work at an employer who loves the work I do and we have a very good flex-time policy. I also got the ADHD help I needed, which is helping with the slowness/procrastination. Most of all, though, I learned that if I’m having a problem with this stuff, I should actually discuss it with my boss instead of being aloof about it.

    2. Zillah*

      I think a lot of these questions are well worth considering, but not necessarily this part:

      I’m leaning towards him being burnt out and he just doesn’t want to be at work. What sticks out to me is that you’ve offered to change the start time and he wasn’t receptive.

      The employee may well just be burnt out, but it sounds to me like he doesn’t have an issue with the hours overall – it sounds like he’s on time most days. If the issue is occasional traffic and him not wanting to get to the office 20 minutes early four times a week, I feel like offering to change his start time could easily come across as pretty tone-deaf and even passive aggressive. If it was me, I’d be pretty pissed off.

      1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

        And I really want to know what the offered change was. If employee usually starts work at 9 am and gets in 20 min late occasionally and OP offered to change his start time to 10 am, I can see why employee might not want to do that. It means always leaving an hour later than he’s used to, even on days he could have arrived at 9 am. And for what purpose? Just so he’s ticking the “on-time” box?

        I also think changing his hours could result in him leaving exactly on time and never going above and beyond.

  5. Apollo Warbucks*

    Ignore the time keeping, there is nothing worse than nickel and dimeing people over a few minuets here and there and it certainty doesn’t sound like the timekeeping is actually a problem.

    Focus on the performance issues and things that significantly impact the role.

    1. Musician - Not a Dancer*

      Couldn’t help saying: If you don’t keep accurate time for a minuet, then you’ll have people tripping over their feet. So timekeeping could be a problem if we were actually talking about minuets. Which we’re not. So I’ll just go away.

        1. Musician - Not a Dancer*

          And don’t forget to pay the musicians, so I guess nickel and diming does sometimes have its place.
          But again, not in this discussion, so I’ll just go away again.

  6. fposte*

    I am absolutely the person Alison talks about who cares “for no reason other than You Are Supposed To Be On Time.” That’s actually helped me tremendously in my work, as I’m in a field where people don’t always do the on time thing so it’s impressive that I do, but I’d do it anyway, because my brain ramps up if things are late and people are late.

    But you know? It just doesn’t matter overall the way my nervous system thinks it does. My life got so much easier when I stopped caring about the arrival times of most of my staff. And as far as I can tell, it’s not really representative of anything, any more than tidiness is; plenty of messy people (me!) are diligent and reliable, and plenty of late people are incredibly efficient and generous. It’s a little bit like the “elbows on the table” rule–it’s easy to catch people in, but it’s not a good measure of their overall behavior.

    1. Joey*

      I have a slightly different perspective. I feel like managers who are hyper focused on butt in seat at sharp times are missing the point of being an exempt employee. Meaning, they’re saying “I’m still going to treat you like a non exempt employee by caring when you clock in/out.”

      Being exempt means getting the work done matters, not how many minutes/hours your butt was in seat.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I would disagree slightly. Some positions barely meet the requirements to be exempt, and it’s in the interest of the business to not pay overtime, but otherwise, mgmt would prefer to treat the person holding that job as non-exempt in how they manage them.

        An example for me would be a new engineering grad. Most of them aren’t very productive on day 1, so I do care that they’re putting in the hours because they don’t get the work done in a normal time period, and the work is more routine. (I personally don’t care that the hours are flexible even for this group, but I would want them there for 8 hrs/day.)

        1. Joey*

          This is having your cake and eating it too. If you want to pay them as exempt you should also treat them as exempt.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            This is having your cake and eating it too.
            Sure, but it doesn’t make it not true.

          2. Jessa*

            Except that some exempt jobs do require rear-in-seat for certain hours and late is not on. Some duties are time sensitive, some require 24/7 watching over, and if that person isn’t there someone else has to cover. Just because you’re exempt doesn’t mean you don’t have to work 8-5 or whatever. Exempt doesn’t always mean free of schedule. It certainly can, but it might also mean “must get coverage, or call someone as back up,” if you’re not going to be there.

            Now I’m one of those pathologically on time people and if I have a weird commute, I’ll sit around for an hour rather than be late, but that’s MY OCD, and I wouldn’t impose it on anyone else. And my criteria for exempt people is “who does it hurt if they are not here?” And if the answer is nobody, then I will probably NOT make a huge stink about occasional lateness.

            On the other hand if body-in-seat is not a requirement of the job, then I don’t see myself having that discussion, unless and until it is. And since they’re exempt, I would expect them to understand that “doing the job properly,” is part of being exempt. So an awareness of the body-in-seatness-level of the job is a big deal then. IE must be in seat this Monday due to major meetings that day, even if normally Mondays are so light nobody cares.

            I do agree with Alison that this is a performance thing more than a lateness thing. I think it’s more important to figure out the performance (just because the employee doesn’t get OT doesn’t mean a 40 hour a week job should take 50.) I’d tackle that before drilling down to the one day a week late thing.

        2. Judy*

          But in my experience, new engineering grads are not exempt until they’re about 4 years out of school. During that time, usually they were working under direction of experienced lead engineers in a fairly structured manner.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Ours are exempt, I was exempt. . .I can’t speak for everyone, but it seems to be the way it is in my industry.

          2. Glorified Plumber*

            >During that time, usually they were working under direction of experienced lead engineers in a fairly structured manner.

            This is definitely not what exempt means as these folks use it.

            All the engineers I know are “exempt” except for the new hires who are “contract” until such time as they are made full time offers. Sometimes, an engineer may step backwards into a “designer” role, and generally designers are “exempt” hourly employees (but not always). Several of our designers were transitioned to “exempt” roles.

            At least this is the way it works at the 20,000 person engineering firm I work for, as well as the other firms my friends work for.

            Incidentally, I do get “OT” but not in the classic sense. I get “straight time” for client billable work, with overhead codes backed out, up to a minimum of 40. I.e. if I work 60 hours, 20 0n overhead, and 40 on billable work, I get paid for 40. If I work 60 hours on billable work, I get paid for 60. If I work 20 hours on billable work, I get paid for 40 unless “classified as part time.”

            Also, curious about the 4 years statement, seems very specific. 4 years is the PE requirement for most states, is that what you mean?

            Incidentally, I’ve also found the “close supervision” to “not close” transition to be HIGHLY dependent on the industry. In oil and gas, my leads were all 15+ years of experience unless the project was TINY. In semiconductors, we have 2 year experienced E1’s as leads for some disciplines. Hell, I have 8 years of experience, and I am process lead on our most important client… That would NOT fly in oil and gas.

            1. Judy*

              In the companies I’ve worked for over the last 20 years in different industries, I think they interpret the exempt line similar to what I’m seeing when I google exempt and engineer. Several of the websites list that engineering is exempt when they do the work “normally done by a professional engineer”. So I’m assuming the companies have decided to treat the 4 year requirement as the exempt line.

              1. Zillah*

                I don’t know anything about engineering, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time people were incorrectly classified as exempt if the distinction you seem to be seeing is correct.

        3. Glorified Plumber*

          I totally agree with you. It is interesting how schedules can impact engineering work given how much coordination happens. Particularly for new engineers and new designers who don’t have a clue how it all goes together, it is VERY important they are there while everyone else is.

          We have designers who want to work 6 AM to 2 PM… which is great, except half our damn meetings start from 2 to 5. We have engineers who want to come in at 9 AM and work until 7 PM… again, great, except half the rest of the office is in at 7. Our “core” hour window is pretty small, 9:00 to 2:00, and is also not official policy, it is just some range a PM made up when they didn’t get what they wanted once.

          It is a fine line…

          As a lead, I’ve had to adopt a “The meetings are going to be what the meetings are going to be. Please support your projects fully, and don’t let me hear anyone say, “I really wanted to coordinate with JohnnyDesigner, but he went home for the day during his huge project and now we have to put crappy product in front of the client.” Other than that… work whatever schedule makes you happy and keeps the complaining of everyone to a minimum.

          Has MOSTLY worked well.

          Then of course, in the previous office I worked (same company) I had a boss who gave people bonuses depending upon when they came in to the office. He would get migraines and come in at 3 AM somtimes… he was that kind of early riser (ALWAYS gone by noon those days, super unhelpful).

          So, if you got in at 5, you got a bigger bonus than if you got in at 5:30, which in turn was bigger than 6:00 AM. Lots of us got in at 7:30… and got nothing.

          I thought someone was joking until we polled the folks, and plotted it.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            And just try working on projects with a west coast construction partner in the central time zone with a 6 am- 2 pm designer. (I think ours have to stay till 3:00, though). Our informal philosophy seems to be that meetings can happen from 8-5, and you should be there, but most weekly recurring meetings seem to fall into the 9-4 window. Even though it can be a pain, I still like it better than when we had to work 8-5 with no flex time. I don’t think it would have ever been allowed until mobile devices became more prevalent.

        4. HR guru*

          It doesn’t really matter if they’re “barely exempt” or you WANT to manage them like a non-exempt employee. Exempt is exempt. It’s not based on desire, or rated in a scale of exemptness. You’re either exempt or non-exempt. Period.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I’m not an expert, but I thought the issue was people being wrongly classified as exempt. You can meet the threshold for being exempt but still be legally classified as non-exempt. I thought it was only illegal to go the other way because people don’t get paid OT. I googled it and don’t see anything, so if both are illegal, I’d like it if someone could point me to the info.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I agree with you philosophically, but wanted to point out that that’s really up to the employer — the law doesn’t require that exempt employees be treated that way and does allow for start times, end times, core hours, and so forth for exempt employees.

        1. Joey*

          True, but focusing on what amounts to clock punching doesn’t make for a real productivity focused environment. In other words your organization will end up retaining clock punchers who do just enough to get by. And your good performers that appreciate and value some schedule flexibility will become disengaged and probably go elsewhere.

          1. voyager1*

            What Joey said. I left a job that had a manager/VP who worried all about clock punching. I got to the point before I took my current job of making sure that all my work stopped so I can punch out on time, that meant on several occassions made issues for others in other depts. Companies who obsess over trivial things lose good employees in the end. People want to be treated as adults.

      3. Sunshine*

        Maybe. But there are positions that may need start times for business reasons (phones need answered, customers need response, previous shift can’t leave until there’s coverage, etc). The boss still gets to make some decisions about schedules.

      4. JAL*

        I’d disagree with this. Not all exempt positions are office positions. Both of my parents are in exempt positions as a teacher and a pharmacist and You very much have to be on time. Others that come to mind are doctors, therapists, policemen, etc. There are hundreds of exempt positions that require you to be on time because it matters.

    2. Jamie*

      Like you I have a “supposed to be on time” rule in my head even when I know it’s not relevant. It’s just “how things are done.”

      This was a struggle I had with myself for years. My job often has things that need to be done later, so even when I knew I was staying until 10:00 + pm for something I couldn’t begin until 5:00 pm I would still come in at my usual time because…it felt wrong not to. It felt wrong to leave early on a Friday if I knew I was working all weekend.

      I knew it was illogical and it was definitely not something enforced by tptb. In fact it took a sit-down from my boss about how he was going to start requiring I balance hours as to avoid burnout to force me into actually coming in late if I know I’m staying late – taking a day or working from home after several 16 hour days, if I’m working the weekend taking advantage of days when I can cut out early. Believe me, no danger of my falling under 40 (okay 45) on a light week, but once I got used to it it’s been better.

      When you have a job where there are definite peaks and valleys (sometimes it certain times of the year you know you have to do 80-90+ hour weeks, sometimes unexpected troubleshooting keeps you in the office all night, whatever) you HAVE to force yourself to move the baseline for other days.

      A couple of things in my career were the most difficult and uncomfortable for me to change, but once I got better at them they improved my quality of life:
      1. learning to delegate
      2. learning to balance time and take the time when I can, because there are plenty of times I can’t leave.
      3. enforcing after hours boundaries by refusing to respond to non-emergencies in most cases.

