how to deal with a client who’s always late

A reader writes:

I run a professional services consulting business. I work from home and all of my clients are elsewhere, so our meetings are always over the phone or Skype. For the most part, I love my clients, but one of them has a chronic problem with being late or simply blowing off our scheduled meetings entirely.

This client is basically a department of one within his company, so I know he’s regularly swamped. But this isn’t something that has happened once or twice; almost every other meeting, he’s either running 20-30 minutes late or he doesn’t show without letting me know he’s tied up.

We meet once a week and I hold an hour time slot for it, so I’ve usually worked my schedule around being free during that hour and have to shuffle the rest of my day around to accommodate him. Also, we meet at the same time on the same day each week; it’s not as if he could be forgetting we had something scheduled! Finally, and most annoying, he often requests last-minute meetings for “urgent” matters, which I move things around to accommodate, and then sometimes he doesn’t show for those, either. Grr!

Other than this late/no-show issue, this is an awesome client who I truly enjoy working with. It’s not an account I want to ditch. Also, this client is on a retainer, so I get paid the same whether we meet or not, but meeting regularly is critical to our workflow. Should I bring it up, and if so, how do I do it tactfully? Or, is this one of those quirks I just have to deal with for a client who’s otherwise great and pays on time each month?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 85 comments… read them below }

  1. Falling Diphthong*

    I really appreciated this detail:
    Sometimes people who blow off appointments convince themselves that the other person doesn’t really care, or even that the person will be happy to have some time freed up for other things.

    Because when blowing off appointments has come up in past threads, there are absolutely people who view it as “great, a chance to catch up on other things.” Sometimes the person you’re meeting with is going to spend the next three hours doing something that’s easily interrupted when you call, and you know that, and being “late” is no big deal. But when you paste that assumption onto everyone with whom you have a meeting scheduled in any context, you’re probably wrong some-to-all of the time.

    1. jm*

      ooh, i am very much the opposite. it takes all the planets aligning to get me in the zone and once i’m interrupted, said planets scatter like billiard balls. so when i’m expecting an appointment, i tend to hunker down and wait, only interspersed by 1 or 2 tasks i know would only take a minute.

      1. starfox*

        Same… I can’t get ANYTHING done if I know that someone can pop onto a Zoom meeting at any time. I can be like “ooh power through until my meeting at 1:00” and it’s really effective. But if it’s after 1:00 and the other person hasn’t shown up yet, there’s no way I could continue with my productivity because I would just be so anxious that the other person would interrupt right when I’m in the “zone.”

    2. bamcheeks*

      I absolutely do triage for “how important is this meeting and how inconvenienced will they be if I’m late”, and it’s really useful information for me if someone is holding a space for me and will be significantly inconvenienced if I’m late.

      There’s always this thing about, “oh, you can on time for things you CARE about! You’re not late for a job interview! You’ve not late when you’re meeting someone from the c-suite!” Yep, but I also literally don’t try to get anything else done for three hours before a job interview. For a meeting with a senior manager several layers above me, it’s half an hour beforehand. I can’t have everything at that level of priority: I wouldn’t get anything else done. What I *can* do is move someone into the “don’t start anything in the 5-10 minutes beforehand” category if I know that they’ll be particularly inconvenienced by me being late.

      But my favourite and least-stressful people will always be people who are 15 minutes late themselves.

    3. tangerineRose*

      There are some meetings I’m happy to miss, some I don’t mind, and a few where it’s actually very inconvenient.

  2. Tinkerbell*

    Does this client know that you’re holding time for him? It seems like an obvious question, but I can envision a scenario where he tells himself you’re doing flexible work all day so it doesn’t really matter when he shows up…

    1. Spero*

      I think this can only be answered if the OP holds firm on the end time – regardless of when he shows up it ends on time, if he blows off it isn’t rescheduled. OP could even add a ‘cancel fee’ to the retainer – ex retainer is $300, but it’s an additional $20 per meeting late/cancelled with less than 24 hrs notice. So some months it’s $300, some it’s $400 if every meeting was late/cancelled.

      1. Cmdrshpard*

        I agree holding firm is a good idea. I think also OP could try to confirm the appointment the morning of or 1/2 hours before the meeting.

        “Please confirm you will attend today’s meeting by x time. If I don’t hear from you by x time I will assume you can’t make it and move on.”

        OP then needs to hold firm to that. Even if they don’t have any other “pressing” work OP needs to be “busy.”

