how can I get our employees to arrive on time?

A reader writes:

My organization operates in a very traditional office setting: business professional dress code, strict lunch hours, and a strict 9-5 day. In theory, this is for efficiency and to allow employees to feel more separation between their work and personal life. However, new staff tend to struggle with it when they first arrive since many other places they have worked for are more flexible about arrival times, making up time, PTO, etc.

We tend to go through a cycle: an email reminder that we work 9-5 so please be here ready to work by 9 a.m. goes out, it helps for about a month, and then folks begin to slide back into being 5, 10, 15 minutes late. For example, two weeks ago I addressed this problem in person and asked staff to plan their commutes accordingly. This morning, two-thirds of the staff were missing when work started at 9 a.m.

On the one hand, commuting in our area can be unpredictable; traffic, mass transit, and weather all play their part in turning a typical 30-minute commute into an hour and a half battle. On the other hand, the people who are late are chronically late, and always for the same reasons (subway, traffic, weather). Among senior management there’s now a discussion about setting up a new system to punish people for being late.

I do not want to go down that route. We’ve had some staffing issues recently and I know that our inflexible office policies are directly related to people leaving. What alternatives can we consider that will both enforce our policy but not punish the staff, especially when other members of senior management can’t seem to follow the policy themselves?

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.

{ 343 comments… read them below }

  1. Nesprin*

    I mean, you said it yourself- rigid policies are causing staffing issues and you can either double down and accept that you’ll have turnover or relax your policies and hold onto otherwise good staff.

    1. Melicious*

      Dang. Gather numbers about people leaving at least in part over this! If I can get the same work done 9:30-5:30 as I can 9-5, I’m being disciplined every time the traffic is bad, AND senior management can roll in late? Yeah, that’s a huge morale killer.
      Depending on the nature of your work, it can actually be important that most staff overlap for the core hours of the day. Maybe make the requirement 10-4 and give people the hour either way flexibility? If anyone is abusing that flexibility, that can be handled one on one by their manager.

      1. nobadcats*

        Yeah. This is a management (as in not doing it right) problem. If I roll up at 9:05 am, I’m not late. Even in retail, not late. This is a crappy management policy.

        1. Cait*

          The fact that OP used 5 and 10 minutes late as their example just speaks to how rigid these policies are. I don’t know exactly what OP does (maybe it’s a help line or a shift change they’re referring to), so it’s possible that being 5 or 10 minutes late makes a difference. But if we’re talking an average office job where nothing hangs in the balance between 9am and 9:05am, then these policies really need to be re-thought if they don’t want to hurt morale.

    2. BongoFury*

      Chances are very, very high LW agrees with you but is stuck with upper management who thinks otherwise. Which is maybe why LW should be looking for another job too. It doesn’t seem like senior management there is forward thinking about this, which makes me wonder how they’ll handle it if LW is late one day.

  2. Chairman of the Bored*

    If the goal is “efficiency” I’d suggest that preventable employee turnover is decidedly inefficient.

    So is using a manager’s time to record who is not at their desk at the crack of 9:00:01 AM and discipline them accordingly.

    Trust your professionals to manage their own time. If they can’t, then get better professionals.

    If I worked at this company there is a 100% chance that I would ignore these policies and only be there as long as it took me to find another job.

    1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      Oddly the jobs always worried about you being five seconds late are always happy to have you stay over an hour….

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        Woof ain’t that the truth!

        Years ago I worked a job that was super insistent that everyone be at their desks by 8:30. This was a job that timeliness had literally no effect on things and there were no morning meetings. I also regularly worked late and had to work evening and weekend events instead of the people who were supposed to work those events because, and I quote: “those people are hourly and we’d have to pay them, you’re salaried so we don’t”.

        But god help me if I was ever a few minutes late, you’d think I was literally stealing from the company the way they acted.

        1. AnonToday*

          this is the way the policy is presented to salaried folks at my job. You may work *more* than 40 hours, but you may not work less, not even by a few minutes. (in reality, no one is keeping track of the exact minutes.)

        2. Miette*

          Yikes did we work in the same crappy place?

          I worked at a software company where the CEO did what we called “bed checks.” Each morning at 9:00 sharp, he’d stroll around the office to be sure everyone was in. Once, when a dev team had been in the office until 3:00am the night before to get a build out for a client, he went ape because they dared come in at 10:00am. Cue the emailed reminders from HR telling everyone when the hours were, yada, yada, yada. This and other petty BS were the reason I lasted there less than 2 years. It was ridiculous.

      2. Amber T*

        Oh man, my department head pre-covid was like this. It drove him absolutely crazy that his admin would routinely show up 9:15-9:30, but would never acknowledge that she worked well past 6pm every day. (To be clear, if there was ever a situation where she *needed* to be in earlier because of a meeting or something, she was). When he hired someone to take over managing the admins, he wanted her to stress that the work day starts at 9 and the expectation should be you’re in your seat working by then, so get here at 8:45 if you need to. She said, OK, I can either stress that their work day starts at 9 AND ends at 6, or we can remain flexible – which do you prefer? He grumbled, but it was ultimately dropped.

      3. Tiny Orchid*

        I used to work for a place that docked you vacation time if you were more than 15 minutes late, but didn’t credit you if you stayed late. So you could work from 9:17 AM to 8 PM and lose vacation time. I didn’t last there long.

        1. nobadcats*

          If you want me to work 18 hours, then schedule it. Otherwise you’re taking up my time for free. Retail work is one of the worst offenders in this.

          Thank goodness my current job respects my time and work/life balance. I actually had my direct supervisor and the AVP get on the phone with me to tell me “you are NOT to work on weekends or late nights.” I’ve been able to adhere to the no weekends, but late nights, well, I have insomnia, so I can get stuff done whilst awake. I schedule my emails late at night to go out during working hours.

      4. Laura D*

        So true. I had a (new) manager attempt to give me a warning once because I was “habitually late”. He pulled out my time card with my “late” clock-ins- 8:01, 8:02, etc.

        At the time, I was the most senior employee and was frequently staying late *doing his work* because he hadn’t bothered to learn it yet.

        He got fired a few months later.

    2. EPLawyer*

      THIS. 100% THIS.

      If people being late causes a WORK problem, like missing meetings, missed deadlines, etc, then address that. But if people being 10 or 15 minutes late is NOT causing work problems let it go. If someone is salaried, you should not be tracking their arrival and departure times that closely. If hourly, well they get paid for the hours they work.

      The reason given is for better work life balance is BS. Someone coming in at 915 and leaving at 515 is not affecting their work life balance ALL that much. In fact, it might make it easier because the commute is only 30 minutes instead of 45 by leaving 15 minutes later. In other words, the company doesn’t know what actually works as a balance for individuals. Also a fifteen minute differential really should not affect efficiency that much. And if it does, you have other problems.

      I strongly suspect this is more of a butts in seats view. If you aren’t in your seat ready to work right on the dot of 9, you are a SLACKER. Which is a pretty outdated view.

      If you have any capital to use at all – this is worth using some of it on. Or you will be stuck with high turnover because PEOPLE HAVE ALREADY TOLD YOU THIS STRICT POLICY IS WHY THEY ARE LEAVING. Believe them.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        The sheer hubris of a company thinking they have more insight into an employee’s work/life balance than the employee does really jumped off the page.

        1. Happy Peacock*

          I don’t know, it’s common in both the advice and comments here to advise curtailing people’s work to 40 hours a week or curtailing evening & weekend hours even when the person the LW is asking for advice on has said they are fine working the hours they are working.

          1. Chestnut Mare*

            I’ve only seen this if the employee in question is non-exempt, because by law they need to be paid for all hours worked.

            1. Happy Peacock*

              I’ve seen it here for exempt workers, as well, justified by saying that people will burn out if they work too long. I guess I don’t really see a difference between a manager deciding how many hours will cause burn out in an employee and a company deciding that 9-5 is the right schedule for work life balance. Both seem like hubris to me. I’m surprised that the former is commonly expressed but the latter is creating such push back.

              1. Observer*

                Three reasons.

                Firstly, the number of hours issue has a lot of evidence behind it. The schedule issue does NOT. What evidence exists firmly shows the opposite.

                Secondly, in many workplaces there is a significant pressure to work more hours even when people don’t want to, and it can be hard for employers to keep that from happening without making some rules.

                Thirdly, in some cases the issue is not the benefit of the employee but the operational efficiency or safety of the workplace. There is not much that an employer can do about what staff do when they are off work in most cases, but if you need people to be alert and making reasonably good decisions, you have a real interest in keep the job itself from destroying people’s ability to think straight.

          2. Observer*

            Except that that’s not what the OP’s company is doing. At all. They are NOT creating reasonable boundaries. They are imposing meaningless picky rules in opposition to a thing that they have been repeatedly been told is important to people.

            If you can point me to even a single data point that supports the idea that rigid start times enforced to the minute actually helps people in any real way, in a general sense (ie let’s not get into specific outliers), I’d be shocked.

            1. segue*

              How do we know the rules are “meaningless” when we don’t know the context of the work environment?

              1. Observer*

                Because the OP describes the situation and makes it pretty explicit that the schedule actually doesn’t have a sound reason.

              2. Glen*

                if it’s causing turnover problems then they are meaningless. In a role where being there and ready at 9 on the dot actually matters, people tend to understand and you won’t get people routinely quitting over it.

          3. NeedRain47*

            All of the hourly paraprofessional jobs I’ve had let you pick your own start and end time that you then stick with. Everyone must work 40 hours, but you can start anytime between 7 and 9:30.
            There are ways to have structure & rules without being unnecessarily rigid.

      2. Chirpy*

        This, I used to have a commute that was 20 minutes if I left either right at 5, or after 5:30, but if I left anytime between 5:05 and 5:30 it would nearly double.

      3. RabbitRabbit*

        Absolutely. In a previous position I was salaried but expected to swipe in and out. I frequently worked over the expected hours, but was exempt in pay. I live in a large city with a generally-solid public transit system but the train system was having some issues, and I had a few days within a few weeks’ span where I came in late but it did not affect my actual work performance. I was not late to any meetings or anything where I had to interact with people, and I did not have urgent phone calls or anything similar. I had worked in that job for a few years at that point and was very efficient and hard working.

        The department manager was annoyed at this, and essentially told me that if a train line (that literally had around a million trips per month on it and typically is known for being brutally on-time) was having a cluster of unpredictable problems/delays making me late to a job where that didn’t really matter to the functioning of my job, then maybe I should be getting up earlier and taking an earlier train to come in and make sure that didn’t happen. Even though the earlier you start taking trains, the more likely you are to have to be on the train for longer because the express trains don’t run as frequently.

        She completely broke any respect I had for her at that moment.

      4. Bee*

        My work-life balance is greatly benefited by a little bit of slack in dragging myself out of bed in the morning, tbh.

      5. Giving Up*

        I work in an office with very similar policies (but a much more relaxed dress code). The thing is that there are exempt people who are late every day and then are shutting down computers at 4:59 and out the door at 5:00 every day and NEVER stay late. Now on top of that, what’s supposed to be a 30 minute lunch has turned into a 45 minute lunch for those people. As the office manager, I’m supposed to care, but morale is kinda shot across the board so I’m waiting for the higher-ups to say something.

        1. LIZZIE*

          Oh that was my former boss to a T. She came in when she pleased, left when she pleased, regularly did ALL her personal stuff at lunch, but taking anywhere from an hour to three! I’m also exempt, and while I like the flexibility to occasionally come in late, or leave early, or take a slightly longer lunch, I do not abuse it, and try not to do it all that often. I had no, and still have no respect for her. the only difference is, I don’t report to her anymore, so I have no clue what she’s doing now.

        2. Spero*

          This is exactly how my current job is. Our CEO is obsessed with our timeliness and insists on being personally informed any time staff is out of office (even leaving office for lunch). And yet…we see her maybe 20 hours a week max, she is never here at 9 and has not been here past 4 to my recollection in six years. Any clue why the ones of us who do work 40 hrs a week feel nitpicked over whether our lunchtime walgreens run took 5 min over what we expected? Half the time we can’t even find her to ‘sign out’ because she’s not in the office, but if she returns before you you’re the one in trouble.

      6. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Indeed – to guarantee they’d arrive by 9:00am 100% of the time, employees will necessarily arrive early every time they don’t need all of whatever worst-case scenario buffer time they built in. And I’m betting they don’t get to clock out early those days. Requiring people to work over 8 hours a day to guarantee they work the entire mandated 8 hour window is neither efficient nor particularly supportive of a healthy work-life balance.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Yup. My commute is predictable when I drive, but when I take the bus, it’s much more of a gamble. To guarantee I’ll be at work by 8 on the dot, I need to walk out the door by 6:40, though if everything goes smoothly that will mean I’ll arrive at work at 7:40. If I just need to be there by 8-ish, I can leave at 7:25! It would be a huge hit to my quality of life if I needed to catch the earlier bus every day.