      It’s hard though when your brain tells you you’re a slacker for being late, or for not remoting in at 8:00 pm to solve a total non-emergency because you don’t feel like it, or for having flexibility that others don’t.

      1. Marcela*

        I met my last boss at the end of a project where the manager was useless, so in order to launch the websites we have to ask 5 more people to help us and I worked 12 hours every day for two weeks. He was one of the temp helpers. When we started a new project together, he told me we were going to work to avoid what had happened with the other project, and he was very strict about planning, so we could left at 5, have a family life and we were not burned out. I wasn’t used to that level of planning, so once we had a meeting where he told me I was working too much (it was a fascinating problem of codes), so I was forbidden to go to the office for half a week. After that, I finally understood he was right, because I never reached the levels of annoyance and tiredness that stopped me from giving my best in many projects before.

  7. Bend & Snap*

    I have a looooong commute and am late about the same amount of time once a week. Traffic actually can be valid when traveling long distances, because one big challenge can eat up an incredible amount of time, even when you leave early.

    But the issue really sounds like it’s performance. Has that been addressed? Are you perceiving that he doesn’t care about work because of the lateness? Why are you going out of your way to document his comings and goings? Are you also documenting conversations about performance and repeat instances?

    Seems like a lot of effort. Putting a gun to his head about start time isn’t going to make him perform better.

    1. Ezri*

      My team was just moved to a new building, switching me from an across-the-street commute to a fifteen-mile commute. I live in a place with very unpredictable traffic, and now I know why people’s start times vary here. I’ve left at different times for the past two weeks, and the time it takes me to get to work is completely arbitrary. It could be twenty minutes if I hit good lights, it could be an hour if an accident backs up the highway exit I drive by. I’m very grateful that my boss doesn’t worry about individual start time, because it really isn’t an indicator of performance by itself.

    2. edj3*

      So true. I commuted from the South End in Boston to Portsmouth NH for 15 months. Going to work, the commute usually took an hour and 15 minutes. During high holy tourist season (think fall leaves), all bets were off and there was no way to handicap that.

      Going home was even worse. The trip home took at least 90 minutes and up to three hours because of the Pops, the Red Sox, the Bruins and hey, it’s Boston.

      1. Bea W*

        Ha I’ve had recruiters try to sell me on jobs out of my desired commuting range because living in Boston must mean I’ll have a “reverse commute”. LOL. It doesn’t actually work like that when you live in the city. It’s great if you are already outside of city limits where traffic truly flows in one direction or the other, but for people living in the city that’s pretty much never the case.

          1. Bea W*

            You have to go quite a bit further out, and even then if you are trying to access an on-ramp for the good direction you are still stuck in surface street traffic with all the people trying to get to the same highway jammed in the crappy direction.

            If you are in eastern MA there’s also the tech belt on 128 running from Waltham through Burlington. That area is its own cluster.

            I live smack in the middle of Boston. There is no “reverse commute” until I clear 128, which is 20 minutes driving without traffic and hitting mostly green lights. I don’t mind driving locally in the city, but getting in and out of it is a PIA.

        1. edj3*

          Reverse commute only meant it wasn’t quite so bad in the morning. The rest of the time, it just blew.

        1. edj3*

          I moved :) No more horrid commute (although people here think there’s traffic–I laugh and laugh at their notion of traffic!).

  8. Colette*

    Unless it really is critical to the job to be there on time, focusing on when he gets to work could cause bigger problems. If the employee complains that he’s being hassled about being late even though he also works late and you end up letting him go, your other exempt employees going to think that you fired someone for being late, even though it’s not a necessary part of the job.

  9. Brett*

    Agreeing with everyone above, the real issue here is the performance.

    I am a routinely late person (2-3x a week) and my boss is aware of this and has no issues. Why? Because I mitigate any impact on my performance to the point where thee is no effect on my performance. When I wake up in the morning, I immediately check our emergency messages (before I even get out of bed) and respond to anything there. After I get up, I read work email as I get ready for work and deal with anything that has shown up there over night (we are a 24/7 org). Those two things right there mitigate most of the issues I could have from being late (and often cause lateness in turn). On top of that, I also forward my desk phone to my cell phone during work hours so I can handle calls when not at my desk (whether running late or just somewhere else in the building), and for meetings I simply never schedule meetings in the first 30 minutes of the day. If I have to, I wake up a couple hours early (something I could not do every day and stay healthy).

    1. Laurel Gray*

      I once worked with an exempt top performer who came in late 2 times a week and I later found out it was because she would put her kids on the bus and go back to sleep for an extra 2-3 hours every morning on the days when her husband (who worked shift work) came home earlier so she could stay later and make up the hours. Possibly related, but on the days she did this (Tuesday and Thursday) she was more pleasant so naturally I saved all of my teapot handle inquiries for these days.

    2. Bend & Snap*

      Can we talk about first-thing and last-thing meetings? I hate them. It’s so hard to be engaged when you’re either trying to ramp up or wrap up for the day.

      1. Parfait*

        In my company, we often inflict first-thing meetings on the local staff that are last-thing meetings for our staff in Europe. Worst of both worlds! But when your overlap time is 8-9 AM on the west coast of the US, and 4-5 PM in central Europe…it’s sometimes unavoidable.

  10. AnotherAlison*

    I wonder how many other employees are in the office at 8:00, but wander around chatting and making coffee for 15-20 minutes? If the late guy shows up and immediately gets to work, it’s the same. I usually show up 30 minutes early to take care of all that, but when I show up on the dot, I get to work right away.

    1. Stephanie*

      I covered the morning shift once, which starts at Oh My God O’ Clock (like predawn). I had to work a clopen (I usually work swing shift), so I hadn’t gotten a ton of sleep. I get there to find out the usual woman socializes a lot and makes coffee for everyone and I could have gotten there an hour later. If I weren’t super sleep-deprived, I would have been annoyed.

      1. BRR*

        Never heard the word clopen before. Love it.

        We have a woman who is non exempt and sometimes needs to stay late to finish her work but I can add up the amount of time she spends Doug other stuff. It can total anywhere from 15 min to an hour. I’m always curious how she reports her time.

          1. Can't decide on a consistent name*

            My clopenings are a 9 pm close (meaning I get home between 9:45 and 10:30) and 8 am open (but I have to be here 20 minutes early to get stuff from locked areas to open up). Worst exempt job I’ve had yet being Not A Morning Person.

            So now I’m in the position of casually job hunting when I have zero energy and a crappy mindset.

      2. I'm a Little Teapot*

        I’m totally stealing Oh My God O’Clock. That’s approximately when I need to get up tomorrow for ushering at an event (and when I should be getting up to work on writing stuff to make sure I do it every day….but haven’t in a while).

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          I usually use WTF O’Clock because I WTF am I doing up so early? Or I had to be up before sparrow fart — like today. I was literally up before sparrow fart, the dawn chorus hadn’t started yet and it was pitch dark.

    2. Bea W*

      In my office there are a bunch of people who arrive around 7 am. By the time I get in just before 9 they’ve knocked out a bunch of stuff. I feel like such a slacker.

      1. Anonicorn*

        I’m one of those 7 AM people, and maybe it would make you feel better to know I’m pretty well spent by 2 or 2:30.

        1. abby*

          I come in later and leave later, partly to avoid the heaviest traffic (I live in southern California). I knock out a bunch of stuff in the last hour after most everyone is gone. Those who remain are super focused on getting stuff done. It’s great.

          1. Anonicorn*

            Those exact reasons are why I prefer the morning. I’m more focused and efficient, and hardly anyone else is around.

    3. abby*

      Oh, yeah. Where I work, there is a small group of people that show up “early”, but they prepare and eat breakfast, go for walks, etc. I show up later, having done all that at home, and get right to work.

  11. LQ*

    For the OP it is worth considering what happens if the mediocre performer does start doing better. Will you still be bothered by the lateness? It’s really something to try to think about now. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t matter. (If there was a reason for being on-time, say he was working phones in a call center, it would be different.) So you need to give this person a chance to improve without being stuck on the late arrival even if the work quality/quantity improves. Don’t hold onto this if he improves, and don’t cite this for being the reason to get rid of him. You are focused on the wrong things which might mean you get good performers who are late and you do focus on the lateness for them too. Just something to be aware of for yourself.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      When the OP said “not a top performer” I took that to mean average, not necessarily mediocre. And when she said she had a talk with him about performance issues, I still didn’t think it was something necessarily leading down to PIP lane or something. You can give an average, “meets expectations” employee feedback on “performance issues”. Maybe it is the vagueness of the letter, but I think that the OP may just have an issue with lateness and for the exact reason Alison suggested. I think long term it will probably be better if she adapt a more lax policy on lateness for the reasons others have stated. In the meantime, she should focus on the employee’s performance and seeing that improve, no matter if he is 20 minutes late 2 times a week.

      1. LQ*

        Interesting I would say mediocre and average are basically the same thing… I don’t think that it was leading to a PIP but if someone isn’t performing well enough that their supervisor has to have a conversation with them either they need to improve or leave.

        I still think that focus needs to not be on the showing up on time, but if he does improve and the OP continues to hold onto the needing to show up on time it might skew how the OP thinks the mediocre performer is doing.

        1. Hlyssande*

          Not everyone can be above average, though. If everyone is, they’re the new average and I wouldn’t call that mediocre. ‘Average’ shouldn’t have negative connotations, while ‘mediocre’ certainly does.

          1. LQ*

            Ok so lets say this employee is average and not mediocre.

            Why is the boss talking to him if his performance is acceptable? What is the downside to not doing better?

            1. Judy*

              Say you have 5 people on your advanced widget development team. You hand picked them out of the other widget design groups. Any one of those people would be the top or near top performer in the other 5 widget design groups. Does the average performer in your group have acceptable performance? Does the bottom performer ( in a forced ranking of the group) have acceptable performance?

              In general, it really depends on what that performance level is.

              1. LQ*

                I think average is sort of a red herring here as I said below. It isn’t about average, it is about meeting standards or going above them.

                1. fposte*

                  I would agree. I’m so glad I don’t have to do those stupid numeric ratings for my staff, because below average there is still way above the standard of most people.

                  Is this person performing to expectations for this position? Would you be likely to be able to replace him with somebody who was up to the speed of your higher-performing employees?

          2. I'm a Little Teapot*

            Thank you for pointing out that not everyone can be above average. This needs to be pointed out far more often. Way too many people assume we live in Lake Wobegon when talking about work-related things.

            1. LQ*

              But once you start telling an employee that they aren’t getting done what they need to get done…isn’t that a problem? (And below the OP says this person is below average.) I’d say that you might help someone average get better, but someone that you tell has to improve is at least doing below what is required for the job. I think the average here is sort of a misleading thing. At work you can have minimum required to not get fired, and above, I’d say someone doing minium required to not get fired is “average” though if you are looking at a bell curve they would be the bottom. Except in a case like this you need a way to say, this person is doing worse than what is needed to succeed at the job. I think average is a bad way to label an employee.

              Doesn’t do what is needed, does what is needed, does a bit more, ZOMGZOUNDSMORE

        2. Kelly L.*

          I think that literally they should be about the same thing; mediocre means in the middle. Yet somehow average is more neutral, while mediocre has picked up a negative connotation.

    2. Musereader*

      I work in a call center, we have a +/- 20 minute flexibility on our start time. As in you are not late until you are more than 20 minutes late from the schedule time. You do need to clock at least 7:14 on the phone though so that means making it up at the end of the day, and if you were early you can leave up to 10 minutes early without prior approval.

  12. YandO*

    Can I just say how much I hate the idea of hard start time without a solid reason? Or really, rigid working hours for that matter, that are not dictated by business necessity. Especially for exempt employees.

    I think it is stupid and counterproductive. Especially when your reason is “I said so. I am your boss. What I say goes”. Can you do that? Sure. You know what I think when I hear that? That you have low-self esteem and want to use your power to feed your ego. Nothing kills my motivation like feeling that I exist to feed my boss’ ego.

    With all that said, your problem seems to be nowhere near the arrival time and the fact that you are focusing on it rather than performance is really bizarre.