        Sorry i already moved on or scheduled another meeting.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          As long as OP goes with Allison’s suggestion first of trying to work with the client to try to positively fix the issue first this could work if the issue continues. I would not recommend this to OP as a first line of action simply because it is kind of combative given that they have been pretty accommodating up until now.

          If OP does work with the client on setting up new expectations and they are still being flaky, though, I do think this is a good option. You set the time agreed upon, OP tried to confirm, after that window you are not available.

    2. nonprofit writer*

      Any client who thinks freelancers have endless flexibility needs to be gently informed otherwise. As a freelancer, I’m my own boss, technically, but I am juggling deadlines for multiple clients, and I have to triage projects constantly. Plus I have some personal obligations during business hours. So yes, I’m flexible in some sense, particularly since I don’t work traditional hours, but if someone is expecting me to jump on an unplanned or rescheduled call last minute when I’m going to be driving my kid to an activity, it’s not going to happen.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Ah yes. When a client calls to tell me X important document will be landing on my desk for my urgent attention on Tuesday, all I know is that I won’t get it on the Tuesday. It’ll be Wednesday at the earliest. They usually go on to tell me that they’ll need me to finish by Friday. At that point I tell them that if their description of the document size is accurate, I’ll need it by say Thursday morning, to deliver Friday EOB.
        On Thursday afternoon, they’ll call to say it’s on its way. I’ll tell them that I can only meet their deadline if the document is shorter than what they said. It finally arrives at 5pm on the Thursday and I see that I can’t get it done by Friday EOB. I might just tell them I can do it for an urgent fee, since I’d have to work much later into the evening, basically it’s almost a whole day’s work, which I’d have done happily had it arrived by 10.30am.
        Cue the shocked Pikachu face and suddenly Monday morning is fine by them. Er yes, but you’ve only lengthened the deadline by the weekend, if I have to work on the weekend I’ll still bill the emergency rate.
        While I work all sorts of weird hours by choice, I only accept deadlines that would allow me to work normal hours. I’m not letting them know when exactly I do the work, it’s none of their business. If they realise I work weird hours they’ll start setting deadlines that will require me to work weird hours, which I only want to do by choice not because a client wants me to. They want me to work until midnight, they jolly well pay for the privilege.

      2. TiredAmoeba*

        Everytime I see someone who wants to be their own boss so they can do work on their own time and at their own convenience I make that Steve Carrell cringe face.

  3. Three Flowers*

    FWIW, I serve people within my organization as if they were clients. One of them did this a lot earlier this year. I recently learned their partner died of cancer this summer and they are now a single parent (after caring for children, partner, and the essentials of their job for the better part of the past year). Sometimes there’s something going on they can’t or really don’t want to disclose.

    1. Clobberin' Time*

      Sometimes the person who is being kept waiting is also a single parent who is trying to juggle childcare and job essentials, and really can’t afford to keep moving their calendar around.

      Whether or not they can’t or don’t want to disclose what’s going on, they have options other than repeatedly being late with no explanation or attempt to reschedule.

      1. AbruptPenguin*

        This. I have a client-facing role that requires a lot of internal collaboration, and I also try to keep a service mindset towards my colleagues. It makes my job easier and more satisfying. But, I deserve basic respect from clients and colleagues alike. Repeatedly showing up 20-30 minutes late, blowing off meetings, scheduling urgent meetings and then blowing those off (!!!) is not behavior anyone should have to accept in the workplace, whether from a colleague or a paying client. Maybe there’s a good reason, maybe not. LW has standing to say it’s not working for them, and they need to work out a new arrangement if the client can’t commit to attending scheduled meetings.

        (Of course there are limited exceptions where the other person is engaged in high-stakes work and has true emergencies come up a lot. Like, an ER doctor. But in a typical office-type job, I wouldn’t give this a pass over and over again just because someone is busy.)

      2. Antilles*

        You don’t need to say why you’re going to be late or miss the meeting entirely. But it’s just common courtesy to take the 30 seconds to shoot a quick email/text of “hey, going to be late” or “can’t make tomorrow’s meeting” rather than keeping people waiting.

    2. Mephyle*

      It’s also possible that the thing taking the client’s attention away from showing up on time from the meetings isn’t personal, but part of his job. I was thinking as I read the description, perhaps this client’s one-man department is the fire-fighter of his company, and putting out (metaphorical) fires has priority over his liaising with OP. Maybe they’re short-sighted to think so, maybe not – it depends on what impact an unattended fire would have in their business. If this is the case, though, it’s possible that the “let’s solve this together” approach could come up with a solution.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        That might be true but how hard would it be to take 1 minute to shoot an email off saying he was going to e late or has to reschedule?