          1. Mongrel*

            My old commute by car was mostly predictable, but if there was an accident on the motorway (M25) it would muck up everything around it as the alternate routes were hilariously incapable of taking the extra traffic.
            I think the longest I got stuck going to work was about 2 hours (accident + air ambulance) and going home was 7 hours (massive fuel spill under a junction on a friday before summer bank holiday weekend)

        2. Former Kitchen Lady*

          Oh I’m required to be butt in seat at starting time-however, if I’m there early, I do NOT start working early. I will start on the stroke of 9 (or whenever) but not a second earlier. That comes from a decade or so in call centers where you’re expected to be logged in etc when it’s time to start. I’ve been in a couple class action suits that won due to that being completely illegal.

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Sure, that is the only way to deal with it. But you could have spent those ten minutes with your cat on your lap at home rather than in a bleak break room or sitting at your desk in your work environment just goofing around on your phone.

      7. Willow Pillow*

        I worked at an internal help desk years ago, and the phones closed the same time as the last shift ended at 5:15. Lots of people would change their phone status to not allow calls for their last 10-15 minutes. I was not one of them, and I was pretty efficient at the end of the day anyway – there was the odd day that expected busy times left 10% of us to deal with many overflow calls, however.

        The powers that be changed the hours so that the last shift ended at 5:30… But my last peak-hour bus left at the same time. It took me an extra 45 minutes to get home that first day! I outright told my boss that I would absolutely stay if I got a last-minute call, and I could leave at 5:20 with enough time to catch the bus, but I was not going to sacrifice that much time at the end of my day.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          I don’t understand companies that are blatantly anti-transit and pro-driving. For the sake of climate change, they need to step up and stop putting barriers in the way of employees who would otherwise use transit.

          Even if people get electric cars, that still has an environmental impact with the manufacture of electric vehicles and their infrastructure. It’s also a big expense for employees that they shouldn’t need to take on just because their employer is having fits over 15-minute schedule changes.

    3. Fikly*

      Yeah, there hasn’t been an actual described legit reason for needing the strict 9-5. And meanwhile, you’re gaslighting the employees by telling them it’s for their benefit by helping them maintain a boundaries between life and work. Um, no. They can figure out that if they are at work, they are working.

      And the reasons the chronically late people have for being chronically late are legit reasons. You seem to be expecting that they allow 90 minutes for a 30 minute commute each day because it can be potentially disrupted to 90 minutes. They aren’t being paid for that wasted 60 minutes.

    4. I should be working*

      yes, this. I worked at a MUST BE AT YOUR DESK BY 9 place where the CEO always complained about the 5:00 rush out of the building. and it’s like… what did you expect when you insist people be at their desks at 9 on the dot with no flexibility, that they’d be flexible for you at the end of the day? Yeesh.

      1. LIZZIE*

        My first job, 35+ years ago, the hours were either 8-4 or 9-5. Not only did you have to be on time, but they had a PA system that would announce “it is now 8 o’clock”, and if you weren’t in by then, you were late. At the end of the day, you could not leave until the same PA system announced “it is now 4 o’clock” People would literally be sitting at their desks for the last 5 mins or so, doing nothing, and then the announcement would come, and EVERYONE would get up and rush out the door.

    5. Sleeve McQueen*

      “Trust your professionals to manage their own time. If they can’t, then get better professionals.” should be on a tea towel

  3. Reality Check*

    Before I went remote, I was 10 minutes late every single day. I have to bring my son to school and can’t drop him off any earlier than I already do (no, there is no school bus). The traffic is horrible. I wonder how many of the chronic late people are in a similar situation?

    1. Em*

      I was thinking that.
      “On the other hand, the people who are late are chronically late, and always for the same reasons (subway, traffic, weather).”

      If I take a subway to work, odds are good that when I’m late, it’s going to be for subway-related reasons. I used to work at a place where I could get there on the bus… either an hour before my shift started, or ten minutes before my shift started. Sometimes the bus was late. Whenever I was late, it was for the same reason. (I asked for a shift that was half an hour earlier, since that gave me more leeway on the bus. No dice, even though that shift existed, and they did not pay me enough to hang around for an hour every day.

      This place also scheduled me to work five minutes past the time the last bus of the day left, knowing that I did not have a car. Not great.)

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        Yeah, sometimes you have a choice, when it comes to public transit, of being ten minutes late or being 45 minutes early (or more). If you don’t also have the option of LEAVING early and aren’t going to be paid more for coming in early (i.e., salaried/exempt), you’re SOL either way. When I was commuting daily, I would walk over a mile to the subway station every day, and would then walk another mile from the subway station to my office, because bus and shuttle schedules were erratic enough that waiting for them sometimes made my commute significantly longer. It would have seriously sucked had I not been able-bodied. Working almost entirely from home now, I save 10-15 hours a week.

      2. Narvo Flieboppen*

        Oof, that brings back memories. I worked a job where I had to either take the bus to/from or walk 6 miles. I gave them the bus schedule and asked to be scheduled during those hours. After that, they always ALWAYS scheduled me with a shift that started before the first bus or ended after the last bus, guaranteeing that in northern New England, I had to walk at least 6 miles for every day of work, regardless of the weather. And would specifically schedule me for Sundays when the buses didn’t run, so that was 12 miles of walking.

        Suffice it to say, I didn’t last much longer and management claimed complete ignorance on the transportation issue being a problem even during the exit interview. “Why didn’t you say something?” I did. Multiple times, you stupid bee hive.

    2. ResearcHER*

      Being 10 minutes late every day is still….regular and predictable as far as I’m concerned. I would be happy to have an employee that regularly arrives 10 minutes late.
      If the goal is efficiency, a routine such as this should be easily accommodated.

      This is a great example of how workplaces can employ human beings while still maintaining some general expectations around where people will be and when.

      1. anonymouse*

        I’m that person. I just am. I have been for 30 years. To the point, my boss will say, “hey, tomorrow you need to be here at 9.”
        Because it doesn’t matter in my job.
        Coworker wraps up at 10 till.
        Because it doesn’t matter in my job.

        1. sundae funday*

          same, but I definitely don’t need my boss to tell me I don’t have to worry about arriving exactly at 9:00… because aiming for 9:00 gets me there by 9:20 (usually). Like, do not give me that freedom! Who knows when I’ll roll into work?

          1. sundae funday*

            Well, I guess that’s not true because my boss knows I don’t arrive by 9:00 because I’ve told him. He definitely wouldn’t know himself…. He’s typically very understanding because he usually doesn’t roll in until at least 9:40… As long as I’m there before him, I consider that to be a successful day!

            1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              That was my Dad’s advice: always be there hard at work by the time your boss arrives.

              At one point, the boss wanted to close our office and said we could either WFH or go to another office. He said it was only an hour on the train to the other office.
              Yes, but it takes me 40 minutes to get to the railway station, and on the other end it’s a 20 minute walk to the office, so we’re looking at a bare minimum of 2hrs when everything goes smoothly, which is rare, nearly extinct.
              My colleague asked if she could change her hours from 9-5 to 8.30-4.30 and the manager said 4.30 was too early to stop working.
              I wasn’t up for that level of petty so I left and started freelancing and being able to work when I want is just perfect.

          2. But what to call me?*

            Same same same.

            I need the expectation that I’m supposed to be there at the time I’m supposed to be there (8:00) along with the acceptance that realistically I will fail at that on most days. However, I will manage a reasonable approximation of that starting time (e.g. 8:05-8:09), whereas if someone moved my starting time later I would soon drift towards arriving at 8:10-8:15, then to 8:30 if they shifted my start time to 8:15, and so on. I need at least the pretense that there’s a specific time to shoot for or suddenly the whole morning will be gone, but my executive-dysfunction-y brain is never going to get me anywhere consistently at or before that specific time without imposing a degree of rigidity onto my morning routine that actually would destroy my work-life balance.

            1. sundae funday*

              Yep, exactly! You need to still “expect” me to be there at 9:00… but not be mad if I’m there at 9:15… but also, don’t tell me it doesn’t matter because then I’ll arrive at god knows when….. and not on purpose! I truly do intend to be there at 9:00… every day… but ADHD is a beast….

              although actually, I think my biggest problem is fatigue… some mornings, I literally cannot pry myself out of bed no matter how early I went to bed and no matter how much I’m yelling at myself to get out of bed NOW… I am just exhausted….. and the doctors haven’t said anything except “hmm are you depressed?” like… yeah, I am, but I can tell the difference between “depression fatigue” and “physiological fatigue,” and this is definitely the latter…..

                1. sundae funday*

                  No I haven’t! Any chance that causes hives? Because I have those now, too, mysteriously….

                  (lol I never intended this to be about my medical issues but I’m kind of desperate at this point….)

      2. Zippy the Anonymous Ex Wonder Admin*

        My partner is regularly 5-15 minutes late, and scrupulously works their full 8 hours no matter the arrival time. I have suggested that they get it documented as an ADHD accommodation in case the next manager is a glass bowl about it.

    3. ScruffyInternHerder*

      I mean, they’re even acknowledging that the commute easily can go from 30 minutes to an hour and a half or more – for any reason.

      “Plan your commute” does not mean I’m volunteering two additional hours of my time in the morning so that I’m not a nanosecond late.

      I’d push back on this iron policy of 9-5.

      1. Sleeve McQueen*

        yeah – when I need to go to my company’s head office, the commute can double each way if I can’t time when I go. Management needs to to sit down and figure what’s the need to have basket and what’s in the nice to have and decide whether the nice to haves are worth the costs

    4. yala*

      I tend to be 2-9 minutes late every day. ADHD is a bear. (And like, I’ll wake up 15 minutes earlier one day and manage to be at work 7 minutes later than the previous day, and how does that even happen)

      It was causing a LOT of problems in that my supervisor wanted me at my desk at Start-O’Clock, even though the unofficial policy for anyone not in a public-facing job is much looser (I remember being told when I first started that so long as you were at your desk by Start-O’Clock-plus-fifteen, you were fine. And in fact, still hearing folks saying that, and seeing folks in other departments come in late). So I would try, and maybe be able to get to work before Start-O’Clock, and even maybe get there early enough to make an insta-coffee, for a week or so, but I could never keep it up. I like to think that if I’d had a Good Reason, like yours, that my supervisor would’ve been more understanding.

      Eventually with the ADHD diagnosis, I managed to get an accommodation of a 10-minute grace period that I make up after work, which I’m grateful for, but it’s still really frustrating to be nickled-and-dimed for five minutes when other people arrive later, or leave 15 minutes early on the regular.

      All that to say, chronic lateness actually seems pretty common in my office. I guess they could (and might), try to actively crack down on it, but I don’t really understand what good it would do, because those extra five minutes aren’t going to get work done any faster.

      1. StaticFives*

        I also have an accomodation for my ADHD-related lateness and it seems so silly that it was the only way to have a little flexibility.

      2. brain worms*

        Oh Christ I filed for ADHD accommodations at the start of this year and I did manage to get moved to a desk in a quieter part of the office, but most of my meeting with HR was spent arguing around in circles about our attendance policy and it felt very much like they thought I was trying to get away with something. They wouldn’t give me any leniency because “companies have these for a reason” and “if we just let you show up late whenever you feel like it will impact your work” even though I have two years’ history here to demonstrate that being occasionally a few minutes late doesn’t. “Well what if you were responsible for big annoying task X that’s due at 9AM every morning–” well, I was actually, for months, and I squeaked it in on time every day regardless of whether I made it in at 7:50 or 8:15. But no, even though I had medical documentation, and could demonstrate that my iffy punctuality wasn’t affecting my work and literally all I was asking was to not lose my livelihood over it, they stuck to the line that it hypothetically could.

        It was the first time I’d even tried to address this as a medical issue instead of a moral failing on my part, after struggling with punctuality and trying to bootstrap myself out of it my whole adult life, but the whole conversation was so demoralizing. I’m still trying to figure out if they were right and I was asking for something unreasonable.

        1. StaticFives*

          My employer is generally very inflexible, especially for people in my role (no task-related reason, just the job title, level, and payscale dictate how much flexibility a person can have) but had no problem accepting it as an accomodation. You aren’t being unreasonable at all.

        2. Willow Pillow*

          Their reason is the status quo. Their rigidity that is not a valid reason to deny a medical accommodation.

        3. ArtsNerd*

          I have ADHD but cited my sleep apnea in my ADA request for a later start time because I thought it would be easier for my employer to wrap their heads around. It’s not going as well as I’d like.

        4. yala*

          There was very definitely a feeling of “You’re trying to get away with something” for me, though fortunately, not from the HR ADA liaison, who was excellent and helpful. And in fairness, especially when my ADHD was unmedicated, I’d had other problems.