    1. Mellifluous*

      This. Focusing on someone being a few minutes late in the mornings is a real turn-off to good performers who are already doing more work than many coworkers in their 10-minutes-less a day, and it is only important, like Alison says, if the exact minutes are affecting others, like coworkers waiting to be relieved. Otherwise, it is a preference that sticklers will insist on even when it really only applies if you’re in a clocking-in workplace. Nothing makes me more irritable than a manager fussing over 5 or 10 minutes in a morning while paying no attention to either a) the time you are staying late to close a shift or help out with special projects or b) the fact that your performance is in the top range at your workplace.

    2. Sans*

      Absolutely! What drives me crazy is when someone focuses on you being 15 minutes late, but waves aside the extra time spent working over lunch or after your regular hours are over (as the OP seems to). Most places I’ve worked I’ve been exempt, but have to fill out time sheets when I take PTO. I can take PTO in one hour increments, but I refuse to take an hour of PTO, because I know I’ve stayed late several times for meetings, etc.

      Who cares how long someone works if they’re getting their work done???? (And if the employee in question here truly is having performance issues, address those and ignore the nitpicky 15 minutes a week late.)

  13. the_scientist*

    I just want to commend the OP for taking the time to reflect on this and recognizing that lateness is a sensitive issue for them and that it’s being magnified by all the other performance issues that are going on. I’m also one of those people that finds chronic lateness irritating, so I sympathize with that part of the OP’s complaint- really I do! Having said that 1) unpredictable traffic is by it’s very nature unpredictable, so I’m not really sure how OP wants the employee to work around that. I’m sure we’re all aware that leaving the house 15-20 minutes early doesn’t necessarily = getting in on time or early, depending on traffic patterns, distance, highway driving vs. city driving etc. etc., and 2) 15-20 minutes once a week…….is not *that* much? That presumably means he’s arriving early or at least on time 4/5 days out of the work week, right? And it’s not like he’s not making up the missed time, so doesn’t it all balance out anyway? If he’s not able to get his work done on time or to the level required, that is not going to be solved by being at work 15-20 minutes earlier.

      1. the_scientist*

        I think lateness as a performance problem crops up a lot in places where it ordinarily shouldn’t matter because it’s a sensitive issue for many people- in their personal lives. I’m one of those people, like I said. I personally think that chronic lateness in social situations is rude, because it’s saying “I think my time is more valuable and important than your time”. It can also be a power play- i.e. “I don’t care that you have an exam/appointment/whatever that you need to be on time for, I’m going to make you late to show you that I’m the person who’s really in charge here, and that I can cause damage/problems for you whenever I feel like it” (ask me how I know about this particular aspect of chronic lateness!).

        I think lateness IS also rude in a business sense when it affects other people’s work- i.e. you can’t meet deadlines, are late turning in deliverables, show up to meetings 15 minutes late so everyone has to wait for you. But that does not seem to be what’s happening here, so I think the OP needs to stop taking the lateness personally, and recognize that in this setting, it is not reflective of their employee’s overall character.

        1. Oui*

          I have never understood this approach to lateness. People who are offended by lateness seem to be taking it way more personally than they should. As a chronically late person, it has literally nothing to do with the person I’m meeting. I have a hard time estimating how long it takes to do things (or I’m unreasonably optimistic about it) and get places so when I’m not late, I’m freakishly early. And I’ve talked to other ‘late’ people and it’s really the same. No one who is chronically late is busy thinking about your appointments or whatever and if thoughtlessness bothers you, then ok, but making it out to be some type of malicious, intended act is silly and will only make *your* life more unpleasant.

          1. fposte*

            This is one of the great divides of the world, I think, and it’s never going to be solved. Timely people need to understand that lateness often isn’t personal, late people need to understand that leaving people waiting often makes them anxious and unhappy.

            And, of course, if your job needs you to be there at a certain time, then timeliness really does matter.

          2. chronically late*

            Oui, I agree with you! I am always overly optimistic about how long it takes me do various tasks including getting out of the house, and so I am always late. I know people who are offended by this take it as an affront to their time and importance, but you’re right, it’s not like I’m thinking, “oh let me make so and so wait for me because I feel like it.” it’s not malicious…

            at the same time, yes obviously there’s a social convention toward punctuality! and so I feel bad about being late. but in 30+ years i have not managed to change my tendency to be late to things.

            even at work, being 15-20 minutes late as an exempt employee seems super picky to me! I work through lunch, I work in the evenings and/or weekends, I get my wrk done, and done well… so why be so Puritan about 8am vs 8:20am? 9am vs 8:30am? seems excessively picky for a manager to focus on that (assuming good performance from the employee, as others have said).

            1. Marcela*

              While I don’t think people who is always late is malicious, I always wonder why they can’t take any action to fix it. I mean, if you know you miscalculate the time you need, so you are always late, why can’t you add another extra 15, 30 minutes or whatever the amount of lateness you need to your time estimation so you are not late?

              I had a friend who was hours late to our meetings. None of us was right on time people, so at the beginning it was not important. We would arrive within 10, 15 minutes of the scheduled time, and that was ok. But as she was always couple of hours late, we began to be annoyed. Most times we gathered to cook for lunch, so at the end we ended eating at dinner time. I can’t imagine her being malicious or trying to show who was in charge. She was the most generous and nice person I’ve ever met. But she is not my friend anymore, because I can’t get she never even tried to fix the issue, knowing that at the time I had a very complicated relationship with my parents and I had a strict curfew, kind of early, so I always had to leave early our meetings, and many times eat in a hurry.

              1. fposte*

                There’s been some interesting discussion on this over at Captain Awkward and elsewhere recently. What a lot of people seemed to be saying is that if they had the specific time understanding to add 15 minutes to their schedule, they wouldn’t be late in the first place.

                For me, time is so legible I don’t even think about it; it’s like the drive home (and I live really close to work). For some people, it’s like constantly trying to find your way in a country where all of the signs are not only in a foreign language but in a foreign character set. “Just start 15 minutes earlier” is like saying “When you see Менделе́евская you’ll know you’re in Тверско́й райо́н.” It may be true, but it doesn’t necessarily help.

                1. Zillah*

                  +100 to all of this. I think it’s really difficult for people who aren’t chronically late to understand, and I get that, but I do find “Well, why don’t they just, it’s not that hard” comments to be extremely frustrating. If many, many people struggle with something, there’s probably not an easy fix – as a rule, people don’t tend to choose to struggle with things.

                  That doesn’t mean that being on time isn’t important, but it does mean that removing morality and condescension from the equation is the only way that you’re ever going to have a productive conversation about it.

          3. esra*

            I think it feels malicious for some people because we’ve all met someone who is just really blasé about being late. So they’ve made you late, and just don’t seem to care at all.

            1. fposte*

              Right, that’s the key; if you demonstrate an understanding that you’ve caused somebody distress and inconvenience, that’s really different than the people you’re talking about.

            2. afiendishthingy*

              Yup. I am admittedly not the most punctual of people. Sadly my excuse is almost always Rachel’s from Friends – “Sorry I’m late, but I left late.” I have ADHD and one of the characteristics is a tendency to underestimate how long tasks (makeup, gathering everything I need to take, scraping a windshield, etc) will really take. However I a) do my best to avoid being late when I know it will be inconvenient to others and b) if I fail, I am super apologetic. (Also I’m rarely catastrophically late, more chronically 5-10 minutes late).

              But I’m going to have a super fun meeting on Friday with a client who can’t seem to figure out that she’s not receiving services consistently because she is always super late and cancels shifts all the time. She’s convinced she did no wrong last week by 1) scheduling another appointment 1.5 hours before ours, in a town about 20 minutes away and then 2) arriving to our shift 30 minutes late, during which time my report waited patiently outside her door on a pretty chilly day. “I told her! She said it was fine!” You told her you might be a couple minutes late, and I’m pretty sure that poor woman would say it was fine if you set her hair on fire. (For the record I told my employee to go home and we would pay her anyway. She sadly believed the client that she would just be a few more minutes.)

              So yeah. Sometimes people really do WANT to be on time but are late because really unpredictable things do happen, or because we’re bad at managing our time. (This client seems to honestly believe she can just teleport herself from place to place, despite EXTENSIVE evidence to the contrary.) But you have to take some steps to avoid being late if you’re going to be inconveniencing others, and you need to apologize SINCERELY when you are late, because it is disrespectful to those who have to wait for you.

              I don’t think any of this applies to the OP’s employee, since his arrival time doesn’t seem to be affecting others and is almost definitely not the root of his performance problems, but it is an interesting topic.

              1. Tau*

                Sometimes people really do WANT to be on time but are late because really unpredictable things do happen, or because we’re bad at managing our time. (This client seems to honestly believe she can just teleport herself from place to place, despite EXTENSIVE evidence to the contrary.)

                Ah yes, the secret belief that one can teleport… normally I can hold on to “nope, travelling from X to Y will take Z amount of time”, but if I’m not feeling well that can sneak into my planning without me noticing. And I’m consistently terrible at taking the fact that things like getting ready/gathering my things/getting dressed take a few minutes into account. My only real way of avoiding chronic 5-10 minute lateness that once in a while turns into 20-30 minutes is trying to get there super-early. (For me I’m pretty sure it’s an autistic thing – I think there may be a symptom overlap with ADHD in this area.)

                But like you say, there are definitely still ways of dealing with that that are respectful of other people… If I accidentally left someone waiting in the cold for 30 minutes I would be dying of shame and basically falling over myself with apologies!

            3. Rita*

              All I ask for is a phone call or text saying from someone who will be late. And I know sometimes that driving or other situations can prevent that, but if you’re going to be 30 minutes late and I can do something else in those thirty minutes (like run a quick errand or do some window shopping or watch a TV show on Hulu), then that is better than me sitting around thinking you’ll show up at “any second now.”

          4. LQ*

            This attitude is why I’ve just started carving blocks of time for friends who are late. They get to choose how to spend that time. I’m not mad at them. They aren’t wasting my entire day, and it is much more pleasant for both of us.

  14. Molly*

    Oh, please don’t let yourself become the type of manager who dings an exempt employee for this kind of thing. That’s how you alienate not just this one employee, but the rest of your employees, too. It signals that you’re more concerned with trivialities than with the truly important aspects of their work.

    All the other issues you mentioned are completely valid, and those should be your focus. Don’t cloud the issue with something this silly. Less than half an hour — that he makes up for by staying late — is a drop in the ocean for an exempt employee working full time. It shouldn’t even annoy you unless you or his colleagues need him for something during that time.

    It’s his work that’s the problem, not when he does it. If the fifteen to twenty minutes once a week or so doesn’t impact his work, it’s irrelevant. Don’t be the manager moving the deck chairs around while the Titanic is going under.

    1. Steve G*

      I concur, coincidentally, the coworker who worked the most traditional hours (8-5) at past Co was also the one who procrastinated the most and delegated as much as possible to other people. Give me the person who did 9:20-6:30 anytime!

  15. Snoskred*

    I’m surprised at this staff members noncommittal reaction to changing their start time.

    When I’ve had to negotiate traffic to get places, I would have jumped at the chance to change my start time so I could avoid the traffic. Even if it meant arriving earlier.

    It sounds to me like there is other stuff going on besides the lateness and I agree with everyone else to focus in on that stuff. :)

    1. Colette*

      It depends on what other commitments he has, what the other start times are, and whether changing would help. If he’s late because of erratic traffic snarls, moving to a start time 30 minutes later isn’t likely to help.

      1. Meg Murry*

        and moving to an official start time of 30 minutes later would mean moving to an official end time of 30 minutes later – so then OP might be mad that he’s “slipping out early” on days when he got there at the old start time. Or the time creep will just move forward 30 minutes – so instead of usually being there 8-5 with an occasional 8:30-5:30, he would officially be there 8:30-5:30, with an occasional 9-6 with traffic.

        Is the issue actually that he needs to figure out a way to get more done, and that might mean either working more efficiently or putting in a few more hours? If that’s the case, let him know that. Or is the issue that people are actually looking for him at his start time or he has meetings he is late to at his official start time?