        1. Mephyle*

          Too hard for him, evidently! Also, if he is perpetually late for meetings, and not in control of his time, a quick email just before 90% of the meetings saying he’ll be late (and in my hypothetical scenario, he doesn’t know how long he’ll be delayed, so he can’t say), isn’t going to be all that much more helpful than the status quo.

  4. Stealing Time*

    The paywall blocked me so I don’t know if Alison mentioned this or not: if the meeting starts at 10:30, tell him it starts at 10 so he’ll be there on time. (Pot, kettle– I am really bad about showing up late for things myself and have been trying to get better about it.)

    1. lost academic*

      That doesn’t always work so well – if it’s a consistently late person, perhaps, but it also means blocking off time beforehand in case they are early. This is time that can’t be spent in meetings with other clients and might not be able to be spent billably elsewhere, which is one of the bigger financial reasons it’s a problem. It’s convenient that they are on a retainer, but that only goes so far as OP mentions, so this is more of a time to open a dialogue about what they think will work best. At the end of the day, though – if all the money is green, charge them for the wasted time and continue to accommodate.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        I was working part-time hourly for a large company and tried to keep all my meetings in the morning so I could use my afternoons for volunteering outside of the house and other projects. But sometimes, people were available only in the afternoon. After a few times of scheduling those afternoon meetings only to have them cancel at the last minute, I decided that I was going to charge that time to the company anyhow.

    2. quill*

      That works best when you understand the source of the lateness: otherwise you risk them being on time (for once) after you’ve started the practice.

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      No! That’s terrible advice.

      Cause if they “show up on time,” they’re early and you’re not ready for the meeting.

      1. Stealing Time*

        Keep a window open and get admin stuff done until they show up? I don’t know, that’s why I read advice columns instead of write them.

        1. Antilles*

          Sure, OP should do that (if they aren’t already). But unfortunately, there’s a real limit to what you can productively do when you need to be ready to stop at any time.

    4. A Yellow Plastic Duck*

      Tell him it starts at 10:27.

      Some people interpret 10:30 as ten thirtyish.

      There’s something about odd times that breaks that habit.

      You can also time box the meeting. Tell them you have them scheduled from 10:30 to 11:00 and that you have to end the meeting promptly at 11:00. Then do it.

    5. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      This works when you’re meeting a friend at a coffee shop, but it is not a professional solution.

    6. Lenora Rose*

      I know someone so chronically late his fiancee finally insisted on telling him a wedding rehearsal (not their wedding; she was a bridesmaid) was an hour earlier than it really was.

      The only thing this led to was us other bridesmaids having to sit awkwardly in our own room later listening to the screaming fight.

      No, don’t do this.

    1. Cait*

      Yeah, I’m not sure I 100% agree with Alison about not scolding him. Obviously you shouldn’t make him feel like a petulant child but I think it’s absolutely fine for him to be embarrassed about his behavior. Consistently keeping people waiting, blowing them off, and/or requesting last minute meetings you don’t even show up to is blatantly rude, no ifs ands or buts. I’m all for the OP taking a very stern approach and saying something like, “Geraldo, it’s become a pattern with our weekly meetings that you show up very late or not at all. I’m often kept waiting and am losing time that could be spent with other clients. I wouldn’t mind waiting a few minutes if you gave me a heads up but you don’t. From now on, can you please make sure you show up on time or at least let me know if you’re going to be delayed. Here on out, if I have to wait more than 15 minutes and don’t hear from you I’m going to have to sign off and see if I can catch you the following week. I’m also afraid I can’t make anymore last minute emergency appointments with you since I often find myself rearranging my calendar only for you to do the same thing. I’m not saying this to shame you, I only want to make sure you understand that my time is valuable and I’d like you to respect that.”

      1. Anon all day*

        But here’s the thing – OP otherwise wants to keep this person as a client, and sometimes that means grinning and bearing it. There is a nom-zero (and probably decent) chance to that if OP were to make that speech to their client, the client would be pretty put off by it and possibly stop working with OP. If OP is okay with that consequence, fine, but I think it’s dangerous to suggest this to OP without saying it could piss the person off.

        1. Cait*

          If the OP calculates the amount of her time this client has wasted it may make sense to let him get mad and leave. Unless OP can charge him extra for wasted time or he’s basically bankrolling the whole operation, I don’t think it ever benefits someone to put up with terrible behavior to avoid a fuss.

          1. Cmdrshpard*

            But it is not just a kid a fuss OP is getting paid. OP already said they don’t want to lose the client. Presumably OP already calculated the cost/inconvenience ratio and concluded it is worth it putting up with the bad behavior, but would be better to stop.