          But no, it doesn’t sound like you were being unreasonable at all, and it’s crummy that they wouldn’t give you any lenience.

      3. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

        I’m a supervisor with ADHD, and two of my three reports also have it – the first day either one of them was going to be late, they texted me apologizing in advance. All I said was “thanks for the heads up, see you when you get here”.

        Granted, we’re in accounting, so there are no coverage related issues, but my philosophy is “8a-5pm with some wiggle room because we’re human and stuff happens, just let me know you’re okay and still coming in, and get your work done”

      4. But what to call me?*

        (And like, I’ll wake up 15 minutes earlier one day and manage to be at work 7 minutes later than the previous day, and how does that even happen)

        -Spare time is the enemy! It’s so easy to fill with things that will surely only take a minute but somehow take 15 even though they definitely didn’t take that long, and now you’re late.

        (Grr to everyone who tells me to wake up earlier to ‘just give yourself a few more minutes’. I’m now giving myself more than 2 hours to get ready+walk my dog in the morning. If a few extra minutes was going to fix the problem, it already would have.)

        1. sundae funday*

          I am always later when I wake up earlier! It’s the illusion of having more time than I actually have….

          When I wake up at the last minute, I know my exact routine to rush through… get up, get dressed, take meds, brush teeth, take care of dogs, leave. And yeah, I’m still a little late most days, but it’s manageable.

          But if I get up early? Even only 10-15 minutes early? I trick myself into thinking I have infinite time. I’m like, oh yeah, I’ll take the dogs for a long walk… do some yoga… have some coffee… journal… and then get ready for work! And it’s like… no. It’s now the time you usually leave and you’re doing yoga in your pajamas….

          1. ClaireW*

            Hah my husband is exactly the same, he has ADHD and he can be ready exactly on time if he gives himself only the exact amount of time he needs to do his morning routine and be out the door – any more or less and it all falls apart.

            As someone with anxiety and a lot of worries around being late for things, it was so hard at first for me to get used to because I always tend towards being extra early and giving myself loads of time ‘just incase’.

          2. yala*

            Ha, exactly!

            I think this is why it’s so frustrating when I see “get your life together” advice that involves Doing Things in the morning. I’d love to! I really would love to start my day by doing something productive at home first, or at least having a cup of tea and journaling.

            But that’s a great way for the time to go WHOOOSH

        2. Gatomon*

          Man this is me… I got up 15 minutes earlier today and only got out of the shower 4 minutes sooner. It’s like I fall into a time warp.

          On weekends I’ll generally give myself a good 3 hours to get up, dressed, fed and go to a place but that would mean trying to wake up at 5 a.m. on a week day and I just can’t seem to go to bed.

          Case in point: it is now 10:40 p.m. and I haven’t put the trash out. Sigh.

    5. AngryOctopus*

      This. Strict school drop off times actually have a reason, unlike strict non customer facing work times. So maybe people drop off their kids and then they get stuck in traffic. Or the bus is stuck in traffic. Or the subway cars are super packed and they can’t get on a train for 25′. All people being late is telling you is that they can’t swing a consistent commute around their other priorities. Your office is better off saying they have core hours for meetings, and then actually letting your employees be adults who work their own schedules around core hours. I’m betting your turnover would drop drastically if you did that.

    6. Twix*

      I had chronic lateness issues at my job for years due to a medical condition that makes it impossible to predict how much time it will take to go from “awake” to “able to safely drive a car”. When 2020 hit and my company’s WFH policy went from “Absolutely not, even as a medical accommodation” to “Laptops for everyone!”, those problems miraculously disappeared. Sometimes when people are regularly late and always give the same reason, it’s because that thing is actually a legitimate barrier to them arriving on time.

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Same issue from another angle – I used to live down the road from an office park where most offices had strict start times (for absolutely no reason), and people had to drive on the roundabout that my dead-end street was also on, to get to those offices from the freeway. I felt like I was taking my life into my hands every morning as I left home to drop the kids off at school, that had the exact same start time. Turns out, a lot of people tend to drive really recklessly when faced with the threat of a writeup for being 30 seconds late. IMO, not a great situation to create unless there’s a real need for it, yet that’s what OP’s company is creating.

      1. JS*

        They don’t care if it creates an unsafe situation. I work for a company that goes on and on about safety. They even make every employee (including office employees) take driving a safety course once a year, where they repeatedly tell you not to drive if you’re fatigued or in bad weather. Yet work from home is absolutely forbidden if it’s a day you’re scheduled to come into the office, no matter what your job is. They’ve even ordered us to come in when the roads are covered in ice or there are severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings. It’s all about rigid policies and control, not what actually matters.

    8. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

      When I commuted downtown, if the train was late, they had notes you could grab in the station explaining that the train was late that morning, in case you needed proof for your boss. After all. I have no control over weather, freight train traffic, medical emergencies, accidents…

      1. Zircon*

        That’s great, and awful at the same time – like adults needing a note from mummy for the teacher!!!

    9. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      Same here. I have to drop my kids at daycare. It opens at 7. I’m supposed to be at work at 7. The daycare is literally on site at my job but it’s across the parking lot in another building. You also can’t open the car door and shove an infant and toddler out so the dropoff part (walk kids into building, greet teachers, hand over bottles and lunches) takes a couple minutes. I arrive at work at 7:10 and for my workload (I’m in healthcare and we start patient care at 7:45) it’s fine. But it’s stressful for me every single dang day.

      The alternative would be my spouse making an hour long round trip (home to daycare at my job back to home) in order to save my employer 10 minutes. That’s ridiculous.

  4. CommanderBanana*

    Is the work something that requires butts-in-seats coverage, or not? If not, and that’s the hill ya’ll have decided to die on, you will keep having this issue AND you will lose staff. Post-pandemic, I think employees have way less tolerance for things like inflexible workplaces when there’s no actual reason for it.

    Also this statement: “on the other hand, the people who are late are chronically late, and always for the same reasons (subway, traffic, weather)” makes no sense. Obviously, if you always commute by subway and there are subway issues, you will be late. Same for if you drive (traffic and weather, none of which are under anyone’s control).

    I commute exclusively by subway and if there are issues on the line that I ride, guess what? I will be late! I can’t control switch issues, track problems, someone diving in front of the train, incidents that close a station, sick riders that cause offboarding, etc. etc.

    I do leave some buffer time, but I can’t control if a switch issue mid-ride turns my usually 20 minute commute into a 40 minute one, and neither can your colleagues.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      We never got an update on this letter (which is from 2017), I do wonder how the pandemic shifted their priorities.

      In the original letter OP adds that the president in particular is a stickler for the butts-in-seats punctuality. At some point that had to give, right?

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Ah, that’s right – I missed that this was an archived letter. The more I re-read it, the grosser it is: the smug “it’s for their own work-life balance,” the bit about how senior staff doesn’t actually abide by the punctuality rules, etc. etc.

    2. SeanT*

      Yea there are times I have said “I have no control over the dude who wanted to argue with the trolley driver and then transit police for 10 minutes over the concept of ‘you have to pay to ride this thing’ and that is why I am a few minuets late”

      As something like that seemingly happens at least once a week or two.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t agree with OP’s take, but I think the point of mentioning “chronically late and always for the same reason” was to say the people who take the train and are late every day and always blame the train running late coulda/shoulda/woulda realized that train is always late and plan to take the next earlier one. Or if they’re always late due to traffic, to more consistently leave earlier. I don’t know that either of those things is actually necessary given the roles, and do think this org should prioritize fixing their turnover problem rather than clinging to butts-in-seat, but I think the point of that particular remark was about the consistency of it, and thus while out of people’s control, apparently it’s also predictable.

      1. OfOtherWorlds*

        People with ADHD can’t just leave earlier, and my impression is that Gen Z won’t.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Gen Zers, bless them, have very little patience for this type of pointless corporate bullshit.

          I work part time with a bunch of Boomers and their favorite topic is how Gen Z is lazy and entitled and “no one wants to work anymore.” Really, no one wants to work with them, because they’re obnoxious AF and expecting to be treated like a human and not an automaton or a toddler at work is not “entitled.”

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Please let’s not start generalising about different generations.

      2. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        One of my public transit commutes had a last connection where if the shuttle was two minutes early or the long haul bus was two minutes late, I arrived an hour later than intended. My commute schedule spreadsheet looked like one of those cones of probability that they publish for violent tropical storms. If I caught the first bus out of my suburb, I’d arrive in Silicon Valley just in time for the last morning shuttle, and after that point the bus that connected there was hourly and dropped off a quarter mile further out. I was very glad when my car got fixed back into reliability.

      3. Professional Staff*

        That attitude assumes there’s a reasonable earlier alternative, though. If the bus only comes once per hour it’s not reasonable to ask someone to catch the bus that will get them to work an (unpaid!) hour early to avoid being fifteen minutes late.

  5. PizzaDog*

    if it’s known that weather and traffic delays can make employees up to an HOUR late to work, and there’s no actual reason for there to be a hard 9am start, why bother with the manpower it’ll take to keep track of it?

    you know what a good employee does when they’re late to work? they make up the time in other ways. if the job gets done, who cares?

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      And what else d ogood employees do when they are reprimanded and punished for being 15 minutes late when this doesn’t in any way reflect their strong performance? They leave and go somewhere else that appreciates them and isn’t stuck in a backward way of thinking about butts in seats on the clock = productivity. I can’t wait for an update on this one when a crackdown starts and in 6 months bosses are crying about retention & staff turnover.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        THIS. If I were berated about being at work 10′ late when the train had a 15′ “schedule adjustment” while I was on it for the 3rd time this week, I’m going to quietly start looking for a job where they don’t clock watch. If I walk in 10′ late and someone says “ohh, rough commute? Sorry that sucks” and we move on with our days? Much more likely to stay in that job, because they understand that lots of things are out of my control.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        If someone was going to climb onto my back about being 15 minutes late for my non-coverage job, especially in an area that has notoriously awful traffic, I’m going to find myself a new job that cares about performance metrics and not old-school clock time.

        I have lived and worked in the DC area for over 20 years now. The DC Commuting Gods decided years ago that 9:15 is my arrival time. Doesn’t matter if I leave my house at 7:30 (in which case Metro is on fire) or 8:30 AM (I step right onto a train and breeze in) – it’s always 9:15. Plus, when Metro is on fire or the Beltway has an overturned mango truck on it, EVERYONE is late.

        1. Polaris*

          Dang, I thought “Metro on fire” was a really weird thing the one time I had to navigate it while visiting DC. Sounds like its a fairly regular thing?

          Overturned mango truck is really really specific and is cracking me up ;)

          Right now I’ve just got the beginning of orange cone season, where the posted trunkline detours now have county level roadwork and detours, and those detours have random patch work happening at the city level; none of the traffic lights have been retimed to accommodate the now doubled traffic levels, and there’s no slack given to anyone for the fact that commute times are doubling.

    2. Tired of Working*

      “you know what a good employee does when they’re late to work? they make up the time in other ways.”

      Not always. At one former job, the receptionist was ALWAYS 15 – 20 minutes late, and I had to answer the phone until she decided to make an appearance. How was she supposed to make up the time in other ways? What other ways? My supervisor would scream at me that he needed to give me work, and I would scream back at him that I had to get the messages from the answering service and make the coffee and answer the phone, and the day would get off to a shitty start. And this happened EVERY DAY, because the receptionist absolutely hated calling the answering service and making coffee, and she quickly found out that if she came in late, she wouldn’t have to do those things (because I did them), and she bragged that she was paid just as much as if she had shown up on time, so why should she bother to show up on time?

      Even if she hadn’t been intentionally late every single day, if she had been late only once every few days (meaning that I had to get messages from the answering service, make coffee, and answer the phone only once every few days), how could she have made up the time in other ways? What could she have done to prevent my supervisor screaming at me that he needed to give me work NOW?

      1. Still*

        Come on, PizzaDog is specifically talking about good, conscientious employees working jobs where there isn’t an issue of coverage and where “there’s no actual reason for there to be a hard 9am start”.

        That has nothing to do with you having to cover for someone who clearly wasn’t conscientious, at a job that required phone coverage.

      2. Hiphopanonymous*

        I think you’re missing Pink Candyfloss’s point about this being what “good employees” do. It sounds like this receptionist was not a “good employee,” and was rather an employee that was gaming the system to her advantage. This should have been dealt with by the manager since it was causing real work impacts, and there may have been a reason to have her in her seat at 9am everyday. But it doesn’t invalidate the point that when there is no work impact to someone being late, that “good employees” will still make sure they get their work done and meet their expectations.

        1. Tired of Working*

          She could have been the best employee in the world, but if she ever arrived late, I would have had to do her job while being screamed at by my supervisor because I was unable to work for him while I was doing the receptionist’s job. I still don’t know how, even if she had been the best employee in the world, she could have gotten her work done if I had to start off the morning being screamed at while doing HER job. What could she have done to make things right with me?