        If he’s coming in late and not getting his work done, it may appear that he’s slipping into a “I don’t really care” attitude, and that’s the actual problem. But it doesn’t sound like coming in 15 minutes late is really the problem – it’s just one item on the b*tch eating crackers list.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I agree that the 15 minutes late isn’t the problem, but the OP could have an issue with an 8:30 start. Maybe it would be more acceptable to work 7:30-4:30 normally, with occasional 8-5 on bad-traffic days. It doesn’t solve the performance issue, but maybe it’s an option that would work better than what’s happening right now with the lateness. (Let’s say the OP likes to make rounds and check in with everyone before her day fills up with management meetings. The late guy would irritate me every day if I tried to do that, but maybe time on the other end of the day matters less.)

      2. AW*

        I think the idea was that he’d still leave at the same time but the boss would just have an expectation that he’d arrive 30 minutes later than everyone else. So instead of being late at least once a week he’d be early most days of the week and on time where he would normally be late.

    2. Us, Too*

      It’s not always practical to adjust start time. For example, if day care isn’t open at the new time….

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, this. I used to be one of those people that thought “figure it out, your start time is a X:00, figure out how to get there at X:00”. But then I had kids, and the one daycare in our town that had before school care stopped doing it, so on days when my husband has an early morning meeting, I can’t leave for work until the school bus comes. Most days, this gets me to work just barely right on time – but on a day when it is snowing, the bus could be up to 10 minutes late – and then traffic on my commute is also slow due to the snow and next thing you know I’m 1/2 hour later than my “official” start time.

        On the very rare occasions that my husband and I both have early morning meetings where being at a certain place at a certain time is important we can hire a babysitter to come over or drop my son at a friend’s house who’s parents will drive him to school – but if my boss started to get antsy that I wasn’t able to be at my job (that has no official reason to require me to be at my desk at exactly X:00) at exactly my start time every day, I’d either need to start paying a lot of money for babysitters, owe a heck of a lot of favors or I’d need to find a new job.

      2. Kyrielle*

        It also depends on how much you have to shift it by to miss the worst of the traffic. It might still be variable, just at the new time. (For example, if I aim to arrive at 7:00, the traffic is really light. I think it’s light again if I aim for 9:30, but I haven’t tried that, as I can’t really afford it. If I aim to arrive at 7:30 or 9:00, it’s medium. Any time 8:00-8:30, it can be heavy. This is NOT a good window…especially with the school bus at 7:15 (give or take 5 minutes) for the older kiddo, though I could at least leave my husband to shoulder that.

        1. Us, Too*

          Right. In my area, shifting by only a few minutes in the 7 am to 9 am window wouldn’t reduce the likelihood of my being on time. From experience, I know that I have to begin my commute before 6:45 am if I want to be certain of arriving before 8 am. Daycare isn’t open that early.

          Likewise, if my boss offered me a late start, you’d think that would solve the issue except that I would face the same childcare issue in the evening – how to pick up before 6:30 pm when looking at a 1.5 hour commute.

  16. itsame...Adam*

    Traditionally, we had a time-based work process perception because it was easily quantifiable, that’s why most people still think of rigid working hours as a measure of performance. In the current age, it is better to focus more on milestones/deadlines and deliverables as performance indicators and let the employees reach them as they see fit. Though, availability can be a factor depending on the position and work requirements.

  17. BRR*

    I’d let this one go unless there is a need to be there or if he wasn’t working enough hours. There’s no need to nitpick. The real issue is performance.

    I know it’s frustrating for you but it might be frustrating for him too that he can’t do his job well. Being called out for lateness just seems to possibly venturing into bitch eating crackers territory.

    Traffic can vary. It happens. I run early and every once in a while there’s something to make me late. I run so early though it would be illogical for me to try and compensate for that.

  18. KB*

    I think being irritated for him being late is unreasonable since he stays late as well–it seems like that’s then entirely a wash.

    I think the bigger issue is that you seem to have a problem with his performance, not his lateness. That’s an important conversation that needs to happen beyond talking about his schedule.

  19. Mephyle*

    As a side note to all the above comments, that the issue is performance, not lateness, I question OP’s statement “after a year working here I don’t consider traffic a valid excuse.” Is it that after a year, he should be able to predict which random weekday there will be a traffic problem that will throw off his usual commuting schedule? Sarcasm aside, his only solution to the lateness problem would be to start earlier every day so that he arrives early an average of 4 days a week, and on time the remaining day.

    1. Lyda Rose*

      I have to agree; commutes of any kind can be unpredictable for reasons beyond anyone’s control. I worked a job with a 90 minute each way commute and my boss was a massive micro-manager. There is nothing like sitting in a traffic jam knowing that your boss is getting ready to rip you a new one as soon as you walk in the door. I’d let it go, not only because it’s pretty minor in the cosmic scheme of things, but because it’s stressing you too much.

      1. JMegan*

        There is nothing like sitting in a traffic jam knowing that your boss is getting ready to rip you a new one as soon as you walk in the door.

        YES. I used to have a boss like that. My official start time was 9:00, my daughter’s day care opened at 8:00, and the commute was an hour if all the stars lined up and I was able to recite just the right incantation to the traffic gods. More often, the commute was around 1:10 or 1:15. So I was routinely 10-15 minutes late, and I was *always* stressed that my manager was going to yell at me about it.

        It had nothing to do with the predictability of the traffic, or how long I had worked in that office – it was just what was involved in getting from Point A to Point B. And it was incredibly stressful to make that commute knowing that I was going to get in trouble at the end of it, even though I had no control over anything that happened after I dropped my daughter off.

        TL;DR – no, please don’t focus on the lateness issue with this employee. If you have other problems with him, absolutely deal with them, but don’t push the butt-in-seat part unless it really is a performance metric for his role.

        1. Mockingjay*

          This! I live in one of the fastest growing areas in the country. Over the last 8 years, I have had to change my working hours to later, later, and still more later. I am lucky to get in by 9. My husband leaves at 5:10 to get to work and teleworks 2 days a week. I’m not permitted to telework, so I have to struggle.

          We are on a swampy peninsula and there are very few buildable routes. We have 5 rivers running through, so many bridges. Also, railways cross every major roadway because we are a port city. Road infrastructure is 25 years out of date – not enough lanes and more potholes than a colander. The state DOT estimates it will take at least $20 billion over 10 years to get existing roads up to date. Developments are springing up overnight. I used to live at what was considered the edge of town – really in the country. They put the new high school on my rural, two-lane road (loads of teens). Now a massive, 20-year development is going in the woods behind my house (and still the road is a rural two-lane).

          My former supervisor routinely pinged me on lateness (never mind that I always stay my full eight hours plus and complete all of my work early and well). Then she bought a house and experienced the horrors of commuting. She solved her commute issues by teleworking most of the time. I was SOL.

          I’d like to be in earlier. Unless half the local population disappears, it won’t ever happen.

    2. Steve G*

      The “after a year” logic is flawed logic that gets applied in the real world, unfortunately. I live in NYC, on the L train (for those who know) which is highly unpredictable, but I didn’t know what dates/times it was going to be stopped/delayed.

      I did a temp job outside of the city and if I was like 5 minutes late, people asked me what was going on. 10+ minutes late? I started getting texts. For an exempt, mid-level non-time-sensitive job. Sorry, I’m driving through NYC to get there. One accident, and I’m sitting for 30+ minutes with no alternative route in most cases. So I either leave really, really early every single day (when I was already leaving at 7:15), or you stop making a drama over 10-15 minutes, or I don’t come. No amount of personal effort on my part was going to change the roads in NYC (+ the weather this winter!).

      1. Zillah*

        Oh my god, you live on the L line? My sympathies. The L is literally the worst, I hate that train. I bend over backwards to avoid it.

        1. land of oaks*

          dude, the L was my one true love when my alternative was the J/M/Z. So much worse. I would walk 15 minutes just to get to the L and hug and kiss it.

          1. Zillah*

            I’ve never had to take the brown trains on a regular basis, but I can believe that! I used to have to take the L every day, though, and I hated it – at this point I’ll bend over backwards to enter/leave Manhattan via Queens or downtown Brooklyn instead.

      2. sam*

        Yeah – I don’t even have to deal with the L train. I have an upper west side to midtown east commute, which is fairly short and simple, but it involves two subways because of the crosstown factor (I usually do the 1/2/3 to the 7, because the 7 has a WAY easier transfer from the 1/2/3 than the shuttle), and there’s simply no amount of planning that can be done for when the 7 decides to simply go out of service for zero reason with zero warning (until you’ve already walked down multiple flights of stairs to the 7 platform!), forcing everyone to trek back up about 700 flights of stairs and through the entirety of the Times Square station to cram on to the shuttle with everyone in NYC instead.

        So most days, easy peasy, I can get from inside my apartment to inside my office in less than 30 minutes. But there are other days…

        And going home…not so time sensitive, so I sometimes walk over to the B or even walk home. Which again, is fine, unless I’ve forgotten to take into account
        – any celebrity event at Radio City
        – the entire holiday season and the resulting window gazers at Rockefeller center/Saks/bergdorf’s/anywhere with windows and lights
        – any occupy/protest/charity event/etc. going on at grand central.
        – any special event at Lincoln Center, also on my way home.
        – The tree lighting at Rockefeller Center
        – Obama fundraising at the Sheraton on 53rd and 7th.
        – The tree lighting at Rock Center and Obama fundraising at the Sheraton ON THE SAME NIGHT (seriously – and I was actually trying to get home for a conference call with Singapore that night. I may have burst into tears by the time I got home).

          1. sam*

            Oh, I love it here and never want to live anywhere else, but as I say regularly, it’s part of our prerogative as New Yorkers to complain. about everything. the weather, the traffic, the tourists, the locals, the cost of living, how things were “so much better back [insert whatever year you are most nostalgic for, despite the fact that the city was actually probably a fetid cesspool back then too, and if it was the 70s, a *bankrupt* fetid cesspool]”, how no one can afford to live here anymore and yet no one can find an apartment because no one ever moves out…yadda yadda yadda…

            (I lived in Milan (Milan!) for a while for work, and never appreciated living in NYC as much as I did then).

            1. voluptuousfire*

              ^ Yep. NY’er here as well.

              My commute is never predictable. I’m usually 10-15 minutes early for work but for some reason on Tuesdays, I may be 10 minutes late. Traffic going up 6th avenue from 23-42nd street can be a massive pain for pretty much any reason.

            2. Zillah*

              it’s part of our prerogative as New Yorkers to complain. about everything.

              This is so true! Born/raised/current Brooklynite, and I live with my partner, who grew up in Westchester. There’s a fundamental disconnect in his ability to understand my complaining. Like, dude, complaining about public transportation or traffic or whatever is just a thing we do. I’m not saying it’s a huge deal and my life is ruined.

    3. fposte*

      My guess is that the OP’s thinking that this isn’t an unpredictable situation if it happens once a week. My other guess is that the OP’s thinking that if he just left 20 minutes earlier he’d be on time those days and early–yay!–the other days. Which may actually be true, but there’s a lot of life stuff that can make a 20 minutes earlier start a problem, and of course it doesn’t address any other problems.

      1. Mephyle*

        Yes, indeed. Like Steve said, it is flawed logic to think that it is predictable. Unless it happened on the same day(s) all the time. I’m assuming this is not the case, since OP didn’t mention that it is the same weekday(s) each time or even often. The wording was at least once a week.

      2. Kyrielle*

        And if being early isn’t rewarded by being allowed to leave early, or if the employee thinks it might not, then even without those life issues, what’s the reward for doing that?

        My commute varies, but it’s not predictable which days will be bad. I’d have to leave an hour earlier than I do to guarantee avoiding the traffic – which is earlier than the goal.

    4. OP*

      Because that was the reason initially given for lateness – learning the traffic patterns related to the new commute. I guess I feel like after a year, you should be aware of those patterns, and if traffic consistently makes you late, you should adjust accordingly. But that does not seem to be a popular opinion so maybe I am wrong. Again this is not occasional — it is a regular occurrence.