      2. Cassandra*

        Obviously you shouldn’t make him feel like a petulant child but I think it’s absolutely fine for him to be embarrassed about his behavior. Consistently keeping people waiting, blowing them off, and/or requesting last minute meetings you don’t even show up to is blatantly rude, no ifs ands or buts.

        You can say “no ifs, ands, or buts” all you like, but the client is the one paying the bills. If a professional service firm starts lecturing me, I’ll gladly find another one to replace it.

        1. Cait*

          Regardless, I refuse to believe that one should excuse inexcusable behavior no matter who it is. OP may not want to lose the client but, if she isn’t willing to (diplomatically) point out his bad behavior, there’s no use complaining about it. Personally, I think people who believe their status should allow them to walk all over everyone deserve a rude awakening. The world would be a better place.

      3. coffee*

        I had a similar situation with a coworker who never showed up to meetings, and I used Alison’s advice to ask “Hey, I’ve noticed this pattern, how can we arrange things differently so we can get things done” in a non-judgemental tone. (And I genuinely meant it, too. No judgement, I just wanted to get things done.)

        Even without scolding, they were still embarrassed.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          My partner is habitually late to everything except what’s important to him. For some meetings he literally waits until the other person calls to see why he hasn’t turned up, apologises for being late and tells them when he’ll get there. That person then waits for him while he finishes his coffee and heads off to the office (a good half-hour journey).
          I just don’t bother waiting for him any more, I’ll head off to see our friends on my own and he’ll arrive when he arrives and in the meantime at least I’m having fun hanging out with my friends.
          He has zero shame or embarrassment about this. I’ve been more embarrassed that him, except I’ve now decided not to care, it’s like we’re not even a couple, I’m not taking any responsibility for him.

          1. AbruptPenguin*

            Is this a power play of some sort? It’s one thing to chronically run late because you’re bad at time management; it’s another thing entirely to expect people to track you down for scheduled meetings and then finish your coffee before starting a 30-minute drive when you’re already late. Regardless, I applaud you for dropping the rope!

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      I always saw people say that being late meant people don’t respect your time and I felt like “I don’t know, my MIL is always late and she is like the nicest person I know.”

      Then this past weekend she showed up in town and was like “Hey, we’re unexpectedly in town, would love to see you if you’re available” and for the first time we responded to such a message with “Actually we really are not available this weekend, sorry.” And then she sent my husband this rambly guilt-ridden message that was like “I can’t believe you won’t see me when I’m being so flexible as to be willing to fit anywhere into your busy schedule” so now I’m like “Oh, everyone was right all along, she has literally no respect for our time whatsoever.

  5. Butterfly Counter*

    From the comments on here of people who are chronically late (usually thinking they can do just one more thing in the 5 minutes before the meeting), I don’t know if Allison’s advice here of stressing how important these meeting times are will work. The client knows, they just are busy and if it’s a choice to take the 5 minutes to do nothing but set up for the phone meeting or try and get something else done, they’re going to choose the latter every time unless they really reorganize their whole thinking and attitude.

    Probably, the best thing would be to have the meeting the first thing he does that day. What time does he start his day? Take that time for the meeting. Don’t let him have the option of trying to fit something in before since it’s the first thing he needs to do that day.

    1. NeutralJanet*

      That might be true in some cases, but given that this client often doesn’t show up for meetings at all, it doesn’t seem like the issue here is different time management styles—if you miss more than one meeting without sending any type of message saying that you won’t be coming, I feel like that’s not an issue of being chronically late, it’s an issue of not thinking that the meeting has a real start and stop time.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Hmm, as a former chronically late person I think “first thing in the day” might possibly the worst time of all. It supposes that he starts his day on time, but mornings are a series of spectacular hurdles for late people. Also, since he works in a “department of one” there may not be eyes on him, or even any pressure to be on time. I would guess that he probably starts his day late, spends all day doing catch up and then having urgent stuff pop up periodically that has to be done right now, because of that.(There’s an ADHD blogger who calls it the panic monster who arrives to get things done, which is pretty much dead on). I would say there’s only really three choices: 1) Become a better panic monster (if you’re not on time there are consequences, or disapproval), but this is unlikely to work with someone who has so many panic monsters that he’s cancelling the urgent work of one PM to deal with another, 2) Don’t schedule actual time for this guy. Give him a time frame in which to call you when you’re doing more flexible work, possibly for shorter catch ups, 3) Be flexible and charge him a PITA fee on top of the regular fee. It may be worth having an overall conversation about the missed meetings and asking him about what approaches would work for him; something along the lines of “I appreciate you’re busy and doing lots of firefighting, but this is problematic for me”, because he may well be fine with your suggestion; he is getting in on time in the mornings and it’s just general organisation of his day that’s failing. Equally though, he may not have much insight! One of the reasons people haven’t solved their chronic lateness is because they think “I should just be able to do this, and tomorrow I will” instead of discussing strategies and approaches with themselves.