          1. Danmei kid*

            sounds like you had a toxic manager in a toxic workplace and you should have been the good employee who walked out instead of enabling the toxic behaviors of both your manager and the receptionist. I’m sorry that happened to you and I hope that you have moved on to a better place by now.

      3. constant_craving*

        You’re missing the descriptor “good” in front of employee. A good employee doesn’t routinely, intentionally fail to show up for core job functions and brag about it.

    3. Aerin*

      My job actually does have strict start times for coverage reasons, but there’s a fair amount of flexibility baked in with that. Anything within 6 minutes counts as being on time, for starters. And because our coverage is so important, we actually have people dedicated to making sure we have it. So if you’re going to be late, you just notify them, and they shuffle people around or call people in or just grit their teeth and hope nothing breaks. You generally make up the time on your lunch or at the end of your day if it’s a short time, or if it’s lengthy you might use sick time instead. There were also times pre-pandemic when I called the attendance line saying “My alarm somehow turned itself off so I’m just gonna work from home today and start on time rather than be half an hour late.”

      Basically, if coverage is truly that important, you must have some slack built into the system to accommodate reality. A business whose normal daily operation can be majorly impacted because one person is five minutes late is not a business that’s going to be around long.

      1. Tired of Working*

        If the receptionist had taken less time for lunch or stayed late, that wouldn’t have helped me at all. I still would have been screamed at by my supervisor for not being able to do his work in the morning because I was busy doing what the receptionist would have done if she had gotten to work on time. It wouldn’t have helped me if she had used sick time either.

        1. Can't think of a clever name*

          Hard for me to imagine that making the coffee and checking messages couldn’t have waited 20 minutes until she got there. Honestly sounds like you made a rod for your own back, not that it made it okay for your supervisor to scream at you.

          1. Tired of Working*

            The owner of the company was the only one who drank the coffee. He refused to provide creamer and sugar because he didn’t use them, so everyone else who drank coffee brought in their own. There was no way I could tell the owner, “Sorry, you’ll have to wait for the receptionist to make an appearance to get your coffee.” As for checking messages, I posted elsewhere that when a former receptionist came in late on her fourth day, I asked the office manager if I should call the answering service. The office manager said no. At 3:30 PM, the receptionist happened to say that she didn’t call the answering service that morning. I asked why, and she said that the woman who trained her said, “If Tired of Working gets in before you, then she will call in for messages.” This was absolutely not the case. However, after that, the office manager became hyper about getting messages, and that’s why the office manager didn’t want to rely on the receptionist calling for messages when she was late.

            1. Bookmark*

              It sounds like this job was really rough and stressful, and that the receptionist position was one of those ones that really did require someone being on time for. But it also sounds like the whole company was a toxic place to work and you either got stuck with or took on other people’s problems in a way that insulated upper management from actually feeling the issues caused by the bad receptionist. In a normal work place it would be extremely fine to tell the owner that “well, that’s Receptionist’s job and she’s not here yet,” or to be able to push back on your own boss with something like “It sounds like SoandSo told the receptionist that I am responsible for calling the answering service. This would be a new responsibility for me to take on, and if I am responsible for that, it will prevent me from doing XYZ important thing you need from me each morning. Which of these tasks should I prioritize? Can you please communicate with SoandSo and Receptionist about this so there are no misunderstandings?” This is a great example of how a bad workplace can warp your sense of workplace norms!

        2. AlsoADHD*

          I mean, there’s an issue with a receptionist not covering the desk, but you’re wrong to blame that for “being screamed at”. There’s nothing that justifies your boss screaming at you even if YOU had been late, not covering. You are leaping to the wrong conclusions here in what the larger problem is. It’s that your boss (or former boss I hope) throws temper tantrums. That’s what caused your main issue. Not the receptionist being late. Granted, if someone is late in a coverage heavy job, as Alison said, that’s an issue. If someone needs to mind reception starting at 9, the receptionist needs to get there by 9. Obviously. But the receptionist is not the “reason” you were yelled at. There is no “reason”. You just had/have an abusive boss.

  6. Don't kneel in front of me*

    “In theory, this is for efficiency and to allow employees to feel more separation between their work and personal life.”

    The 9-5 is a holdover from a) assembly line work, b) a world without cell phones and email, and c) a world that had only one working parent. The world is simply a different place now than it was 50 years ago. Sure: it is nice *in theory* to have strict office hours in an effort to separate work from home, but that’s not how you do work-life balance in 2023.

    I don’t see any mention of this schedule being enforced due to time-critical work. If it was, then certainly OP would have mentioned it. If you don’t have time critical work then why can’t the schedule change? Adopt flex time–like everyone in office from 9:30-2:30–and you might see that staffing problem fix itself.

    1. amoeba*

      Eh. But then, if the schedule is *actually* 9-5, also meaning that you can basically drop everything and leave at 5, *and* you have a paid lunch hour (or everybody’s exempt), that honestly sounds like a pretty good deal? I mean, that would be a 35 h week (OK, or maybe 37.5 if it’s not a full hour for lunch. But still!)
      I’d probably be quite happy to work those hours, if it’s full time salary, as it’s less than I’ve ever had to! And no, I wouldn’t love the lack of flexibility but it honestly sounds like a small trade-off for really good hours.

      That said, I can understand not wanting to be too flexible in case that means people would start working longer hours (or some would abuse the system and come in late and leave early while others would do the opposite and end up with more work…) But I guess a 5-10 min tolerance wouldn’t hurt if there’s no requirement for full staffing at 9.00? Being reprimanded for a few minutes does seem quite inflexible.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        My first job (in Home Country, late 80s and early 90s) was super strict. As in, you had to go through the tourniquet on your way in, and the system would record the exact time you swiped in, and if it were a second past 8:00, you’d be reported to your department manager. Yeah three things were happening every day because of that

        – everyone walked through the door at exactly 8:00 and not a minute earlier. One time dozens of people ended up being reported because the work clock fell one minute behind.
        – as we were all walking to work and not driving, everyone would run in disheveled and out of breath, and spend over an hour putting ourselves together. My workspace had a corner for women to apply our makeup and do our hair, complete with a communal curling iron and a mirror on the wall (while the guys sat around chatting.) There was also a large communal kettle, so at 9:00, after everyone would finish their hair and makeup, the whole group would sit down together to have our morning tea. but we were all at work at 8:00 on the dot haha. No work was ever done before 9:30.
        – you better believe that ten minutes before 5:00, people were standing in line to swipe out and run the heck out that door.

        1. yala*

          Heck, folks in my office start getting ready to head out 15-20 minutes before close. It’s kind of wild to me, because I find it a lot easier to stay a bit later than to come in a bit early.

    2. RVA Cat*

      This. The OP is trying to enforce rules from an era when employees could smoke at their desk. It’s going to send today’s version of Peggy Olson marching right *out* the door.

  7. StressedButOkay*

    While you might have one or two people chronically late people who can’t manage their time, I’m willing to bet the vast majority are simply at the mercy of a chaotic world. If a commute generally takes 30 minutes but sometimes there’s an accident that causes it to be an hour and a half, your company can’t expect them to commute with the expectation that they need to build in time for an hour and a half.

    Nothing that you can do can fix the outside issues of transportation, school, weather, or other issues. The organization needs to realize that people being 5-15 minutes late is not generally an indication of how good an employee is. The organization will continue to lose people, especially if punishing measures are brought into place.

    1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

      It’s simply unreasonable to expect employees to give up an extra hour every day to the employer, lowering their average hourly wage 12%, just in case traffic is on the high end. Especially if there’s not an bonafide business reason. Frankly even if there is, it’s too much to ask, unless there are lives at stake or something.
      Certainly, upper managements “butts in seats for thee not for me” policy is no such bonafide business reason!

      1. StressedButOkay*

        And that extra hour a day is a ‘just in case’ measure! Is the company going to pay them for getting there at 8/8:30 since they left so early to avoid being 5 minutes late? Highly doubtful.

    2. Zephy*

      I’m betting the “chronically late” people would also magically be “on time” more often if their stated working hours were just shifted forward 10-15 minutes. Or back, for that matter.

      1. StressedButOkay*

        Yeeeep. Years and years ago, I had a two hour commute one way – and that was with predictable traffic. Once I was able to move my hours from 9-5 to 10-6, I was able to be on time 99% of the time because it worked better with my commute.

    3. JS*

      I actually had a supervisor tell me I should plan to be at work an hour early every day in case there was bad traffic. This was after I was a mere 15 minutes late one day in a job where schedule didn’t matter.

      1. Former Kitchen Lady*

        That’s actually what my dad did most of his life. He was leaving home an hour early and waited around for start time. And then complained he never had free time.

        He spent most of my young working life complaining because I wouldn’t be like him.

  8. Former Retail Lifer*

    I’ve always worked in coverage-based jobs (retail, property management) so being on time is essential or the business doesn’t open on time or someone can’t leave to go home, both of which are a big deal. I’ve had to give many informal talks, verbal warnings, and write-ups in my day, and even fire a few people over it. If you absolutely have to have coverage and people can’t be late, that’s the route you have to go. Since this was never really enforced with consequences before, please have a team meeting and let them know what the process will be for being late. Please also build in a few freebies per month or per quarter for things you absolutely can’t avoid, like a snow storm, public transit issue, childcare emergency, etc.

    1. EPLawyer*

      But only if its coverage based. If it is not coveraged base but just the bosses have not figured out that butts in seat does not equal productivity, let it go.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I would be 100% on board with this advice for coverage-based work, (heck, to me, the thought that my teammate would have to stay late or do two people’s work to cover for me whenever I’m late would be a strong enough motivator), but OP says that theirs isn’t.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Right, but they are strictly 9-5, so no one is waiting for anyone from an earlier shift.

    3. Lily Potter*

      I like the idea of a few “freebies” each month. It sets the expectation that while emergencies happen occasionally, the expectation is that being on time is the norm. It doesn’t matter if the “norm” makes sense – this could just be a preference of the company owner – it’s something that has to be followed to work at OP’s place of business.

      My late father used to say to his employees: “If you’re going to be late, be REALLY late for a REALLY good reason once in a while. If you’re showing up 10 minutes late every day, it means you should leaving the house 10 minutes earlier.”

      (now, before those of you that ride public transit jump down my throat, I realize that transit isn’t 100% reliable. BUT the general principle applies – if you’re 10 minutes late every day, you should be taking an earlier train or figuring out a different way to get to work)

      1. Shira Von Doom*

        I used to take the bus, before I had a car, in Houston, Texas, which is both VERY LARGE in terms of miles, and also very public transportation UNfriendly

        there was an “on-time” bus that was late or early 50% of the time. the earlier bus was an entire hour earlier.

        so in order to MAKE SURE I wasn’t late every day, my commute was 3 hours each way, every day. an hour/ish to wait for the bus, and then 2 hours to get from the edge of town to downtown. 6 hours a day, every day, for a job that was NOT paying some amazing wage (or I could have afforded a car)

        this attitude of “make it work” is wildly unrealistic, punishes people who can’t afford a car/cab daily, and it sucks

      2. AngryOctopus*

        If I take the 10′ earlier bus, half the time it shows up later than the schedule showed when I leave the house, or it ends up being lapped by the bus I do take, due to unpredictable traffic and pickup stops. So then I’d have to take a bus 20-30′ earlier than the one that gets me there on time. But if there’s less traffic at that time, then suddenly I’m at work 20′ early. For a job that certainly won’t respect my 20′ at the end of the day, by the sound of it. So no, that’s total BS. Treat your employees like adults who know how to set their own schedules. This isn’t coverage based work. Don’t act like it.

      3. Dahlia*

        You should definitely read some of the other comments, where people are talking about how their options are 10 minutes early, and sometimes late due to issues, or an hour and half early, unpaid. Which would you truly take?

        Or the comments talking about daycare and school drop-offs. You can’t change those. What’s the option then?

    4. Observer*

      If you absolutely have to have coverage and people can’t be late, that’s the route you have to go.

      That’s the key to the whole thing.

      The OP presents a situation where this is simply not the case, unless they totally missed to main point. And I looked at the original letter – I don’t think that they followed up with further information.

      On the other hand, in a case like yours, office wide emails are useless. What you did – deal with the individuals who didn’t show up, is what makes sense.

      So either way, the OP is off base.

  9. Dust Bunny*

    Assuming this business doesn’t actually depend on people being there on the dot, it’s time to be more flexible. But your employees should also be either planning better or calling in when they’re late.

    Current Job has core hours of 8-5 minus lunch, but staggered start times between 7:30 and 9:00. Our start times are still kind of flexible *but* I am rarely actually late; I call if I’m going to be really late (stuck in traffic); and I don’t also leave early. It’s also a given that we can’t all have the late start time; two of us are earlier, one is in the middle, and two are late but also stay later in the afternoon.