      1. fposte*

        Right. He’s late because he’s a guy who’s okay with sometimes being late. In his mind, he works more than forty hours a week and he’s on time 80% of the time, so time in the office really isn’t an issue for him. I’m kind of with him there.

        I mean, I do hear your underlying narrative, in that he’s somewhat difficult and overexplanatory and defensive, and that you were given a defensive reason for this that’s proven not to be true. But I think you’re treating arrival time as if it’s an employee thermostat that controls the rest of his behavior. And it’s not. Even if it’s related to an overall pattern of disorganization, correcting the lateness doesn’t fix the overall pattern, just the lateness–so you’ve got a defensive, difficult, overexplanatory employee who works slowly and inaccurately and who’s there 20 minutes earlier than he used to be one day a week. Is that the victory you want to work toward?

      2. Sans*

        Thing is, if the commute is (for example) 40 minutes on most days, but once in a while, it’s 60 minutes – and it’s kind of random, you never know when that 60 minute commute might happen – then you have two choices:

        #1 Leave 20 minutes early every day – and most of the time you end up at work 20 minutes early, to make up for the once a week or so that the traffic is slow and you end up on time.

        #2 Or you can accept that about once a week, you’ll be 20 minutes late, and make up the time.

        Seems he’s taken option 2, and who knows? He might have to be home at a certain time and doesn’t want to permanently make his leaving time later just to make up for that once a week traffic. It seems reasonable to me. Again, if he has performance issues, deal with those – if his work improved, I bet you wouldn’t be as bothered about his timing.

      3. edj3*

        Truly, as I said upthread, there was absolutely no way for me to handicap my commute. I’d think it would be an easy day and then come over the bridge to get on Storrow only to find a parking lot. I recall one horrid day when that last mile took two hours (I called my husband about an hour in and told him to have a single malt ready for me).

        Unless you have the exact commute, it’s really not possible for you to be able to say with certainty when your direct report will have a good or bad commute. It’s just too variable.

      4. Stephanie*

        I think it depends on the traffic in your areas. Where I live, I don’t think traffic would be a valid excuse for regularly being late because traffic’s pretty predictable and really not that bad compared to cities of comparable size (save for a really bad accident). I could recite the regular slowdowns off the top of my head, they’re that predictable.

        I’m guessing it’d be a different story in an area with worse traffic or public transportation with mixed reliability.

    5. abby*

      That comment caught my attention, too. Traffic, at least where I live, is always a variable. The normal commute might be 40 minutes, so you leave 45 minutes before your start time. However, a big pile-up on the freeway causes your commute to be over an hour and you’re late. Could happen any day.

      Some might say: Well leave an hour early every day, just in case. Not me. My morning time is precious to me and I would not give that up “just in case”. I will for a definite early meeting or appointment, but not just in case. I am grateful to have always had jobs where I did not need to have butt in seat at a specific time, though last job included a clock-watching office manager, though we were exempt.

  20. Helka*

    It sounds like this really is turning into a “b*tch eating crackers” scenario for you, OP. As a general rule, things that are just annoying shouldn’t be a focus for discipline or performance discussions. He’s exempt, you’ve stated there’s no need for him to be at his desk at that specific time, and he’s not leaving early… let it go. Focus on the actual performance problems, not the minor irritations.

  21. Dr. Pepper Addict*

    There is more at play here than the tardiness. I think the employee “not being a top performer” is the reason the lateness bothers OP so much. If he were a top performer, I doubt the lateness would bother him so much.

    I do disagree with OP, because traffic is indeed a good excuse for being late, no matter how long the employee has been there. I have along commute myself in a large city and some days I get to work in 35 minutes, some days it’s taken up to 2 hours. Unless this is a job where he has to be there to relieve someone who is clocking out, or has to be there to open the business, or some other time sensitive matter, I would let it slide. As long as he’s getting in his 40 hours, I don’t see why 15-20 minutes once a week is a big deal, especially if he’s staying late to make up the time.

    Also, most companies won’t let you clock in early to start your shift, so if he did start leaving much earlier just to get there on time and got there half an hour early, I doubt he’d be allowed to start working immediately and would have to sit there with nothing to do until he could clock in. So I don’t think leaving earlier makes much sense either. I think OP should try to be a little more understanding in that regard. It’s only 15-20 minutes. However, the employees poor performance is a different matter entirely.

  22. Chriama*

    The thing is, I don’t like the solid start time because if I need to be there at a certain time I should get paid for it. If I work 9-5, I might get there at 9:15 and leave at 5:15. If I must be there by 9 at the latest, I’ll probably start arriving around 8:50. Would you be ok with letting him leave at 4:50 if that happened? Because if not, you’re treating him as hourly when it’ suits you (must arrive by 9 means you’ll get in somewhere between 8:40 – 8:55 most days), and as exempt when it suits you (9-5 means you shouldn’t leave until 5).

    Anyway, asking him to commit to a later start time isn’t addressing the real issue – he sees times as fluid, you see them as rigid. And it seems like you don’t care what the start time is as long as he’s not ‘late’, which is kind of off. If you have a business need for him to be there by a certain time in the morning then I would tell him he needs to get to work *no later* than x o’clock, and then I would grant him the flexibility on the other side by letting him leave when his 8 hours are over so he’s not working 8 hours + however early he got there that morning.

    The performance issues are another matter, but I think you might be rising to the level of b***h eating crackers with this guy, and you need to be able to separate the real issues from the things that annoy you but don’t impact the quality of his work, or you won’t be giving him credible feedback.

  23. hildi*

    It’ been reinforced to me over and over again through reading this blog and training supervisors that being able to articulate performance expectations is really, really hard for most people (and I think that translates directly into parenting – conveying behavioral expectations). It’s hard because it requires a lot of thought about not only what the job requirements are, but how that specifically looks in this particular position. What does the supervisor mean by dependability; by attitude; by teamwork, etc? Most people I don’t think have taken time to think about how to convey that to their employees. Thus it’ a lot easier to focus on something like arrival time since that’s so black and white. But giving specific examples of doing the job with a good attitude? Much harder and easier to avoid

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Great insight hildi! I think beyond articulating, I think many people have varying definitions so even if the supervisor believes teamwork to be one thing, employee sees it as entirely something else. Upthread, I replied to LQ saying that I perceived an employee who is “not a top performer” as average and LQ replied that they would say average and mediocre are the same thing. The topic as a whole is very interesting.

      1. hildi*

        Oh my gosh, YES!! I always use that example in class about our performance evaluation system. I always use this example: Let’s say that as an employee, my definition of ‘attitude’ is making it through the day without flipping someone off. To me, that’s a good attitude. On the other hand, I’m guessing my supervisor’s definition is something different! One of her markers of good attitude is when she asks me to step in help out a team member that I do so without rolling my eyes and walking off in a huff. She knows what “good attitude” looks like in her own mind, but just hasn’t clearly laid that out for me. So we go into my performance review and she says, “hildi, you need to clean up your attitude.” And I’m sitting there thinking, “WHAT?! I haven’t flipped anyone off for a few days now!!”

        Haha, it’s a silly example, but it gets a chuckle and hopefully gets the point across. One of my major missions in most of my classes is trying to drill that concept into people’s heads. I think there is an immense amount of freedom and lighter burden if a supervisor does that. Because it takes away the subjectivity, doesn’t it?? So instead the trajectory of the relationship shooting off into unproductive discussions about the subjective assessment of attitude, the supervisor can have an extreme amount of confidence in having those discussions because it’s not based on the supervisor’s opinion. The supervisor can point to very specific behaviors and examples that are the standard of behavior. And you can use those standards of behavior as anchors to back up your requests and direction.

        Ugh, not sure that made any sense. It makes loads of sense in my head and when I’m saying it in person (I hope) :P)

        1. JMegan*

          The supervisor can point to very specific behaviors and examples that are the standard of behavior. And you can use those standards of behavior as anchors to back up your requests and direction.

          Totally makes sense! Focus on the behaviour, which is generally objective, rather than on subjective qualities like attitude or engagement. SMART. :)

    2. fposte*

      Exactly–that’s kind of what I was meaning about “elbows on the table,” but you put it better.

  24. Kateyjl*

    Performance is much more important than arrival times for exempt positions. Rarely do you see anyone complaining that an employee or co-worker stays late.

    Maybe the original letter writer can fix in his/her head that this employee has a later starting time and then commend them, to his/herself, when they are early.

    1. Nena*

      Basically, the point where you get so frustrated with someone that everything or anything they do can get you angry, even and especially when it’s unrelated to your real problems with the person.

      I believe it comes from the line from somewhere, “look at that b**** eating crackers like she owns the place.”

    2. Helka*

      It’s a reference to a someecards card that goes “When you dislike someone enough, everything they do irritates you. Like, look at that b*tch eating crackers like she owns the place.”

  25. Bea W*

    Work hours in my group are flexible but people do have set hours. This is so that other people know when to expect them in the office or online. It’d be annoying if someone set hours of 8-4 but actually worked more like 8:30-4:30 some days and maybe 8-4 others and did so in random fashion so that it was anyone’s guess if he was in the office or not. This would really get problematic if someone needed him last minute to be at a meeting at 8 and he came in at 8:20. It may not matter so much what hours he works, but it matters what hours people expect him to work. If he’s chronically late changing his planned hours so no one expects him earlier is the easy solution to that. I’m a bit baffled he declined that offer from his boss. That kind of says to me he is not interested in adjusting his behavior to being in the office when he says he’ll be in the office. Maybe he doesn’t get how disruptive that can be for others and is assuming flexible hours = whenever, rather than allowing him to choose his own schedule but still be expected to stick to it.

    1. Nobody*

      I totally agree, and I’m always shocked when this subject comes up here and people overwhelmingly believe that it’s not necessary to get to work on time. In this case, the OP is nice enough to let employees pick their start time, so I think it’s quite reasonable to expect them to arrive on time for the start time they chose. It’s really annoying to need to talk to someone first thing in the morning but have no idea when they’ll decide to waltz in (especially if it’s a poor performer you need to check up on a lot).

      I’m also baffled by people who say, “But I would have to be 15-20 minutes early some days in order to make sure I’m never late!” because they refuse to spend a single minute more than 8 hours in the office. But that’s just how it works. If something is important (like, say, your livelihood), you leave some margin. If you end up arriving 15 minutes early, lucky you! That means your commute went smoothly and you get to spend 15 minutes checking Facebook or getting a cup of coffee (or, crazy thought, working ahead on a project) instead of sitting in traffic.

      Every place I’ve ever worked has had strict attendance policies, either because it’s shift work where the offgoing employee can’t leave until the oncoming person arrives, or because there’s a meeting first thing in the morning, or both. And somehow, at least 95% of the employees manage to show up on time in all but the most extreme circumstances.

  26. A Definite Beta Guy*

    In the context of other performance issues, small things that annoy me seem magnified, so I wonder if I am making this into a bigger deal than it should be.

    There’s your answer. It is definitely good to have this level of introspection, and a willingness to check your own idiosyncrasies before attacking another person willy-nilly.
    An analogy, if I may?
    When I’m hungry, some of my wife’s quirks annoy the hell out of me. I appreciate my Wife making an effort to, say, not clip her nails in front of me, but really I just need to make a damn sandwich. Get to the problem at its source.

  27. Gene*

    This from a Twitter friend:

    Management – when your performance is measured more by what your teams accomplish than by what you cross off your To Do list.

  28. Matt*

    Ugh, this again. Many people commute, some long distances, and get to work on time. I wonder how many people in the comments are also chronically late and that’s why they are OK with it.

    Where is the line drawn? Once a week? Twice? Three times? How long? Ten minutes? 15? An hour?

    How does this person’s attendance issues affect others? From both a work productivity and morale standpoint? Why does it fall to the business to make accommodations, but the employee has no responsibility to correct it?

    I get that the work might not be time sensitive, but where is the line drawn? Are we essentially saying that a top performer gets to make the rules?