  6. Aggretsuko*

    If he’s chronically late the same amount of time every time, this sounds like a “tell him we meet at 9 but I’m not going to be there until 9:30” sort of situation.

    Unfortunately, the amount of time this guy flakes on you entirely is really bad and I don’t know how to work around that one.

    1. Cait*

      While the “Tell them 9 when it’s actually 9:30” theoretically sounds like a fix, it doesn’t address the real issue. The real issue is that this guy is rude and doesn’t respect other peoples’ time. The best approach would be to call him on his bad behavior, establish consequences for that bad behavior (“I’m signing off after waiting 15 minutes”, “No more last minute meetings”, “You need to give me a heads up when you’re running late”, etc.), and follow through. Just because he’s a client and a nice guy shouldn’t mean he gets to waste your time.

      1. ferrina*

        This isn’t a fix for a client. If you tell a client it starts at 9, you need to be ready at 9. If they get there at 9 and you’re not there, you can’t say “Oh, you’re always late, so I lied about the start time.” Do Not Lie To Clients. . There is no faster way to lose their respect and their business.

  7. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    I think naming the problem is big, but I also think if it’s an over-arching issue you’re having in working for his company, perhaps there needs to be something in your contract that dis-incentivizes him from behaving this way. Perhaps it’s that if the project goes past the originally agreed deadline, you get an increase in your hourly rate for each week that it does so, or perhaps it’s a “last-minute cancellation” fee or a reschedule fee. Something that may prompt him to be more responsible with your time and also make it a bit more worth your while to deal with his scheduling issues.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Hahaha, I love this idea of charging the guy for your wasted time. A late-or-flake fee.

  8. Weaponized Pumpkin*

    I love how Alison is so good with the “let’s solve a problem” scripts, those are great. But definitely stop accommodating. He shows up 30 minutes late? OK, it’s a half hour meeting. He cancels? We’ll catch up next week. Right now you are the one absorbing all the inconvenience and while the consultant typically does take on more than the client this is likely making things worse.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Yup – return inconvenience back to sender. There are some things I’m less willing to be late for (like getting on a plane) because I know that if I miss it, then tough luck, the plane’s not going to wait for me.

    2. Tirving*

      I would normally suggest the same thing, but the OP indicated that they need this weekly meeting to complete the work they do with this company.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        I get that, but right now there is literally no downside to the client for their flakiness and that dynamic has to be changed somehow!

        Personally, I’ve solved this by putting terms in my consulting agreements that if the client creates delays by not meeting the schedule we’ve laid out for meetings/reviews/approvals that triggers extra time & money. They have to share some of the consequences of things getting off-track.

        1. ferrina*

          Totally agree- Extra time and money is key. Extra time seems obvious- if you can’t get X done until you hear from them and they won’t respond, and Y can’t get done until X is done, well, Y is going to be pushed back (I work in an industry where this rampant, and I am the Queen of Deadlines Will Be Adjusted To Reflect Client Delays. Saves my team sanity and the clients start answering my emails.)

          Add money as well. If they are costing your team hours in meetings that they don’t go to, start billing those missed meetings against their estimated hours (your contract should include an estimated hours for the project). Explain that because you aren’t able to book that time for other work, you will need to bill the hour against their project unless they cancel 24 hours in advance. Let them know how the aggregate hours impact their project. “At this point, we’ve billed 10 hours against your project due to missed meetings. We’d love to avoid this happening- how can we make sure that these meetings happen?”
          (note that some clients are important enough that you can’t do this. You need their business, and an hour a week is an acceptable investment in keeping this business.

          1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

            One of the better pieces of advice I was given was not to care more about the success of a project than the client. I’ll hustle for them and knock it out, but if they don’t hold up their end then I’m not responsible for scrambling to make it happen without them! And if I’m blamed anyway, peace out.

            It’s hard. I do often feel overly responsible — I have to get this done and they’re not giving me what I need to meet this deadline omg! But setting expectations and holding boundaries works better in the long run than endlessly accommodating or eating overages.

            1. Cassandra*

              One of the better pieces of advice I was given was not to care more about the success of a project than the client.