    1. Gracely*

      Staggering is a great way to deal with this kind of thing. Everywhere I’ve worked with flexible start times, there has always been someone who prefers arriving early so they can leave early, arriving late but staying late, and usually a handful of people who fit inbetween. It usually works *better* for coverage when that’s been a requirement, because the staggering meant even if the early person ran late, there was still someone there at the start time.

      But if there’s no actual reason for why butts need to be in seats, it’s even more important to allow flexibility, and as Allison pointed out, if management can’t do it but still expects it, the argument becomes much more difficult and you’re going to keep losing employees. You gotta make the business case for allowing flexibility to cut down on turnover and attract/retain the best employees.

    2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Aren’t core hours what you call the times during which everyone needs to be there? So maybe it’s 9-4 for your current job and people can work 7:30 to 4, or 9 to 5:30, but it’s always safe to schedule meetings for the time between 9:00 and 4:00. Is the “core hours” maybe the hours when the business is open to the public and can expect the phone to be answered?

  10. Rebecca*

    This honestly sounds like a miserable place to work, and very outdated. I’m curious what “strict” lunch hours mean. Does that mean someone is tracking how long people take for lunch? If there is no business reason to monitor arrival, departure, and break times this closely, your company seriously needs to let this go. If someone started monitoring my comings and goings this way, I promise I wouldn’t give one extra minute to that company. I’d be out the front door at 5:00 sharp, workload and deadlines be damned. This is not how you treat adult employees that you value.

    1. Modesty Poncho*

      At my old company, it meant everyone had to take the same lunch break. In a meeting where they were stressing this I said something like, “Well, but surely leaving at 12:05 so you finish what you were doing is okay, right?” And they said no, they meant 12 sharp for everyone every day. Same company begged us to tell them what they could do to make the workplace better for us, because they were constantly hemmorhaging people. When I asked to shift my hours from 8:30-5 to 9-5:30, it was a flat absolutely not because everyone had to work the same. Gee. Wonder why no one’s making suggestions?

    2. GreenDooor*

      I picked up on the “strict lunch hour” thing, too, and got horrible flashbacks to when I worked in a place like that. If I didn’t drop what I was doing at precisely 12:15, I just lost that time from my much needed break. Morning and afternoon breaks were almost always lost – because I found it so hard to literally stop in the middle of adding a column of numbers. I didn’t work a position where we had to have specific phone/office coverage, so I never understood why I couldn’t just stop working at a natural stopping point for my breaks. OP, if you can’t point to a specific business reason why butts must be in seats from precisely 9:00 to 5:00, push back on this nonsense.

      1. Chirpy*

        I mean, even my crappy retail job *wants* us to take breaks at natural stopping points, and not a rigid time. After all, you don’t want to stop assisting a customer because it’s your scheduled break time, and breaks are mandated by law so you can’t just make people skip them.

  11. Pink Candyfloss*

    This policy is archaic. “For efficiency”? What does that even mean? This is not how modern companies operate, unless you need firm desk coverage from these hours for clients/customers needing to be physically or virtually in touch with your employees at 9 am on the dot.

    Your employees are reflecting modern times by their need for flexibility. Your company is not reflecting that back. If you crack down, the high performer attrition will be the next phase on your company’s journey of trying to catch up with the times as they leave for greener pastures and better quality of life.

    1. rayray*

      Yeah, I mean, if this is a dentists’ office or something that strictly does need to operate on business hours, I get it, but if it’s just a typical office job where you don’t have the general public coming in for set appointments or expected hours, why does it need to be strictly 9-5? I went from a flexible job (open 7 AM – 7 PM, core hours were roughly 9:00-3:00) and then to a strict 9:00 – 5:00 and now back at a flexible job, and I’ll tell you – the flexible jobs are leaps and bounds better for work-life balance, it’s so easy to schedule appointments or other personal matters and either come in earlier, later, or whatever I need to do to accommodate. No manager is tasked to take attendance and mark me tardy. If I were running super late and they hadn’t heard from me, they might text or call just to check in but I don’t get dinged for being late.

      I never want to work anywhere again that is on a strict schedule, unless it is actually needed. Same goes for a dress code. I am reasonable enough to not show up in tattered sweat pants and a sports bra, but I like being able to wear jeans, sandals, or whatever else I want.

    2. Observer*

      This policy is archaic. “For efficiency”? What does that even mean? This is not how modern companies operate, unless you need firm desk coverage from these hours for clients/customers needing to be physically or virtually in touch with your employees at 9 am on the dot.

      That or something like an assembly line, where you can’t get the items through production is every station is not manned.

    3. Anon for this one*

      I’m going through this at the moment, we are in software engineering. My start time is 9 but a lot of people start early and leave early, such as starting at 7.30 or 8. The issue we have with that is that daily “stand ups” start at 9.10 which doesn’t leave much leeway for a few minutes at the start of the day. I had to push for the stand ups to be moved from the dot of 9. The company’s logic was 9 is already a significant way through the day for those early starters. It also means if someone normally starts at 8 but gets delayed by traffic etc, they aren’t visibly “late” in the way that a 9 am starter is.

      It strikes me as the tail wagging the dog on this one – I thought stand ups etc were supposed to serve the team, rather than the team serving the stand ups… there is no business need (coverage etc) to start on the dot.

      1. Smith Masterson*

        Sounds like the stand up serves everyone but you. So the whole team had to move it to accommodate you. I’m in SW also and there’s always one engineer who can get to work on time because they are up all night gaming.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          If I read your comment in a certain light, it seems like you are implying that Anon for this one is doing something wrong–being late, or being irresponsible in some other way. I’m sure you didn’t mean it like that, but it might come across that way.

        2. Anon for this one*

          The official start time is actually 9, but a bunch of people got agreement from managers to work 8-4 etc instead of 9-5 because it suited their work life balance better.

  12. Lily Potter*

    The OP asked “What alternatives can we consider that will both enforce our policy but not punish the staff (, especially when other members of senior management can’t seem to follow the policy themselves?”

    Everyone is responding about how the policy is inflexible, and that’s true. But that doesn’t really answer the OP’s question, which is how to work within the system that s/he’s got. I suspect that the answer will differ based upon whether her problem is 20/50 employees with the issue vs 2/50.

    It’s also interesting to me that in the past, efforts to crack down on the problem are successful for a while, but then the problem starts again. Why can all employees manage to get to work on time for a while but then not two months later?

    1. Gracely*

      Probably because they try leaving extra early because they know they’re being monitored, but eventually that extra effort becomes unsustainable/grinds them down, and it’s not actually a big deal to be a couple minutes late, and then 5 minutes late, then 10, then 15, etc. If there are no actual work consequences to being a little late, I can see employees getting less and less careful about always being in on the dot, especially if combined with the occasional lateness caused by commuting.

      1. yala*


        If I want to make sure I get to work at precisely Start-O’Clock, then I can’t just get up 10-20 minutes early. I’d have to get up an hour earlier. And even then, I still couldn’t be sure it would consistently work.

      2. The New Wanderer*

        Absolutely. I can get to the office by 8 am if I make a huge effort. It’s fine for a handful of required activities (meetings, mostly) but is not sustainable for many reasons.

        I would, and have, opted out of an interview process when it was clear that the “flexible work from home option” meant once in a great while, not routinely 1-2 days a week, and that everyone was expected to be in the office from 9-5. The commute would have been horrible and the justification for in-office work was “it promotes collaboration” even after it was made clear that the people I’d be expected to work with most were in different states. So, show up to an office to sit on Zoom calls all day? No thanks. That was pre-pandemic – during the pandemic they went full remote and the CEO had a change of heart and decreed full time WFH would be a permanent option.

    2. jane's nemesis*

      I think no one is answering the part of the question you highlighted because there’s no way to enforce the (inflexible, archaic) policy that doesn’t punish the staff!

      As far as why they can manage it for a while and then backslide – I suspect it’s because after the reminder, they make an effort for a while, then they see senior management not following the policy so they wonder why they have to, so eventually they stop because it’s inflexible and life just doesn’t work that way anymore.

    3. Chairman of the Bored*

      If the only way to deal with an uncertain commute is to wake up and get on the road an hour earlier than you usually would that’s not sustainable.

      People might rally for a few weeks right after the bosses make a thing about attendance, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to do it indefinitely.

      Lots of people reliably hit the gym every January. Most of them aren’t there anymore come March.

      My advice to a mid-level manager in this org would be to give your employees as much flexibility as possible, and insulate them from the executives’ bad policies to the greatest degree that you can.

      1. Lily Potter*

        Ya’all above have made my point. Employees are choosing to be late, or at best, not prioritizing being on time.

        Look, on-time attendance in a professional setting is (IMHO) a dumb thing for management to hang their hat on, but at least it’s a very objective, straightforward expectation. Find a way to be in your seat at 9 am or you’ll be in trouble. The employer doesn’t care about your train or daycare dropoff time. That’s your thing to figure out. When people are able to stick to the “be on time” rule for several months, it proves that it CAN be accomplished.

        Someone above suggested having a few “okay to be late” days a month, and I like that idea. Two or three days a month being late due to weather, a late train, problem toddlers, alarm didn’t go off, or whatever is a reasonable “life happens” frequency. Walking in 15 minutes late every day “just because I can”, when you know your employer values promptness, is not reasonable.

        1. Anat*

          “Yours to figure out” — fair enough. Sounds like a lot of people are figuring it out by getting another job.

          1. Lily Potter*

            Sure is! And maybe that’s for the best here. When an employer values something that the employee can’t or won’t provide, it’s time to part ways.

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              And that it is time for a company to fold if they cannot afford to pay people enough that their employees are willing to endure completely arbitrary butts in seats attitudes…especially when the higher ups don’t apply that same standard to themselves.

              If your office doesn’t have long term flexibility you just won’t have long term employees.

              1. Inflexibility Sucks*

                And that’s exactly why I’m still at my inflexible job. I make too much money for my education/location/skill set to walk away because I don’t like inflexible start times. I know I’m paid well for what I do, and more than I’m likely to get anywhere else.

        2. Observer*

          When people are able to stick to the “be on time” rule for several months, it proves that it CAN be accomplished.

          Not true. I can choose not to eat for a day, but there is a limit to how long I can go without food. Many healthy humans can fast and eat only once a day for a while, but there is a limit to how long they can do that without serious repercussions to their health.

          The same thing applies. here.

          but at least it’s a very objective, straightforward expectation.

          So? It’s like saying “Everyone can only wear the color blue”. Sure, that’s also very objective and straightforward, but so what? If any workplace tried that, everyone would agree that they have lost their minds.

          I’d go further. There are a lot of straight up illegally discriminatory rules that could be described that way. Would anyone sane person defend a rule like that because it’s it’s “objective and straightforward”?

          1. Lily Potter*

            If the employer wants you to wear only blue – sure, it’s not a great expectation for an office setting. It is, however, very straightforward. If you want to work for that employer and won’t wear blue to work, that’s going to be a problem for you.

            Employers are allowed to have strange expectations. Employees can either follow them or work somewhere else. Capitalism at its finest!

            1. Observer*

              Sure, the company can enforce that. But reasonable people understand that it’s actually NOT “capitalism at its finest” but a “good argument to reconsider capitalism”, or at minimum “capitalism enabling stupid and bad behavior.” Claiming that because something is “simple and straightforward”, it’s also reasonable, realistic and something anyone needs to respect is out of touch with reality.

            2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Yes, and then those companies need to be left to fail. Preferably without the standard “no one wants to work any more” malarkey. So if these employers want to make this their hill to die on…well, then we should let them die there.

              And “Capitalism at It’s Finest” is watching Elon Musk destroy the monopoly of company he over paid for. Capitalism, at its most functional, is basically an economic version of F*^& Around and Find Out.

    4. Dinwar*

      This is my take. I work in a field where you actually need to be onsite at 7 am. If you’re not, that means work isn’t going to get done–and that can mean fines, delayed projects for third parties, potentially destruction of endangered species habitat (some surveys need to be conducted at specific times of day), even someone being killed in some cases (I currently have staff working in such an area right now–they have a strict deadline and needed to start at a certain time to get done in time).

      The idea that having strict hours is archaic or unreasonable, without knowing far more about the work situation, is simply not tenable. There absolutely are industries where strict hours are necessary. Further, saying that they’re not is not helpful in resolving this issue.

      “Why can all employees manage to get to work on time for a while but then not two months later?”