    1. neverjaunty*

      Many people commute, some long distances, and get to work on time.

      Probably because those people also get to leave on time, rather than staying late? Or because they’re not exempt?

      You’re making a lot of kind of one-sided assumptions here. OP explicitly said that the problem with the employee’s being occasionally 15-20 minutes late is that it bugs her, and doesn’t really have a good response to the employee also staying late. If this were a job where arriving at an exact time is crucial (like call centers, as was discussed in a prior column) or it’s causing problems for the workplace, that’d be one thing, but what really seems to be going on here is that OP already has a problem with this dude and the occasional lateness is just one more damn thing.

    2. A Definite Beta Guy*

      I typically arrive 10-15 minutes early every single day because I do not like being late. This morning, I left at 7:00 AM instead of 6:50 AM and arrived at work at 7:55 AM instead of 7:20 AM.
      There’s just a huge variance in commute time and 15 minutes is not a huge variance. I do not know the frequencies, but I do know every person around me occasionally shows up late due to traffic. It’s an office and everyone is exempt, so I do not really care.

      1. blackcat*

        I once had a commute where I budgeted 45 minutes each day for the 30 minute commute. And once or twice a month, there’d be an accident, and I’d STILL be late. So should I have always given myself 75 minutes, because that’s the worst it ever was? Then I’d be at work 45 minutes early most days, 30 minutes early occasionally, and, very rarely, exactly on time.

    3. fposte*

      Speaking managerially, I draw the line where it starts affecting other people, including me, or when timeliness was necessary for business reasons, like attending a meeting or opening to the public. So far there’s no indication that the OP’s staffer had crossed that line.

      I honestly couldn’t tell you when some of my staffers were supposed to be in (as in, what schedule they had articulated to me). They’re there when I need them to be, they’re hugely responsive, and they’re insanely diligent. I know some of them have been inherently less punctuality-concerned than others, but it hasn’t meant their work was late or substandard or they let anybody down. So I could beat them up to meet a standard that I genuinely don’t care about or I could consider that kind of flexibility one of the perks that compensates for some of the flaws of our jobs. I go for the second.

    4. Zillah*

      Matt, the problem with your slippery slope argument is that many, many businesses are flexible about start times, particularly for exempt employees, and the roof doesn’t fall in. Productivity remains high, morale remains fine, and the “accommodations” the business makes by not getting tense about 15-20 minutes means that they do a better job of retaining good employees.

      Where is the line drawn? Presumably where it does start to affect the business. It seems to me like you see lateness as a moral shortcoming. That’s your right, but speaking derisively about businesses that somehow make it work comes off as strange to me.

    5. LQ*

      This is an interesting question. I’m stunned at how many people are completely ignoring the fact that this person is a poor performer. But the lateness question does bring a lot of emotion to the table it seems.

      I’m extremely prompt. I had a long commute for a while and I was still extremely prompt when I had to commute 2-3 hours each way.

      But I don’t know that it matters for all jobs. I think there is a tendency for people who read- and respond- on this blog to be in jobs where it matters less. If you are a receptionist, work in a call center, work in retail, etc…those kinds of jobs have extremely little space for leniency. (How many people complain when their doctor is running 15 minutes late? How long would people tolerate a 20 minute late opening for their local coffee shop?) I do think some people miss that those jobs are just as important and it is something that matters significantly for those jobs. But it doesn’t matter for all jobs, and if it doesn’t, you don’t really need to focus on it. Even when there are other problems. You can focus on the performance issues. Sometimes a 20 minute late person is the best person in your office and sometimes they aren’t. Worry about the actual not being awesome part. Not the 20 minutes late part.

      That said I know someone who both complains that people give her the side eye when she comes in late AND complains about other people who were there early/on time, leaving on time. You don’t get both.

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        My question would be: When have any of my doctors *ever* been on time? I have had three primary care doctors over the past three decades, and not a single one of them has ever seen me at my appointment time. More like 30-60 minutes late. A 15 minute wait would feel like I was getting seen early. :-)

      2. Mephyle*

        I don’t think anyone was ignoring the person’s performance. The first round of responses specifically focused on the fact that the lateness isn’t the problem, the performance is. Numerous people mentioned that fixing the lateness wouldn’t in and of itself fix performance, as you stated. There was a big discussion about that upthread.

      3. Zillah*

        I’m stunned at how many people are completely ignoring the fact that this person is a poor performer. But the lateness question does bring a lot of emotion to the table it seems.

        I don’t agree with this reading of the thread at all. In fact, I think that many people have acknowledged that this guy is a poor performer – they’ve just also said that the lateness isn’t the issue the OP needs to focus on.

    6. Helka*

      For some perspective, I’m obsessively early, I find lateness intensely embarrassing and do anything I can to avoid it, and I still think the OP needs to let this go. I also, by personal choice, get in to work at 7am.

      The line is drawn with business needs. If the OP had said that this guy’s job was time-sensitive, involved required coverage, or otherwise had business elements depending on him rolling into the office on time, the answers would be different from almost all of us. But the letter specifically states that this isn’t the case. His lateness isn’t harming the business or his coworkers. It isn’t that the OP needs him to be at work on time, it’s that she wants him to be at work on time. And when there are much higher priority issues with someone’s work, those need to be addressed first and centrally. Getting distracted with a tangential and ultimately superficial metric when there is real critique to be given is not good management.

  29. Allison*

    Look, I find lateness annoying too, but in a case like this I wouldn’t get too worked up about it. He doesn’t need a specific start time, as long as he gets there in the morning, stays until the late afternoon or evening, puts in an average of (at least) 8 hours a day, or (at least) 40 hours a week, gets his work done, puts out quality work and meets deadlines. As others have said, focus on performance. It’s really not worth your energy getting mad over lateness when punctuality doesn’t actually matter – save it for the employees who arrive at meetings late, or friends who can’t be on time for time-sensitive plans.

  30. the_scientist*

    One other thing I just thought of- I realize I’m making a lot of assumptions, but perhaps the employee has a weekly medical appointment in the mornings that results in them being a bit late? Or maybe they have to take their dog to the vet for an appointment, or get an elderly parent or a sick child to an appointment. If I were in that employee’s shoes, I’d be sure to share that information with my boss so they are aware of what is going on, but if there are flexible start times at this workplace the employee may feel that they don’t *need* to inform the boss, and the boss hasn’t explicitly mentioned it, so employee doesn’t know that it’s bothering the boss. Of course when OP asked about shifting start times, the employee really should have mentioned if there was something going on…..but, again, if the employee already knows that the OP isn’t his biggest fan, he might not want to bring up personal/outside work issues. I don’t know.

    I just cued into this because I’m starting a new medication that requires monthly fasting blood tests, so of course the tests will need to be in the morning. I’m new to my workplace and given that these tests should only make me 15-20 minutes late once a month at most, I’m genuinely confused as to whether this is something my manager even wants to know. We have flexible hours here, so I feel like for 20 minutes (that I’ll make up!) once a month, she’ll be like “okay…..thanks?” but because I am paranoid/an overthinker, I’ll still let her know.

    1. OP*

      The person has been upfront — to the point of sharing personal details I wish I didn’t know–so I would be very surprised if that was the case. I have never questioned or turned down anyone’s request for time off, and would be fine with that scenario.

  31. OP*

    Hi, I’m the OP. Maybe I am getting into “***** eating crackers” territory. I am a little surprised that so many people vehemently think lateness is a non-issue. From my perspective, we made an agreement on start time – I asked him when he wanted to start during the hiring process – and I don’t care what that time is, but I think that if you commit to coming in at 8:30 (or whatever) then it should be 8:30. 8:50 is not 8:30 and it reads as unprofessional to me, but maybe I am in the wrong. For what it’s worth, I get in early and I can see and hear everyone else coming in, so I am not specifically monitoring this person closely–more like I can’t help but notice because of where my desk is. I don’t do a walk-around every morning (and don’t plan to start) but my boss does and asks me “where is so-and-so?”

    I provide regular feedback informally (weekly if not daily) and we sat down formally a couple weeks ago to address some specific issues and make a plan and deadline for addressing them. If it were me, and my boss sat me down with negative feedback, I would take it as a wake-up call and address those specific concerns as well as making sure I wasn’t letting other, smaller things slide. Maybe I am interpreting lack of punctuality, and non-answer to my offer of coming in later, as indications that he is not taking my concerns seriously.

    To answer a few questions:
    -The person is below average, not average.
    -How does he take critical reviews of his performance? – Defensively.
    -Does he seem like he wants to change or does he seem kind of aloof about it? – I think he sincerely wants to be successful here.
    -Has he always had performance problems or is this a new thing? – This has always been the case. Initially I chalked it up to learning a new industry, but having had more time to observe I think he needs improvement in basic skills.
    -Also can you clarify what you mean by ‘doesn’t finish work in regular hours’ Are we talking he stays 20 minutes late or 3 hours? More like 2-3 hours, and work eventually gets completed, but slowly, and needs editing. There is another staff member in our department who gets nearly twice as much done in the same amount of time. And that person arrives on time ;)

    1. Helka*

      Well, from the information you gave us in the letter, lateness in and of itself actually is a non-issue for this employee. You said his job doesn’t rely on him being at his desk by a certain time of the morning, he’s exempt so there’s no issue of it messing up payroll, and he’s staying late frequently so it’s not like he’s shorting you on hours.

      You’ve said it yourself – Maybe I am interpreting lack of punctuality, and non-answer to my offer of coming in later, as indications that he is not taking my concerns seriously. I think that is absolutely correct. And I think you may not be correct. If he has a nasty commute or other obligations, it’s something that may well be somewhere outside his control.

      It sounds like overall you’ve just got a weak employee here. If he’s staying 2-3 hours late (and how often is this? Every day, about as often as he comes in 15-20 minutes late, or once a month or less?) then you’re not getting shorted on time in any way, and it would probably benefit you to focus on the things that really need improvement over things that are purely optics.

    2. Oui*

      8:50 is not 8:30, but neither is 5:50, 5:30. A lot of people who work in offices 1) have shitty commutes that vary a lot 2) do things like check email in their off hours and 3) stay late when things need to be done. Dinging people like that for being 15 minutes late like they are working a store counter is just going to make your office an unpleasant place to work.

    3. Joey*

      What’s the point of him being there at 8:30 on the nose unless there’s something specifically that has to get done at exactly 8:30? Trust me, if you hit him with the not coming in on time problem he won’t get it. He’ll start questioning why it’s so important to the business that he’s there at 8:30 sharp. And if he thinks coming in 20 min late doesn’t affect anything he’ll think just think you’re unreasonable. But, it is much more likely he’ll get it if you focus on the work he’s not getting done because that’s what exempt people expect.

    4. Meg Murry*

      Does he have trouble getting work done when there are a lot of people around? I have ADHD, and I tend to get more work done once 80%-90% of the people leave, especially if I have to do something that requires me to concentrate like writing. So I get into a trap of “stay late to get something done -> get home late -> stay up too late dealing with household stuff like cooking, dishes, laundry or just relaxing -> go to bed late -> oversleep -> get a late start out the door -> get to work a little late (15-20 min) -> stay really late (2-3 hours) -> repeat.” It doesn’t help that when I went to college my routine was to go to class from 10-2, do my own thing, and then study from 7 pm – 2 am (or later) – switching to a “work 8 hours in a row in the middle of the day while sitting at a cube” was a huge shift for me, and still doesn’t really suit my ideal working style well – I tend to take home work to do in the evenings, and then take off an afternoon another day to make up for it.

      I think if he is coming in 15-20 minutes late, and staying 2-3 hours late, you need to focus on the performance, not the 15-20 minutes.

      1. davey1983*

        I to can’t seem to get out of the college mind set– class from 11-4, break, study from 6-3 am, sleep.