              That ‘tude will serve you really well at MBB or a bulge bracket bank

      2. Nesprin*

        I mean… there’s the consequence- if he no shows to an essential meeting one week, the project deadline gets pushed out a week.

  9. Hell in a Handbasket*

    I would stop scrambling to adapt to the client being late or not showing. End the meeting when it’s scheduled to end (even if it’s 5 minutes after he’s joined) and politely offer alternatives to reschedule that work for YOUR schedule. In the short term this may be more hassle, but it might retrain him to have more respect for your time. At the moment, the system of showing up when he feels like it and having you rearrange everything to accommodate him is working fine for him.

  10. BEC*

    I agree with naming the issue and describing the impact. It makes being late/rescheduling a higher-stakes action.

    When I worked in my former ridiculously-paced job, it was very normal to have meetings that were stacked three deep, and each day I’d have to reschedule multiple things. I always re-evaluated which one was the higher priority, and included in my calculation which one would be a bigger pain in the ass to skip/change.

    If there were never any consequences (not saying punishment, just natural outcomes) for missing a meeting, I’d definitely put OP’s meeting in the ‘flexible, can reschedule at my convenience’ category in my mind, and therefore every time a meeting ran late or I had a conflict or I just needed some breathing room, I’d put her at the bottom of the list (I mean, *I* wouldn’t, that’s disrespectful to people, but the reasoning still stands).

    The client may not even know it’s a big deal since she’s never explained that it is having a negative impact. He *should* know, and should care, but assuming he isn’t a total ass, he isn’t acting as if he knows.

  11. Smithy*

    For people who are consistently late and where you’re trying to start setting boundaries (but not super firm ones), I actually recommend setting a start time at say 9:30am and discuss meeting for an hour (so end time of 10:30am), but then mention that you have a hard stop at 11am or 11:30am (depending on how late/how accommodating you want to be).

    This way you build in a more concrete amount of flex time into your schedule, but don’t leave things hanging endlessly.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      If someone was doing this to me, I’d be available to meet with them for the time we had blocked, and no matter what time they arrived I’d end the meeting at the scheduled time. “I have a hard stop at [scheduled end time].”

      Also I’d start pushing back on the last minute “urgent” meetings (some of which he misses). If I don’t have room in my schedule, I’d tell him “I’m book up today, but we can discuss in our regularly scheduled meeting.” I wonder if there would be urgent meetings, if the client regularly attended his weekly standing meetings.

      1. Smithy*

        I do understand that this approach isn’t a hard boundary, therefore I do offer it for situations where the power balance isn’t 50/50 or if someone isn’t looking to begin to enforce boundaries more softly when they haven’t in the past.

  12. irene adler*

    Given OP is paid whether or not meeting occurs or starts late, maybe client feels that it doesn’t matter if he shows or not. IOW: “Hey OP, you’re getting paid, so what’s the problem?”

    Somehow client has to recognize that even though OP is paid, the no-shows, the late-shows and the impromptu meetings are a genuine pain for the OP. Would the client take things more seriously if they knew OP would not get paid because of no-shows and the like? No, not suggesting actually jeopardizing the OP’s income. But if client knew OP would not get paid -or suffered some other hardship- if meetings don’t take place at the scheduled times- would he be concerned enough to prioritize them?

  13. Curmudgeon in California*

    sigh I work with someone like this. He regularly is either late for meetings or doesn’t show at all because he’s “busy”. It’s annoying.

    What’s worse is that I could probably do his job – we’ve been in the field about the same amount of time – but he is horrible at delegating and handing off work. He’s even about my same age. It’s like he has “indispensable man” syndrome. You have to ask him multiple times for basic access to do tasks he’s already said he doesn’t have time or desire to do.

    But I’m a “Teapot Designer” and he’s the “Teapot Architect”. I keep trying to pick his brain because I’m afraid he’s going to burn out and have a heart attack because of his poor time management skills and perpetual fire-fighting mode. He says he’s trying to offload stuff, not take more on, but his offloading chops are a bit lacking.

  14. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    I wonder if this person is time blind. If that’s the case, doing the meeting first thing and having the OP call the client rather than have client call or both dial into a conference bridge.

  15. Maud*

    Oh I work with someone that does this and I stopped accommodating them by reducing the time available once they eventually arrived or one time, turning them away when they actually arrived after the designated meeting time ended. They seemed shocked and I have noticed improvement since with me BUT they still do this with virtually everyone else. It is very frustrating and yes, seems very disrespectful of others time.