      This tells me it’s a lack of ownership on the part of the employees. They don’t care, in other words. I’m curious as to why. My guess is that they don’t really understand the purpose for the hard start time (many here simply assume there isn’t one, which demonstrates this trend). A one-on-one discussion explaining the reasoning could help (and to be clear, this should be a fairly one-way discussion). In addition, these conversations generally consist of sticks; what about carrots? What can you do to make people WANT to come in on time? Random breakfasts are a good option, but food seems to be a minefield.

      One thing we do–which is a “stick” method–is to start our daily briefings at 07:00. If you’re late you get to walk in and have everyone turn and look at you. Most people find this very uncomfortable and fix the issue; the ones that don’t tend to have other issues and not stick around very long.

      1. yala*

        “My guess is that they don’t really understand the purpose for the hard start time”

        Nothing in the letter indicates that there IS a purpose for the hard start time beyond “Because.” No one is saying that all hard start times are pointless. Just that for office work that isn’t customer facing, it’s often not so much necessary as traditional. If being 5 minutes late DOES actually affect the workflow (or worse, safety), then that’s another matter entirely.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        Your job clearly has a reason for having a start time at 7. So people get there at 7. OPs job does not have a clear stated reason for strict 9-5, which means to me that there isn’t a real business reason. So why should their employees bust their butts to get there at 9? There’s no actual reason. The only consequences OP has mentioned are from management thinking that people have to be there at 9. If there were a business reason to do so, it seems like OP would have mentioned it, as they give plenty of other detail in the letter (and it would be foolish to ask for advice about making people come in for a coverage based start time w/out mentioning it, as everyone’s advice would be VERY different).

        1. Dinwar*

          “OPs job does not have a clear stated reason for strict 9-5, which means to me that there isn’t a real business reason.”

          This is a non-sequitur and failure to take the LW at their word. There are many reasons why the OP may not wish to disclose why they have a hard start time. Let’s face it, satisfying the curiosity of random people on the internet is a pretty low priority. Thus we cannot assume merely from a lack of information that justification is absent, for two reasons.

          “So why should their employees bust their butts to get there at 9?”

          For my part, the inability to show up on time, especially at such a reasonable hour, demonstrates a clear lack of organizational skills, planning, and general knowledge of work norms. I won’t say it’ll prevent me from recommending someone for promotion, much less fire someone, but it definitely makes me wonder what else they’re screwing up. Especially since they clearly are able to show up on time–they do it for a short time, then stop. It’s not that big an ask (and if it is, they should say something rather than just deciding not to do it), and the inability to do this does not speak well of these people.

          Further, as I said above, if there is a legitimate reason to object to this start time, the burden is on the employee to ask for changes. Simply refusing to do it demonstrates outright contempt for the company and one’s coworkers. Mere courtesy demands that you talk to your boss, or at least your colleagues, before you just decide to egregiously and openly violate company policy. Put another way: You’re assuming that the burden is entirely upon the employer (or, more accurately, the manager–who may not even have any say in this policy) to prove to the workers why a hard start time is required. I’m saying it should be a conversation, with obligations on both parties.

          This is also a double standard. You’re happy to assume the worst of the OP because of a lack of information, while you assume the best interpretations on the part of the employees. Without knowing why they’re late–and given the fact that they have demonstrated that they could be on time–why is this fair?

          Does all this mean the manager shouldn’t investigate the policy? No, of course not; I’m a huge fan of looking for opportunities to revisit previous decisions in an organization. What I strongly object to is the view that the boss is somehow the enemy and is usually if not always in the wrong.

          1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            I think the issue is more that the higher ups blatantly ignore the hard start time (indicating that it isn’t a situation where if even one person is late it will mess up the whole system) while wanting to penalize the other employees.

            Also, I take LW on face value that, if there was a legitimate business reason for the hard start (and it could have been stated vaguely as “If everyone is not there at 9 am it results in major problems due to our industry”) they would have said this.

            And, let’s be real, IF there was a legitimate reason, this would be so much less of a point of tension/difficulty. If Bob being 10-20 minutes late means Sarah has to cover both Bob and Sarah’s clients/customers or that Bob does not complete all of his work by the deadlines, then you don’t have to worry about how to incentivize Bob to be on time because the you can discipline him for the actual, negative results of the lateness. That is, you don’t need to say “Bob, you can never be late” because you are saying “If Sarah has to continue to perform your job functions in addition to her own, we will let you go, Bob”.

          2. yala*

            “For my part, the inability to show up on time, especially at such a reasonable hour, demonstrates a clear lack of organizational skills, planning, and general knowledge of work norms.”

            For my part, this insistent perception demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of neurodivergence.

      3. Observer*

        The idea that having strict hours is archaic or unreasonable, without knowing far more about the work situation, is simply not tenable.

        Except that the OP *does* give us the information we need to come to that conclusion. They say that it is to be “more efficient” which is a meaningless statement and to “improve work life balance” which is simply untrue.

        This tells me it’s a lack of ownership on the part of the employees.

        Well, of COURSE! Why SHOULD they feel “ownership” in a situation where management is being hypocritical as well as making excuses that your average adolescent can see through? This is not a failing of staff. It’s a reasonable reaction to really bad management.

      4. Chairman of the Bored*

        “This tells me it’s a lack of ownership on the part of the employees. They don’t care, in other words. I’m curious as to why.”

        As a wise man once said:
        “It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units I don’t see another dime; so where’s the motivation? … my only real motivation is not to be hassled; that, and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.”

        Does getting up early to arrive at 8:55 instead of 9:15 benefit me, the employee? If not, then I don’t have much reason to do it.

      5. Dinwar*

        Somehow this blog has gone from “Ask a Manager” to “Demonize The Managers.” People no longer seem to approach these discussions in good faith.

        1. Lily Potter*

          I’m with you Dinwar. I fail to understand why it’s unreasonable to set an expectation that people show up for work by a particular time MOST OF THE TIME. I’m not talking about bad weather or the occasional traffic jam. A reasonable employer will work with an employee on the exceptions. What I’m reading in this letter is that employees are blowing off their employer’s expectations because they don’t like said expectations.

          Work is not a democracy. Employers are allowed to have expectations, even if they’re weird or not popular expectations. Employees must work to those expectations or work elsewhere.

          The OP, being a good manager, wants to find a way to help her employees succeed under the system as it exists. Instead, she gets 200 responses telling her how awful the system is and how s/he must CHANGE the system. Something tells me that s/he would have already done that if it were an option.

          1. Chairman of the Bored*

            “Employees must work to those expectations or work elsewhere.”

            Or, take option number C: Ignore those expectations, keep working there, and see if the bosses are so serious about their arbitrary rules that they’re willing to can a productive employee over them.

            My experience has been that very often they are not, when push comes to shove.

            1. Cochrane*

              It may not be a sackable offense, but a differentiator; if you’ve got two employees that are fairly evenly matched and only one promotion slot/high profile project/bigger raise/etc, then you’re going to choose the one who can fulfill the most basic requirement of getting to their job on time.

              1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                I think it is the fact it is de facto going to punish women (who bear the bulk of child and elder care responsibilities), those with medical issues, and those who have lower income/lack generational wealth and support system more than others.

                If there is a real reason for a hard start time, then this discrimination against marginalized groups in the workforce is an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence.

                But if there is no REAL reason for it, then this is a policy that you KNOW will have a disparate impact based on gender, income level, and medical conditions and you just don’t care if it happens because, well, you don’t care. And it is a challenge to sell “this won’t make us more money and it is discriminatory” as a reasonable hill to die on to prospective employees, customers and from a marketing perspective.

          2. Basalt*

            “Work is not a democracy. Employers are allowed to have expectations, even if they’re weird or not popular expectations. Employees must work to those expectations or work elsewhere. ”

            Not really sure what you’re arguing. No one is saying that Employers can’t have expectations legally or physically or whatever. People are arguing that the expectations, in this case, are bad ones.

        2. fgcommenter*

          It’s not demonization, it’s just cracking the societal-norm shell of “toxic behavior is okay if it’s coming from someone with more power” and critically examining the behavior without that excuse covering it up.

          1. Huh*

            This seems to be calling “Expecting employees to start work on time” toxic behavior, which is a really confusing comparison to me. Am I misreading something?

            1. Willow Pillow*

              LW states that senior management doesn’t follow that policy – “rules for thee but not for me” is not healthy.

            2. yala*

              Tbh, I think getting fachéed over five minutes in the morning, if it doesn’t actually affect the work being done, to the point that you want to punish employees whose actual work is good and reliable is kind of toxic. If those five minutes actually *matter* then yes, of course.

              But it it’s not an issue if that same employee is in their seat, staring blearly at the computer but not online themselves for a few minutes, then it really seems like creating a problem when there isn’t one.

              But ESPECIALLY if the higher-ups don’t follow the rules themselves.

        3. Chairman of the Bored*

          During Covid a large portion of the mangerial class showed their entire ass and made it very clear that they care more about getting their three/four-figure bonuses than they do about the actual health and happiness of their underlings.

          Those underlings, not being stupid, noticed this and now rightly recognize that (for the most part) their managers are not on their side and are to be treated with a healthy degree of suspicion.

        4. yala*

          This doesn’t exactly seem like a statement in good faith either. I don’t think anyone is “demonizing the managers” here.

      6. lilsheba*

        So agree with this. In approx 40 years of working I’ve always managed to get to work on time, with nothing but public transit as an option. I even made it with train delays because I allowed enough time to cover such things. It really isn’t that hard. If people can’t do that then they really do need to go somewhere else.

        1. yala*

          ” It really isn’t that hard.”

          For you.

          “If people can’t do that then they really do need to go somewhere else.”

          Seems a shame to lose good employees over a non-issue, if it doesn’t actually affect their work.

    5. I take tea*

      Because for some of us it is really, really hard to be on the dot somewhere. It takes a lot of extra effort and also includes coming far to early and waiting outside, or a lot of anxiety and stress if the commute has a problem. It is worth it for things which have a hard start time, like trains and flights, or the theatre. Or, of course, a job with coverage. Otherwise a flexible start and end time with core hours are much easier for us. I certainly would leave a job like this as quick as I could.

    6. StressedButOkay*

      Honestly, because without having people leave far earlier than they are already, I don’t see a way to enforce this policy. And this will drive more staff away.

    7. Observer*

      But that doesn’t really answer the OP’s question, which is how to work within the system that s/he’s got.

      And the answer is that it’s almost certainly not possible, as long as there is no business reason for it.

      So the OP had three choices:

      Figure out the business need and push that – with the management changes that Allison suggested

      Use their capital with management to change the system

      Stop trying to enforce the rule.

    8. NotAnotherManager!*

      Likely because when people think they’re going to be fired over it, they may do thing that are not sustainable longer-term to demonstrate immediate “improvement”.

      I just assume that people who take this view are not living in a place like DC where traffic is simply unpredictable. My commute is 45 minutes, and I give myself an hour to do it as a hedge. At least once per week, the Metro is on fire/single-tracking/dealing with a medical event, there’s a major accident somewhere on a major commuting route, or there is a some sort of government-related thing that messes up the commute. Even with best laid plans, planning, and adding a buffer, being “on time” is a crapshoot, and I stopped stressing about it years ago and just communicate with my team if it’s going to be super late (and choose not to work places that clockwatch or require physical coverage – I have my phone/email/laptop).

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Yep. My commute is either 20 minutes door to desk or….I think the highest was over an hour. I live 2 blocks from the subway stop and my office is about 7 blocks from where I get off the train.

        The issue is if there is a train stopped ahead of mine…well, it doesn’t matter I could walk the remaining 10 blocks, I’m stuck on a train for 15, 20, 30 minutes. If the red line has an emergency and services is suspended, then the blue line I take is going to have 2-3x as many people and so my 2-6 minute wait for the next train is going to turn into 10-15 minutes. If the trains all switch to local (or to express), yep, add 10+ minutes.

        I have the easiest commute of anyone I know and that is still the reality. Oh, and if one train line is messed up, then it pretty much means the WHOLE OFFICE is going to be thrown off because EVERYONE commutes via subway/train/bus. So while I may end up 10 minutes behind, someone who has to do 2 transfers could easily be 45 minutes behind due to compounding delays. And it is pretty ridiculous choice for morale to penalize the majority of employees because there was a fire on the tracks of the NRQW and your employees didn’t plan on 30+ minutes of buffer travel time and where the late start has no material impact of the amount or quality of anyone’s work.

    9. Rebecca*

      It’s because OP is asking the wrong question, in my opinion. There is no way to enforce a policy that makes no sense without punishing the staff. Even if people aren’t written up for being late, having to jump through hoops to adjust their personal lives in order to walk in the door 5 or 10 minutes earlier is a form of punishment. What if they have to catch a bus or train that is an entire hour earlier just to make sure they’re never late? Or maybe all the labor of caring for their children in the mornings now falls to their partner. The policy needs to be changed, not enforced.

    10. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      > Why can all employees manage to get to work on time for a while but then not two months later?