        Most of my bosses haven’t cared when I come into the office at 10 am, but one insisted I come in at 7 am on the dot every day. He pointed out that everyone else was in the office no later than 7 am. Thing was, time was not an issue with our work. My productivity suffered– I was more productive for the last few hours when everyone else had left the office (and I was exhausted from getting up 3 hours earlier than my body was use to). In fact, the higher ups saw that my productivity was slipping under the new manager (I was one of the top performers under other managers, but just an average one under the new guy), and reassigned me to a new team after just a couple of months.

        I guess my point is this: unless it is effecting the business somehow, let people work the hours they want to.

      2. afiendishthingy*

        Oh hey are you me?? I tend to hit my stride once everyone leaves too but I’m trying to push my schedule back to more standard hours (My schedule is pretty much 100% flexible which can be a double-edged sword) and stop having crazy productive DO ALL THE THINGS days followed by incredibly unproductive days because tiiiiired. We’ll see how it goes.

    5. Allison*

      Here’s the thing: if you move his start time to, say, 9AM, that may just mean that most days he’ll get there at 9 but some days he’ll be there at 9:20 due to the traffic, unless he’s somehow motivated to get there earlier than expected. It also won’t help the fact that someone asks where he is (and you may want to ask your boss why they ask that. is it important to them that your employees are in by a certain time? or are the genuinely curious?). If you move his start time earlier, to 8, that might ensure that he’s in the office by 8:30, but his arrival times still won’t be consistent which may still bother you. The fact is, he can’t be there at the same time every day, the best you can expect is that he gets to work somewhere within a half hour window.

      It seems like you would have a case to let this guy go, since his performance is poor and he doesn’t take feedback well, but if you are interested in getting him to shape up, you really should focus on his performance and productivity, and ask that in order to boost his performance, he may want to try getting in and starting work earlier.

      1. Allison*

        Followup thought, if you do nitpick on things like his arrival times rather than focus on his output, that may just make him feel *more* defensive, even hostile, towards you as a manager. It never looks good when managers harp on details like that and gloss over stuff that actually matters. His attitude will only get worse if he thinks you’re a jerk who just doesn’t like him.

    6. Matt*

      I agree with you that the lateness is not a non-issue. Granted, I come from a different angle (retail management) where a single person who doesn’t show up on time can have significant impacts to the business, but I also believe it speaks volumes about the person and their commitment to the job and how serious they take it. If you’ve told this person they have performance issues and you want them to arrive on time, AND you offered an accommodation to make it easier on the employee and he still doesn’t make it to work on time, then I’d think he’s not taking it seriously. If you know you aren’t performing as expected, you would think he would do everything in his power to not have other issues that are 100% within his control and fixable.

      That said, someone doing half the work of others is a problem. Hopefully you can help him get to the bottom of that and find out if there is something keeping him from working more efficiently, but if it continues that in and of itself would prompt me to replace him.

    7. Jillociraptor*

      Thanks for clarifying this. One thing I wonder: I think you might be interpreting his lack of punctuality as a lack of caring or investment in his work. When I had an employee who was performing below expectations, even though she was struggling and her progress was slow, what helped me maintain my investment in her was the fact that every time I gave her feedback, she instantly showed that she cared and appreciated it by demonstrating her attempt to incorporate it. E.g. when I explained my expectations for responsiveness and availability, she immediately began over-communicating and emailing/chatting/calling to show that she heard me, and wanted to improve in the area that I had indicated.

      It seems like you have an employee who’s struggling and instead of trying to improve, he’s kind of giving up. This lateness issue might seem like part of that story, which might be why it’s taking up this real estate in your mind. When I hear you talk about punctuality being kind of a contract, it sparked this line of thinking.

      I wonder if addressing this issue, that you need to see his investment in his own improvement, might be the more productive way to approach lateness than the butt-in-seat issue.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        I think it’s common to conflate attendance with a lack of caring or reliability. I’ve caught myself thinking this type of thing. Such as, “Wakeen is already below average and needs to work harder! Instead, he’s late again / taking a long lunch / using all his PTO days.”

        That said, it’s not usually worth addressing the attendance issues when they’re not driving the performance problems. Do you really want to have a conversation about traffic? It would probably be more productive to focus on performance alone, not attendance.

        Also, if you haven’t said it already, I’d consider telling the employee that staying 2-3 hours late to finish work should not be necessary for someone with the right skills and abilities for the role. Somewhere in the archives, Alison has a good letter and update from a manager who had to fire a struggling employee. Both the manager and employee ended up relieved, if I remember correctly.

    8. TotesMaGoats*

      I’m going out on a limb here, aware that my comments do not match the whole. Being on time or early was drummed into me from a very young age. It just wasn’t done. It was a sign of disrespect. If you say you are going to be somewhere at a certain time then be there. I get that traffic can throw a serious wrench into things. I have a 15 mile commute on one major highway. On good days, 20 minutes. On bad days, 2 hours. And you truly never know, except when it’s snowing then it’s always bad. Or raining because no one in MD can drive in the rain.

      I get that exempt employees are time clock punchers. I’m exempt. But if my boss said, “be at work at 8:30.” Then that’s when I’d be at work. For right or wrong, the boss gets to determine when you come to work. And as OP stated, the employee picked his start time. So, be on time. OR at least be apologetic when you are late. It sounds like he really doesn’t care.

      So, while I agree that the lateness is not your main issue I do understand why it annoys you. It would annoy me too. I have bosses who can’t show up on time to meetings that they have called. Drives me batty.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        It’s hard to lose those lifelong habits. When I was in high school, we had band at 7:15 am. There was one guy that you could count on to be late once a week. Then we got to listen to a 5-minute rant of, “If you aren’t early, you’re late.” 7:15 meant butt in chair, music stand up, instrument ready to go. It was good training. Plus, I was just nerdily punctual because I was an uptight kid. I drove a couple other kids to school, and my one friend knew that if she wasn’t ready, she was getting a ride from her mom because I would not be late to school.

        1. TotesMaGoats*

          I don’t know if you meant it this way but I don’t think losing a habit of being on time is something I should strive for.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Well, probably not personally being on time, but for me, losing the OCD component of it where I act like a maniac if I can’t get the kids moving in the morning was a good thing. My job does not ding me for getting to work 15 minutes past my usual start time, but I acted like it did.

            1. Zillah*

              This. I think that pretty much any habit you compulsively adhere to so rigidly even when there are no consequences to faltering from it once in awhile can ultimately become maladaptive.

        2. aliascelli*

          AnotherAlison, did you go to my high school? Our band motto was “Early is on time, on time is late.” I remember being pretty good about it then, but that’s definitely not a habit I carried with me.

    9. Jipsy's Mom*

      I know there are other performance issues at play, but I just want to weigh in on the arrival time. To me, when you tell a new hire “We’re flexible on start times and you can pick when you want to come in,” that would signal that you are actually flexible on start times…not that I’m locking myself into being there at 8:30 on the dot each day.

      When I was first getting started in my professional career, I worked for a county organization in my city. During the hiring process, my supervisor said “Oh, we have flex time here, which is kind of a nice bonus for people who need to get kids off to school, etc. You can come in 7:45, 8:00, or 8:15” and then leave at a corresponding time in the afternoon, after your 8 hours were up. I’m a morning person, so I said “Oh, I’ll probably do the 7:45.” Showed up at 7:45 the first two or three days. Then I was running a tad late one morning with traffic or something, but was still in at 8:00….only to have my supervisor waiting to give me a firm warning about my tardiness. I was honestly shocked. Completely shocked. I had thought “Flex time” meant any arrival time within that half hour window between 7:45 and 8:15 was acceptable, so long as you worked a full 8 hours. You know, that seemed like a reasonable interpretation of “flexibility.” What my supervisor meant – and what the OP of this letter apparently means – is you were locked into whatever start time you chose on day one. For this and many other reasons, I only lasted at that job for 2 weeks, then gave my 2 weeks’ notice. (I’ve been at my current job 12+ years, lest you all think I’m a flaky job hopper.)

      1. afiendishthingy*

        Even though this was years ago and completely unconnected to me I find myself intensely irritated someone had the nerve to call that system “flexible.”

        1. Zillah*

          Ditto. That’s not flexible. In fact, that would annoy me more than “You need to be here at 9am.”

    10. Us, Too*

      Do you honestly care that he’s 20 minutes late in the morning when he’s staying 2-3 hours late and STILL not getting his work done? Clearly the issue here isn’t the time he is investing in the job, it’s his productivity when he’s there. Focus on his output, not his presence.

    11. Anonicorn*

      If you discuss punctuality with him you might run the risk of him getting hung up on that issue and not fixing the performance problem. Despite whether it’s true, I’m afraid you are also coming across as more interested in punctuality than performance.

      If it were me, and my boss sat me down with negative feedback, I would take it as a wake-up call and address those specific concerns as well as making sure I wasn’t letting other, smaller things slide. Maybe I am interpreting lack of punctuality, and non-answer to my offer of coming in later, as indications that he is not taking my concerns seriously.

      The most important indication that he’s taking you seriously is whether he starts improving his skills and efficiency, but of course that’s assuming you were spotlighting those things with him.

      1. land of oaks*

        That sentence also makes it sound like you’re expecting him to read your mind. You haven’t specifically told him that punctuality is on this list of things he needs to fix, but you want him to figure it out and fix it on his own. That’s not fair, and it will only make you more frustrated. You need to keep the focus on the job-specific things you told him to work on, and see if he is working to fix those. If he is, you should appreciate that. If he isn’t, you should let him go. The time he comes in is beside the point.

    12. BRR*

      It sounds like you’ve been pretty direct, is he aware of both his performance and punctuality issues? It might be a dumb question but I just want to be sure.

    13. Chriama*

      I think you’re conflating 2 issues here. At the end of the day, there are 2 questions:

      1) is this employee a poor performer?

      2) is lateness an indication of poor performance?

      I would say that 1 is definitely true and 2 is a red herring. It sounds like there are multiple issues with this employee, including the fact that he’s not there at a consistent time. And the second thing wouldn’t be an issue except it matters to you and he hasn’t picked up on that.

      Overall, I’m not a fan of secret morality tests. If his start time is part of how you’re evaluating his performance, you need to tell him in explicit words. Judging his character or commitment to improving by whether he picks up on your unsaid expectation is not cool. Now, an employee with high emotional intelligence would likely pick up on this. Is that level of EI necessary for this job?

      Overall, I would say you’re focusing on the lateness because it’s visible and measurable, and you’re ascribing more value to it than is warranted. If he has issues that are affecting his performance, focus on assessing those in a meausrable and objective way instead of just taking a shortcut. And if you’re assessing his performance by his arrival time, then tell him that he needs to ensure he arrives *by* his start time and not before — and then make sure you’re not making it awkward for him to leave early if he gets there early.

    14. Callie30*

      Hi OP – It’s not that being late is a non-issue (it definitely is in many professions and jobs), but it appears that the issue is his productivity and efficiency, which is a more serious issue to be addressed. How are you criticizing him – i.e. constructively? Is there a reason he could be reacting defensively (especially since you said that he wants to be successful)? Just playing devil’s advocate. It may just be his personality though.

      I had a boss once that ‘played favorites’ and was more communicative with the employee she liked than with the rest of us. The rest of us struggled more and when she gave criticism, she did it in a way that caused us to be defensive, unless we became doormats, which we often were. The reality was we didn’t often have the information we needed to do the job as well as the employee she liked better, who she communicated with in more detail.

      On commutes: There are times when commutes vary and are unpredictable – esp. in certain areas, but I agree that once a week may be a bit excessive. Still, sometimes excessive traffic can’t be helped or predicted.

  32. Mimmy*

    I’m trying really hard to be fair in my thinking for both the OP and his/her employee. One of my biggest pet peeves is lateness; yet, I depend on alternate transportation–including a special paratransit service I use occasionally–because I can’t drive. The paratransit service has caused me to be late for jobs and other obligations on quite a few occasions. I know this is not the case for the OP’s employee, but it illustrates that despite your best efforts, things that are out of your control can and do happen.

    That being said, it sounds like there are issues beyond this person’s lateness, so all of it should be addressed. My only suggestion would be to allow a little flexibility with his arrival time. If I were an exempt employee, I’d want to feel that I can arrive during a given time frame without worry–“Mimmy usually comes in at around 9:30”, rather than insisting on arriving right at 9:30.