  16. higeredadmin*

    My first job was at a very large professional services firm, and the policy was that you should treat internal meetings the same way you treated external meetings (e.g. get there early – it was a proscribed 15 minutes for external meetings – be prepared, only move meetings in case of emergency, have an agenda etc.) I clearly remember internal meetings where someone would arrive right at the start time and be scolded in front of everyone for being late. So two things – first, his company could have a culture of everyone being late and moving meetings around, which might be causing the chaos with your meeting schedule; and if this is his office culture then he won’t think twice about moving your meetings around or skipping them. It was a HUGE shock for me to move to a different office environment where people were much less diligent about internal meetings.

  17. Rain's Small Hands*

    I’d recommend a standing meeting for a time that is habitual – i.e. always 8:30 on Tuesdays after he sits down at his desk and gets his coffee. (8:00 is a no go, he’ll be late. And Monday’s he will forget.) Always right after his one on one with his boss or his weekly team meeting (he will likely make it to those). And if its just the two of you, rather than a conference bridge, call him. So you aren’t waiting for him to dial in. Never the slot after lunch (its too easy to forget you had a meeting right after lunch and leave late for lunch and miss your meeting – or end up taking too long if you run out and run some errands.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      I like these ideas.

      Also, depending on the culture in the client’s workplace, is there any benefit to tracking him down when he’s a no show? Like 5 minutes late, you call his office. 10 minutes late, you call the main number at his workplace or someone else in the department and say you’re trying to find him for a scheduled meeting, do they know where he is? a) you might get info that lets you know he’s not going to make the meeting at all (he’s not in today, he’s at an offsite with management, etc) and b) it makes his blowing you off visible to others in the company in a way that he might seek to avoid by showing up on time in the future.

      It obviously depends on the nature of the client and their workplace. If the whole place is laid back about time, it may not have any impact. But if he’s an outlier, having his lackadaisical approach to your time and the project may incentivize him to stay in the boundaries more when he can.

      Also, the idea of keeping a fixed end time to scheduled meetings, no matter when he shows and being less responsive to “urgent” meeting requests are a good idea, especially if you can include adjustments for ‘client caused’ project deliverable delays in your agreements.

      1. Cassandra*

        b) it makes his blowing you off visible to others in the company in a way that he might seek to avoid by showing up on time in the future.

        Engineering some conflict between the company representative and his boss is really going to serve a professional services firm well when pitching for future business

  18. North Wind*

    This situation would be unbearably on my last nerve. I have ended relationships with clients for this very thing, but I can see wanting to find a solution when everything else about the client/project is good.

    Would your client be more responsive to other methods of communication? Sometimes when it’s difficult to find a time to meet, but I need 6-7 points of feedback/questions answered, I’ll open a Zoom meeting with just me in it, share my screen, hit record, and go through the documents/data/reports explaining the issues and asking the questions. I send the video and list of questions to be answered via email, and the client can answer directly in the email while they watch the video. I *try* to make the video as short and succinct as possible.

    I don’t know if your client would ever actually watch the video and respond :), but maybe this asynchronous type of “meeting”/communication would somehow be easier for them?

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      That’s really interesting! I can spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to turn quick questions into email, and I could speak them much more effectively.

      1. North Wind*

        Yes! And sometimes you really need to be able to point to a document/software screen/spreadsheet as you talk through the issue.

  19. Abogado Avocado*

    My work life began 40 years ago in a place where, culturally, it was considered bad manners to be on time and being 15-20 minutes late was considered polite. At first, I was like the writer — unhappy that I was on time and the other party wasn’t. And then I learned to tell the other person the meeting was at xx, but I’d put it on my calendar as 15 minutes later. We’d end up at the meeting point together without a lot of waiting on my side. Did a world of good for my mood, and honored the cultural difference. Viola!

    1. ABCYaBye*

      I think that works perfectly … except that this client is not consistent with their tardiness, and sometimes doesn’t even show up. In college, my group of friends had one member who had their own timeline for everything. We adjusted accordingly and were never upset. But that friend did show up. This client is so irregular with timing it makes it impossible for the LW to make the calculation like you did.

  20. ABCYaBye*

    I think part of the challenge is that the client is a one-person department, so it isn’t like you can work around them to get information from co-workers.

    OP, you need to address it with the client like Alison pointed out, and then I’d suggest you let them know that you’re going to be (at the earliest possible point within your contractual relationship) adjusting your billing. They may not care about wasting your time since “you’re being paid for it” in their mind. They don’t recognize the impact it has on you. I’d strongly suggest a no-show fee, and perhaps double that fee for meetings outside of your standing meetings. While they may be a department of one, when the finance department sees that what they owe you has doubled in a month because the client no-showed you four times, there will be are much greater chance that the no-shows become a thing of the past.