      It probably goes like this: management are unhappy about timekeeping, so people put in extra effort to be on time, build in extra contingency. Then after a while, a couple of people are late once or twice due to whatever unexpected incident. Others notice that nothing was said to those people, no consequences. So they conclude that management have moved on from that and have a “bee in their bonnet” about something else now.

  13. AnneSurely*

    Are there concrete reasons for any/all of the employees to be there at 9, or is it an arbitrary number? For example, having worked as an admin. assistant where very busy phones started taking calls at our official opening time every day, having colleagues who where chronically late (w/o logistical issues such as public transit as the cause) made most mornings incredibly stressful as well as honestly infuriating. (Like, stressful to the point where I realized I was having physical anxiety symptoms every morning before work in anticipation.) And there were reasons why we couldn’t delay the opening time.

    But if there isn’t a specific reason for someone to be there at 9, and they’re getting all their work done (and if hourly, working the hours they claim to be), why is this a thing worth pushing on?

  14. jane's nemesis*

    I don’t even understand how 9-5 is supposed to help work/life balance?? My work/life balance is better when I have flexibility in my start and end times so that I can accomplish things I need to accomplish before, after, and during work that are impossible to do outside 9-5, such as doctor’s appointments, kid dropoff/pickup, etc etc etc etc. That’s not even to mention unavoidable things like traffic or other unavoidable delays!

    It’s a BS reason and I bet it’s why your employees don’t respect the rule, especially when they see senior management not following it!

    1. Becca*

      Likewise business dress. Assuming they are employing adults their employees presumably can work out for themselves if business dress helps them psychologically separate work life from hope life or if coming in to to office is separate enough and they would prefer to dress comfortably or just not pay for a whole separate work wardrobe. It’s fine if they want to insist on it (especially if they can identify actual business need like it’s expected by clients) but ridiculous to claim it’s for the benefit of the staff.

    2. Qwerty*

      I think it is more about they need to start at 9am in order to reliably finish at 5pm so that Jack arrive late doesn’t result Jane having to stay late.

      Their messaging needs some thought and introspection so they have a more detailed answer about what specific problems are caused by someone showing up at 9:15 consistently. I think management in general has trouble explaining long standing policies and give out crummy generic reasons that sound like nonsense because the reason either so obvious to them or the rule resulted from a long ago issue that where they only remember the headache but not the details.

      If senior management can’t follow the policy though…I really don’t get why anyone is fighting this battle. Either lead by example or re-examine the policy.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        They also need to look at job functions. Nobody arriving “late” affects whether, I can leave at a certain time. But people not respecting deadlines has.

  15. Angstrom*

    When we were all in-person, my current job had core hours 10-3. As long as your workday included that, the start and end times were flexible. Worked fine.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      With my luck, pointing that out would get my core hours set to 9 am – 5 pm.

    2. Rayray*

      This is my favorite way for an office to operate. It’s accommodating and perfectly reasonable.

    3. Flying Fish*

      I’ve had jobs like that: “be here between X and Y and get your work done in a timely fashion.” I really appreciate that approach. Easer on everyone!

  16. Modesty Poncho*

    Hah literally yesterday I was re-reading the original letter and everyone’s awful stories of bosses who wouldn’t budge on reasonable flexibility. This letter has only aged worse since 2020 happened huh?

    1. Some words*

      Of course things are always changing, but the last couple years have really seen so many instances of radical rethinks of priorities.

      I think the ship has truly sailed on the levels of rigidity that used to be so commonplace.

  17. Bookworm*

    Unless someone will die or it significantly affects productivity, this will either be a hill to die on or let go. If it really is that important to senior management and nothing else has worked, a punishment system will have to be a way to go.

    I will tell you that I once worked at an organization that worked towards this prior to the pandemic (strict core working hours, people not allowed to be flexible) and continued this into the pandemic by requiring we attend morning meetings (essentially a roll call). This got to be a conflict between senior management who inflicted this upon us and the individual teams (basically our individual managers bore the brunt of it and/or managed around it because our work was not life or death or hit our productivity otherwise). I personally grew to resent this very much because it was yet another example of management’s control freak tendencies that really weren’t necessary.

    It was not *the* reason, but I eventually chose to walk. People may not be changing jobs as often/orgs aren’t hiring like they were a year or 2 ago, but your workforce will find a way to send a message. Good luck.

  18. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

    The best way to motivate people is to point to the real-world consequences of their behavior, not to the arbitrary consequences enforced on them by authority figures. It won’t cover everything, but making people feel like valued contributors whose presence at 9 am makes a difference to the business functionality is the best way to motivate them *internally*, not through fear.

    If their presence at 9 am sharp makes a difference to the business, then you need to point to that during hiring and make sure you’re hiring people who can commit to that, barring things like sudden illness.

    If their presence at 9 am sharp doesn’t make a difference to the business…why is it worth investing business resources in? “For employees to feel more separation” sounds like it’s supposed to benefit the employee psychologically, so that should be left up to the employee. Since different employees will have different psychological needs.

    As I’ve been telling people at work lately, social/political capital is not just something you have with your peers and superiors, but with the people below you in the hierarchy. Every time you can get your employees’ buy-in for a good idea (be here at 9 am so the store opens on time and doesn’t lose business), you gain social capital with them. Every time you have to lay down the law (be here at 9 am or I’ll punish you), you spend social capital. You only want to spend social capital when you really need to.

    I recommend treating social capital like money and being clear-sighted about when spending it will advance the well-being of the business, and when it’s throwing money down the drain. If you’re fighting this battle because you’ve always fought it, to avoid losing face or giving in, I suggest looking into the sunk costs fallacy.

    1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

      Also, I appreciate that you want to do this without punishment, but ultimately, people are going to adhere to the policy either because *they* think it’s a good idea, or because the *authorities* think it’s a good idea. Even if the employees think it’s a good idea, they’re still going to face struggles with subways, school dropoffs, etc., but you’re going to get much more compliance than if they’re only complying because the *authorities* think it’s a good idea. Even without explicit punishments, when someone has authority over you, their displeasure is a form of implicit punishment: it causes you stress and gives you reason to worry about your job, which is all an external punishment is really meant to do in the first place.

    2. Isben Takes Tea*

      This! My otherwise great manager being hung up on start time really took a toll.

      In my commute, there was a train I could catch that would normally get me there at 9:03, or one that would get me there at 8:50. I *tried* to catch the 8:50 one to allay not-infrequent train delays, but even then it wasn’t a guarantee. The only way to 100% guarantee I was in my seat by 9:00 was to take the 8:35 train, which would lengthen my already 95-minute commute by half an hour. I refused to do that.

      I was 95% of the time in my seat between 9:05 and 9:10, and would make sure to not leave until I had worked a full 8 hours. Nothing was ever delayed by my delay; it was purely an optics thing for our department. To be an otherwise star employee and still be “tut-tutted” about not being there “by 9” was demoralizing.

      1. Chirpy*

        Even with a car, if traffic is slow or there’s an accident, it’s going to unavoidably slow your commute. One time I had to go to the next exit (which is a good 10+ minute loop around, no on ramp to do a U turn) because I started trying to get in the right lane about 3 miles ahead of my exit and nobody in the right lane would let me in. (For whatever reason everyone was bumper to bumper in only that lane for at least 5 miles that day.)

  19. CB*

    How is a rigid 9a-5p best for work-life balance and allows for separation between work and home. My workplace is quite flexible with start hours (“just work your 40 hours in a week, that’s all we care about…as long as any flexes are in your calendar that’s fine”) and that completely improves my work life balance and separation between work and home. My husband is a manager at a warehouse-he must be there at 7:30am with absolutely no ability for flexibility has he has to relieve the overnight manager. But we have two kids, who need lunches made, need to get on a bus (which is often late), need to get picked up from daycare, etc. So I HAVE to do it as my husband cannot. Our life would be completely upended if my workplace changed their policy…meaning my work life balance would crumble. I would need to hire a nanny for the tasks (then my work would have to pay me more!), or I would need to quit my role in a highly specialized field…a role that I am the only one in at my workplace. I really am curious how employers like this think this HELPS their staff

    1. Reality Check*

      In my experience, the upper management that makes these rules tend to be older and with grown kids. I’ve often thought they’re suffering amnesia. The other part of the upper management crowd tends, again just my personal observation here, to be men with stay at home wives, and they’re just clueless.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I have often thought that there’s a weird amnesia that affects many people once they become a manager. It’s like they completely forgot what it was like to just be a regular employee. Some seem to have forgotten what it’s like to be a regular human being.

    2. lucanus cervus*

      I’m pretty sure these rules are made by people who have a) cars and b) spouses who deal with kids and/or any of those other caring-type responsibilities that make life untidy. So they’re not personally impacted by anything in the morning and evening other than getting their own butts to and from work. In those circumstances, I suppose a hard, predictable start and finish time is probably quite nice.

      1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        Not to be gross but having a baby and toddler now, you’d be amazed at the relaxing effect of car rides or even the prospect of going on a car ride. I can get both strapped into their car seats and then immediately have a diaper change emergency one or the other or for both. So butts can literally delay me getting to work on time…

  20. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Two thoughts…

    1) As someone who used to get chided for being “habitually late” (at places with flex hours where strict time wasn’t needed, but every now and then, someone would have the idea that wouldn’t it be NICE to have everyone arrive at 8:30 on the dot), strict hours and strict dress code is not a great combination, and hurts women more than it does men. I still have the memories of scrambling to get the kids off to school while also doing my hair and makeup for work, only to run into the daily standup meeting with a team of eight bald, makeup-less guys all telling me “you’re a minute late again!”

    2) Are the new hires being told about the strict hours during the hiring process? Asking because I was lied about that once. I had two kids in daycare and elementary school, and as such a place with super strict hours like OP’s was an automatic no to me. I had a manager interview me and when I asked what the words strict hours in their job ad meant, he was “oh don’t worry about it, just don’t be an hour late every day etc etc” then he left and a dev lead came in to do the rest of the interview and bless that man, he gave it to me straight! “We have strict hours starting at 8:00, if you come in at 8:05, you get stares” “We have strict dress code, not sure what that is for women, but for guys it’s white shirt and a tie” I came home and told my recruiter I was withdrawing myself from the process. I could’ve continued interviewing if not for that honest dev lead. OP, is your workplace doing the same thing as the manager did – trying to close the deal and get a good candidate to sign the offer, so in interviews, you downplay the strictness of your strict hours? sounds to me that this might be the case from your description of how surprised and caught off guard they are about it after they start. TELL THEM. Most of them will withdraw (I would). But those who won’t, will be more likely to stick with the strict hours. Tell them as early as the initial HR screen, so nobody on either side of the interview process is wasting their time.

  21. B*

    I kinda don’t think just changing a rule that people are refusing to follow is a bad choice. That’s teaching them that they don’t have to follow established procedures and then the procedures will just be changed. That’s no way to run an organization. If folks have an issue with the schedule, they should bring those objections to the decisions makers like adults. Make the case for a more flexible schedule! Don’t just decide on your own that you get to be more flexible if that isn’t the policy. I don’t think that sort of behavior should be rewarded.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yeah, this is not how things work. People aren’t just deciding “oh, I’d like an extra fifteen minutes of sleep, so I’m going to be fifteen minutes late.”

      Presumably, these employees are following the rest of the actual work procedures while they are. This is about dealing with the randomness of modern life. Implying that these employees are childish or are making childish decisions is not really helpful and is definitely not the clarity that LW needs to create and nurture a well-running organization.

      1. B*

        We are all responsible for our own behavior and the outcomes of that behavior. It’s fine if folks think the schedule should be more flexible, I agree with them. But they need to actually make the case for that flexibility. For right now they need to take steps to be on time since that is the expectation.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          You sound like you think people are being late on purpose. I think you are assuming malice and ill will when this is just how modern life is. I certainly can’t just call up my kid’s school and say they need to be open fifteen minutes earlier so I can drop them off and get to work myself. This is not how adult life with actual responsibilities in the real world works.

          This kind of sycophancy is not really helpful when dealing with such an archaic, inflexible, and quite frankly illogical policy. Even assuming that everybody leaves at a ridiculously early time to guarantee that they will be on time, then what will the response from management going to be? They’re just going to say “well, you’re managing to get here on time now, so there’s no reason to change the policy.” (I mean, they want to punish people for not following it now. Do you really think they’re going to just say “oh, okay, then”?)