  33. Kate M*

    This is only tangentially related, but I totally understand being annoyed by lateness. I recently had an intern who would habitually be late in the mornings (sometimes only 5 or 10 minutes, sometimes up to 45 minutes). The intern was paid hourly. I’m someone who is usually very punctual (always with social occasions, and most of the time for work, although I stay late as well when needed). Our office is very top-heavy though, so many of the directors don’t get in until a little later (whether it’s because they’ve got meetings out of the office, or just make their own hours). I think that gave the impression that the office was more lax than it should be to the intern. I spoke to him several times about being in at 9:00, but it would only get better for a day or two, and then he’d slip back into bad habits.

    I get being more lax with exempt employees who have proven themselves, but what does anyone have any suggestions about this situation? My thoughts are that as an intern, you’re here to learn the basics of the working world, which includes showing up on time, especially if your manager has to speak to you about it. Further, first impressions are super important to me, and I think that since an intern is only working a short period, they should be on their best behavior the entire time. That coupled with the fact that interns are paid hourly makes me not want to cut future interns any slack. But should I be treating interns more like permanent employees, as long as they get their work done?

    (And I might have been to the bitch eating crackers phase with this guy too, since he wasn’t a superstar and ended up bailing on the internship earlier than he had agreed.)

    1. Joey*

      as a non exempt employee his tasks should be spelled out for him. If he’s not there on time to complete them or to receive that is the problem. And sometimes staffing could be an issue. Ie “when you’re not here other folks are having to pick up your slack.”

      And ultimately “as an intern we’re here to teach you and if you’re interested in a career here…blah blah blah.”

    2. fposte*

      Also, with an intern you get to say all kinds of stuff that counts as guidance, since that’s part of the point. So on the second lateness I’d go with “Chad, it’s really important to be on time when you’re starting a position; if you’re told that flexibility’s okay for your position you can ease up, but this isn’t a position where it’s okay, and when we’re looking at interns to hire, we’d be focusing on the reliable and punctual ones.”

  34. John R*

    One of the main reasons I left my last job was that put in a time clock for high-level technical people and switched us all from exempt to hourly. They docked people who were five or ten minutes late, but if you stayed extra time at the end of the day, which was often necessary, they didn’t pay you because “it was your choice to stay beyond your normal time”.

    Now I’m at a place that treats me as an adult and doesn’t watch my time as long as I finish my assignments on time. They trust me to work some combination of hours to get the job done, and I don’t disappoint them. Sometimes I take a long lunch, or leave half an hour early on Friday when the weather is nice to go biking; but I also come in early, stay late when needed, and do work at home–not because it’s mandatory but because when you treat people as adults they act like it.

    It sounds like OP’s issue with this employee is performance, not time, but that confronting him about time is easier and more tangible than “performance”. If the employee’s work is sub-par I would put them on notice and, if they’re trying hard or interested, give them concrete steps to improve.

    Think of it this way, an employee who comes in 15 minutes late but stays an hour late is giving you 45 extra minutes, not cheating you out of 15.

    1. fposte*

      “but if you stayed extra time at the end of the day, which was often necessary, they didn’t pay you because ‘it was your choice to stay beyond your normal time.'”

      Which is hella illegal, as you doubtless know. You can’t have the nonexempt working unpaid time.

  35. LuvzALaugh*

    From reading your letter, I would advise changing your perspective. It does not appear the lateness is the issue. It appears performance is the issue and the lateness is magnifying the performance issue. Deal with the performance. If he manages to turn around the performance issues the lateness may not be an issue for you at all (Imagine the star on your team is 20 minutes late, because obligations at home may prevent them from leaving early enough to avoid the occasional traffic jam and doesn’t have a need to be at the desk on the dot). The likelihood is that someone who is a poor performer along with consistant tardy issues isn’t invested in their job enough. If by some miracle he can turn the performance around he may become concientious about the arrival time too. I’d be more likily to bet addressing the perfomance will help you justify replacing him eventually with someone who is a better fit in terms of success in the position. My pont is, you are frustrated with the overall situation and lateness is a byproduct of a lukewarm attitude when it comes to performing well for this individual.

  36. Ann Furthermore*

    The only way you should start dinging this employee for being late is if you’re willing to start dinging your other direct reports for the same thing. Otherwise, you’re singling him out and that’s really not fair.

    1. fposte*

      I would disagree with the underlying thought here, because I do think it’s okay to let people earn consideration and perks with higher performance. That’s why you can say Bob can work from home but Lucinda can’t. However, if it’s important for people to be on time it doesn’t make sense to let anybody slide on that, and if it’s not important–as it doesn’t seem to be–then focus on other stuff that is.

    2. LQ*

      He’s a poor performer. That’s a good reason to single someone out. Fair isn’t something to focus on in the workplace. It’s not fair he’s doing half as much work as his coworker.

      1. Joey*

        Actually you can make everything fair. Fair is that when you perform like the other top performers you’ll get the same perks/flexibility they have.

  37. Callie30*

    I ultimately agree with Alison, but have an additional comment.

    On the lateness – If you are doing the same with others who are late, then this is a valid concern to bring up – the standards need to be the same for everyone. I know what it’s like to be singled out for various things and the unfairness leads to resentment. Is there a policy on lateness? If not, perhaps there should be something that’s distributed to all employees.

    It also depends on the length of the commute and the traffic patterns, I would say. I live in an area with awful traffic that can be unpredictable and know how it can be – it can’t always be helped even if one is to leave earlier. But it sounds like he is staying late and working the same amount of time. And 15-20 minutes seems within a ‘normal range’ of lateness with traffic considered. If it were 45 min/1 hour late, I would be more worried.

    On the performance – That’s a separate issue and should be addressed separately.

  38. Jen RO*

    Is this focus on punctuality an American thing? I’ve never heard of any job (except for things like call center work or manning the reception) that required you to be there at a certain time. 5 minutes “late” wouldn’t even register. 30 minutes “late” is still acceptable. Maybe it’s my and my friends’ industry? (software) I always feel so lazy when this topic comes up on AAM! (Office hours in my company are officially 9 to 6… I got there at 10.30 today.)

    1. Koko*

      It wouldn’t surprise me. There’s an awful lot of legacy values that we seem to have inherited from the Puritans, despite the fact that none of us are Puritan anymore. The whole notion of toiling and laboring being the path to salvation and all that…

    2. Stephanie*

      I think punctuality around 9-5 (or whatever day shift) is a holdover from when there was more shift or factory work and you had to be at your station at 9 am sharp lest the widgets not get assembled in time or the graveyard shift person doesn’t get relieved.

      It does seem anachronistic in some exempt office jobs now.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      I think it’s a holdover from farming, too. Definitely some industrial revolution influence in it, too, but the farmers had to get up early, and I see the disdain for night owls who start their day at 10:00 am as a carryover from that.

      How late do you work when you get in at 10:30?

    4. Anonymous Educator*

      American here, so maybe that’s the issue, but I’ve never had a job where showing up on time wasn’t essential. For many years, I was a teacher, and… yeah, you have to be there before the first class starts. You can’t stroll in whenever you feel like and make the students wait (secondary school—not university). I was a receptionist, and I had to be there to answer phones when our office hours started. I worked in tech support. When your users arrive and have problems, someone has to be there to fix the problems. In your country, do teachers, receptionists, and tech support people all get to come in late to work? Just curious.

      1. Zillah*

        I’m sure you don’t mean it, but comment is reading as unnecessarily hostile to me.

        Jen RO specifically mentioned call center work and reception as jobs that require you to be strictly on time for work. She didn’t mention teaching at all, but I think it’s probably safe to say that if you’re a teacher in most countries, you probably need to be on time. No one’s disputing that. However, it’s as misguided to superimpose workplace conditions necessitated by the nature of teaching or shift work onto all other jobs as it would be to do the opposite.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I definitely didn’t mean it that way. Thanks for pointing that out. I didn’t intend to have any sarcasm or snark in my post, but after reading your warning about it and then re-reading my post, I can definitely see how it could come off that way. Sorry, Jen RO!

  39. Cari*

    If he is staying late to make up for being late, it could be that which is having an effect on the rest of his work timing…

    He’s already decided to stay late, I assume without your agreement prior to him doing it? What if he’s also thinking “I’m behind on this work, but it doesn’t matter, I’ll just stay late to get it done,” and things escalate from there? Or if instead of working as hard as someone might when everyone else is there and working too, when it hits the time he stays behind and most others/ everyone leaves, he relaxes and slacks off a bit?

  40. Kelly*

    The tardiness is part of the performance issue. From my reading, the main issue is the person’s inability to get work done during standard business hours. That’s a problem because if they or their colleagues have questions about work that the person is doing, then they aren’t around to help answer them.

    It’s an interesting question for me because I have one co-worker who is non-exempt but acts as though he is exempt. He’s had attendance problems in the past but those have gotten worse with an adjusted schedule as a result of a child custody arrangement. From my POV, the quality of his work was acceptable but not stellar before and that’s gone down since this arrangement started. We’re less than a month from going live on a major new software upgrade, the first in almost two decades and his erratic attendance is affecting his contribution. He also hasn’t hired any summer help despite the semester being done with in 3 weeks. The one person whom he was expecting to work during the time took another position because he didn’t finalize their verbal discussions.

  41. Jason*

    I used to be late to work everyday. At first my boss and I would have the talk about how being late says “I don’t care enough to be on time” or attempt to persuade me in some way to start showing up on time. I assume he came to the conclusion that he was wasting his time, I’m a top performer, he wasn’t going to fire me over 15 minutes as long as I kept performing at such a high caliber. In fact no one ever said anything to me after a while, because I would stay later and get the job done better than anyone else. But my tardiness proved to be an issue still.
    20 minutes turned into 30 and then into an hour. Of course when I was twenty minutes late I would feel guilty and stay an extra forty but now I was staying an extra two… My results were better than ever, so still nobody said anything, not a word. I would then procrastinate certain tasks and just tell myself, I’ll do it later (cause I’m gonna be here all night…)

    So here is a better picture of the problem. I would guess your employee is a around 25 , possibly also riddled with A.D.D. and drinking large amounts of caffeine?? Lol. I just described myself. Anyways, he’s showing up late.. After you allow him to stay late and catch up, he procrastinates some of his work because ‘heck, he can do it later, he’ll need something to make him feel productive later on after everyone leaves, he probably feels like he’s a harder worker than his peers because of this. Now he’s staying late at work, which forces him to stay up later to do all the things he normally does at night that made him late in the first place. This is completely unproductive and unhealthy.

    I’m willing to bet that if you force him to work within normal hours, his work will improve, and he will get 50% more accomplished. Of course this will take a considerable amount of energy from you, and a bit of time for him to adjust, but you, your employee, and your business will be better off.

    Btw. I’m still 5 minutes late 3 days a week. But I never stay late, and get the same results now. Punctuality will probably be my biggest weakness for quite sometime but I’m working on it.

  42. Alex*

    is this a true case? If so it is really sad for you to be so petty and value lateness so much, especially when it doesn’t affect work. I am one of those people who commute and occasionally it may take me up to 3 hours to get to work because of train issues. I really appreciate the understanding my manager shows so I do whatever I can to keep her happy! If tou did that too (show more positive attitude, empathy and understanding) maybe your employee would try more just to show appreciation! Just think about it! Empathy and compassion are good tools for a good manager

  43. Tom*

    Well there’s a guy in our place who is consistently late, 15-20 mins every day for the last 10 years.
    We do have rules saying you should be in on time and we don’t have flexi-time at all for anyone.
    However his line manager, mine too, has spoken to him several times over the years and it have never gone further than that and nothing has changed.
    The guy is now in his 30’s and I do think he will never change as no-one is prepared to follow it up and if he ever gets a job somewhere else then I think then and only then he will have to change and that will be even more difficult.
    I do think it’s rather unfair as I live further away than him and I always get in 30 mins before I start just to make sure I’m not late.

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