  21. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    I giggled to myself when I saw the first couple of lines of this letter and said “You can definitely tell this is an old letter that’s being updated!” when the OP said that the meetings occur over Skype. It’s insane how fast things change, but Skype is mostly obsolete now. Which kinda stinks because saying “Just Skype me and we’ll get it sorted” sounds so much better than “Teams me and we’ll talk”.

    1. Cassandra*

      More like “teams me and we won’t talk” because of the phalanx of security hassles you have to jump through to join a call on Teams

  22. Raida*

    I’m wondering if this one-man-department would be a thousand times better with his calendar if he had an admin – someone to filter requests on his time through, someone to help triage the communications, someone to update the calendar, and someone to communicate with meeting attendees that he’ll be late or unavailable the moment that is know.
    And to be the one that gets him to go to the meeting!

    Sometimes people just suck with time management, getting pulled in multiple directions, managing their calendars – I had a boss who’d be painfully late for appointments at peoples’ homes until I started interrupting conversations with customers to say “Richard you need to leave in five minutes to get to the High School”, telling him “No, no. You don’t come back inside, you’re going to Mr Martens’ place. Go on”, or I’d call the customer to confirm the time in the morning and while it was ringing hand him the phone. Damn that dude was hard to keep on track! And even though he sucked at it, he’d have four or five things in the book some days – we had to change it to two, one morning and one afternoon block of time and *provided he went to all of them* our customers wouldn’t have a long wait into the future for him to attend so limiting the slots *shouldn’t* cause an issue.

    All this to say, you should have a conversation with him. Find out if he just doesn’t finish meetings on time, schedules too much, schedules long meetings when a short one will do, doesn’t have blocks of time in the day when he’s available for people to just pick his brain, doesn’t see missing calendar appointments as an issue, doesn’t know it was rude to ask for time urgently and not turn up, doesn’t generally tell people he’ll be late because it’s fine…
    You can’t fix where he works, but you can work on having a good 1:1 communication style with him that works for both of you. Look for what is important to him and tie that to the meetings, and be honest about the waste of your productivity in the day when he is late or doesn’t arrive. Especially if it was an urgent request! Hell, offer to charge him for ‘urgent’ if he doesn’t turn up, that might make it clear

  23. Mik*

    The client may potentially have (possibly undiagnosed) ADHD. If so, they have a disability that may prevent them from finding reliable solutions, here. If this is the case, you need to consider whether you are willing to accommodate his disability. However, it shouldn’t negatively impact your business.

    To start with, as @Spero said, the OP needs to “hold firm on the end time – regardless of when he shows up it ends on time, if he blows off it isn’t rescheduled.” Be fastidious about not rearranging your schedule without appropriate compensation. If he then “needs” another meeting, cost it as an extra body of work.

    Perhaps something like:
    “To allow me to better manage my caseload in order to continue providing quality service to my clients, I’m updating my business model to include the following surcharges and administration fees:
    – Appointment cancellations with less than 24 hours notice … $x
    – Appointments that run over time due to client delays … $x
    – Contract extensions due to client delays … $x
    – Contract variations to cover extra work … $x
    – Expedite additional work (work falling within existing contracts, but with non-standard timeframes) … $x”

    And make the fees high enough that you’re not disappointed when he’s late.
    (Note that you may legally need a Cancellation Policy, to update your Terms & Conditions, or to include these in future contracts/retainers.)

    You could also trial a system that automatically sends calendar invites and reminders for all appointments. Or, as Alison said, try asynchronous communication (like @North Wind’s suggestion to record a video and email questions).

    If they do have ADHD, they are likely very aware of their inability to be punctual, and pressuring them (or berating them) will not remove their disability, but will potentially unhelpfully trigger shame and systemic-trauma. (Especially as ‘rejection sensitive dysphoria’ is very common in ADHD.)

  24. Lenora Rose*

    I worked for someone like this. Literally the only thing I saw him on time for was his own wedding (the usually more on-the-ball bride was 45 minutes late instead, and they were both an hour and a half late for the reception dinner…). And yes, when you’re the business owner, being 15-30 minutes late for every meeting is usually your privilege because who can really stop you, but this included meetings with people who had flown in from Italy (to Canada) to see him.

    I can run chronically late if I’m not careful, but in the order of 2-5 minutes, and I generally try not to be for meetings or appointments. And I understand hard stops.

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