          As has so often been indicated in this blog, things don’t change unless you make this problem belong to the people it actually needs to belong to. And in this case, it’s management’s problem for having such a ridiculously rigid policy.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            And if people get in at 8:30 because they change to make sure they can get to work on time, are they going to be allowed to leave at 4:30? Doesn’t seem like it. So they’re adding 30′ onto their day, for no reason other than “management wants us to be here from 9-5 only”. If there is no business reason for people to be there right at 9, then you shouldn’t require them to be there at 9. It’s not helping anyone get work done, and what you’re doing is making sure your employees are always keeping an eye out for another job that doesn’t clock watch them.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      That’s no way to run an organization.
      That’s an excellent way to run an organization, in many cases. If something isn’t working you change it. If the new informal thing is actually working better than the old way, you formalize it.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Yes, exactly. Things that don’t adapt and change to new circumstances soon become extinct.

      2. Chirpy*

        One of the best pieces of advice for keeping your home clean I’ve ever heard was: take notice of where the piles of stuff end up. And then put storage *there*.

        Because, if you’re always dropping your shoes next to the door instead of putting them away in a closet, clearly the closet isn’t working for how you actually live. So put a shoe rack or basket in that spot, and it’s much easier to keep the shoes corralled neatly because that’s where you naturally want to put them.

        Same thing with work: if such a large number of people are having problems with the schedule (which is supposed to improve work-life balance?), you definitely need to rethink how you’re doing work-life balance. Clearly a lot of people would benefit from a little more flexibility here, this isn’t just one or two habitually late people.

    3. Ex-Teacher*

      You’re kind of boiling this down to following riles because “they’re the rules” and not because those rules have value.

      If the rules don’t actually add value, but you’re enforcing them for the sake of “following established rules and procedures”, then not only are you sending the message that the decisionmakers are inflexible, but you’re telling the reasonable adults that have better options to take those better options.

    4. anon for this*

      You are making it sound like that workplace is a democracy. I worked at one like that. I can assure you, it is not.

      The upper level folks need to show they are in charge.

      1. Chairman of the Bored*

        If people keep quitting because the upper management is sticking to bad policies, they *aren’t* in charge. People can just give them the finger and go work someplace better and there’s nothing they can do about it.

        Presumably, this workplace isn’t the Foreign Legion and the bosses can’t send an uncooperative worker to the stockade. They don’t actually have much leverage.

        Real authority comes from people *wanting* to follow you, not from them being afraid that you’ll punish them if they don’t.

      2. yala*

        “The upper level folks need to show they are in charge.”

        Or, counterpoint, they can err on the side of efficiency and employee retention, rather than flexing their authority purely because it is their authority.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        As long as they’re okay with the rank and file deciding that they don’t want to work somewhere that upper-level folks think that being 0-15 minutes late is something worth flexing their authority on. If there is a job-related reason that not even being five minutes late is critical, they’d do better to treat the team like adults and focus on results before “show[ing] that they are in charge”.

    5. Wintermute*

      what is the alternative? fire otherwise good employees because it’s a matter of principle?

      How much can you do that before you start having issues delivering on what you need to do to keep the doors open and stay profitable?

    6. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “That’s no way to run an organization.”

      Sure it is. We’re all adults, and the rules should exist for a reason. If there is a real reason for a 9am start and there are real consequences to people being late, those should be addressed by managers on an individual basis. If it’s just because they like it that way (the original letter notes this is a preference of the president, even though he’s often late himself), and people are willing to spend their capital to push back or ignore it, then it may be arbitrary and costing the company more than it needs to be, so they should do away with the policy.

      There are a lot of reasons people might be late, and it’s rarely malicious. Given the reality of the situation, the business has to decide if the cost of turnover is worth digging their heels in. It’s probably not.

      Good organizations are run based on results, not arbitrary rules that people follow because they need to toe the line.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      If you have a handful of people that aren’t following the “rule”, then you talk to those people. If 2/3 of your staff is not making it in “on time”, then management has done a poor job articulating the business need for it (and “because I said so” is not a business need) and may either want to give that a try (or talk to people and find out what’s preventing timeliness) and consider if it’s really a hill to die on.

      It sounds like OP is aware that their organization is already at a disadvantage with their lack of flexibility and they already have staffing issues. Announcing that anyone in 9:01 AM or later, especially in an area where OP acknowledges the commute gets real unpredictable real fast, will be punished is only going to exacerbate this problem. Management can go for the power play (and lose more staff) or they can look at whether or not their rules make sense.

  22. Peanut Hamper*

    “a very traditional office setting”

    There’s your problem right there.

    If your employees came from more flexible workplaces, and they were good enough doing those jobs that you hired them, then that is a sure cue that you need to become a more flexible workplace.

    Is this description even part of your hiring process? Do people know that they are going to be working in a workplace that is excessively rigid and has absolutely no wiggle room for the randomness and vicissitudes of modern life?

    Punishing people is not the answer. Because their response to that will be to just find a job somewhere else.

  23. SJ*

    Hmm, the only way I can think of to 1) enforce a policy and 2) not punish anyone, is to make the enforcement rewards based instead of punishment based.

    So, I don’t know, every quarter end, get a nice catered lunch for any team with good timeliness that quarter.

    To be clear, this is a bad and outdated policy, monitoring on it is a waste of your time, and enforcement of any kind is going to cause more problems than it solves.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I agree, but this sounds like the kind of organization where someone would complain that they shouldn’t have to reward people for doing their job. It sounds like a whole lot of sticks and not a single carrot as far as the eye can see.

    2. Jim Crockett*

      > get a nice catered lunch for any team with good timeliness that quarter.

      incentivizing the other employees to harass and harm teammates who are accidentally late is an evil punishment based scheme based on “plausible deniability”

      a gift card to each on time attender could maybe sort of work, but for it to actually make up for an hour of unpaid attendance each morning, it would need to be hourly wage X 250, and I’m not seeing a company passing out $25,000 in gift cards to each employee every year.

      1. Someone*

        I don’t think these employees are making $100 an hour. Though honestly I don’t even see them handing out $250 gift cards for attendance.

    3. Tired of Working*

      When I worked, I was always a stickler for arriving on time. If I had always been on time, but the other members of my team were not, and I was not given a catered lunch because of them, I would get annoyed.

  24. Butterfly Counter*

    I wonder if the strict 9-5 without flex time as an efficiency measure is based on collaboration issues.

    For example, EmployeeA flexes his time and comes in at 9:20 and is willing to stay until 5:20. However, he is working on a project that takes all day and needs to go to EmployeeB for approval/signatures/whatever. EmployeeB gets the documents at 5pm, but then has to stay until 5:20, herself, to finish documentation despite actually being there at 9am.

    EmployeeA might think the flex time is reasonable because he’s put in his 8, but really, is affecting EmployeeB’s time in the office. And maybe EmployeeB really wants a hard stop at 5pm.

    This could potentially be resolved by having specific deadlines knowing EmployeeB’s schedule, but I imagine there still might be grumpiness from EmployeeA about being rushed and the company is trying to head that off by making blanket rules about time in the office.

    Otherwise agreeing with everyone else that OP should solve the actual problems, if any, the result from butts not being in seats vs. punishing people for not being exactly on the company’s clock.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      There are so many ways to address that if that’s the issue.

  25. Venus*

    It sounds like the region is known to have many unpredictable delays and you’re expecting people to give themselves a buffer in case they have delays. If they build in a buffer then on a good day they might typically arrive closer to 8:30, yet they have no incentive to do this if they arrive earlier yet have to stay until 5pm. If they arrive at 9:05 then they can leave at 5:05, whereas if they arrive at 8:40 then I’m guessing they are expected to stay until 5pm, and that only encourages people to optimize their travel to be on time or late, not early.

    If 2/3 of employees are late then that shows a big systemic problem, especially if that’s typical. 9am is relatively late in the morning so unlikely to be difficulties in waking up. It’s possible LW wrote in when there was an unusually bad storm, but if more than 1/3 of employees are late more than a couple times a week then either there is a problem with the local transit system, big traffic issues, frequent bad weather, or combinations of these and more. The change of commute time from 30 minutes on a good day to 90 minutes on a bad day feels wild to me, and suggests that local companies need to be flexible if they want to keep employees.

    I might suggest slightly more flexible starting times between 8:30 and 9am to see if that helps, although I have a flexible schedule with core hours (9am-3pm) and would struggle with an employer who was rigid about the hours without justification.

    1. Polaris*

      Shoot – 30 minutes to 90 minutes, could be talking about where I live, save for the comments about transit (transit where I live is an utter and complete joke – there is none to speak of!).

      I agree – it sure sounds like systemic issues may be contributing.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Same. I wonder if the owners/management are now in the “nobody wants to work any more” boat. Because seriously, it’s not that nobody wants to work any more, it’s that they don’t want to work in an environment like this any more and they probably don’t have to.

  26. HailRobonia*

    I work on a hybrid schedule (3 days at home, 2 in the office). Luckily I have the freedom to work 8:30-4:30, and we are allowed flexibility regarding our time – they trust us to manage our own time since we are salaried.

    The way traffic works, if I needed to work 9-5 I would need to arrive by 8:30 anyways… if I leave my house even 5 minutes past my regular time it typically add about 45 minutes to my commute.

  27. Orora*

    I agree with everyone else on the flexibility.

    But if an employee MUST be at their desk at 9, I would emphasize that in the interview. Be very clear that the hours are the hours and even a little tardiness is a problem. Those who can’t do it will self-select out.

    1. a clockwork lemon*

      I was just thinking the same thing! This level of strictness wouldn’t work for me in a non-coverage based job. The commuter rail does not care if my office demands I show up at exactly 9am on the dot. Add a strictly enforced lunch break (and presumably not set by an employee based on their own needs) and that’s a level of micromanagement I never even saw when I worked retail and in call centers.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yes, please. Anywhere that is going to consider a <15 minute late arrival time an issue in the DC area is a hard pass from me. I worked under a clock-watcher for part of my career and it was miserable to know I was being judged on Metro's track record for timeliness and not the substantial contributions I was making to the bottom line.

    3. Tired of Working*

      You’re kidding, right, about potential employees self-selecting out? Because in addition to the receptionist I talked about upthread, who always came in late so that she could avoid doing the parts of her job that she disliked, there was a co-worker at another who always got to work between 20 and 25 minutes after 9:00 AM, the time he was supposed to arrive, but he always ran out the door promptly at 5:00 PM, the time he was supposed to leave. One time, he told me out the clear blue sky that he was always late because no one ever said anything to him, and why should he bother to arrive on time, because he got paid just as much as if he had arrived on time. Someone must have overheard him talking to me, because suddenly, he was told that his hours were being changed to 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM, and if he started coming in after 9:30 AM, his hours would be changed to 10:00 to 6:00 PM. He was never late after that, because even though he hated having to work until 5:30 PM (instead of running out the door at 5:00 PM on the nose), staying until 6:00 PM would have been much worse. What happened was that the very first time he was late, no one said anything, so he figured that it was okay, and then he started coming in later and later, and still no one said anything, so he kept it up until one day BOOM! His hours were changed. He definitely did not self-select out.

      1. Orora*

        Yeah, there will always be people like that. But some people will self-select out. Potential candidates are better off knowing that something is a big deal before they make a decision.

        If tardiness is a big deal, managers need to treat it as such according to the corrective action process. It sounds like the managers didn’t give consequences for his tardiness, which is not acceptable if timeliness is important. Doesn’t sound like it was a big enough concern for these managers to sweat it. If them not being on time affects how you do your job, that needs to be addressed. Managers need to manage, not take the path of least resistance.

  28. yala*

    So much this! If it’s not customer facing, if being at the desk for 9-on-the-dot doesn’t actually impact clients or coworkers, if there’s no negative effect to someone being 5 minutes late (and especially if they make up the time), then being so rigid about “butts in seats a 9 no exceptions, or you’ll be punished” really just…doesn’t do any good for anyone at all.

    And if it seems like only SOME people get in trouble for it…yeah, that’s a key to resentment and frustration.

    1. TurnedMeIntoANewt*

      If it is a coverage question, they might find that some employees would voluntarily choose an earlier start time because leaving earlier would benefit them in some way. My husband works 8-4 instead of 9-5 because of our kids and childcare availability, while some of his colleagues work 10-6 so they can start their day with a workout. That is work-life balance.

  29. Rob*

    The reason people start falling back into old patterns is right there in your question: Senior management doesn’t even follow the rules. How can you expect your average worker to believe that it is business critical to be there at 9:00am when the people in charge are clearly not needed and dont care to be there at 9:00am. Rules for they but not for me is not going to get you anywhere with your rank & file workers.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      Especially if they’re getting there “on time” by leaving super early and arriving well before 9. Wasting time on the start of the day, but not being allowed to leave earlier at the end of the day is not a recipe for making your employees feel valued. They’re not being judged on their work, but on their on-time metric.

  30. Falling Diphthong*

    Members of senior management can’t seem to follow the policy themselves.

    Unfortunately I took a sip of tea right before reading this closer. Because of course senior management can’t apply the policy to themselves. And yes OP, that line suggests just how critical to the office the policy is.

    OP, it’s possible for someone to value work-life separation AND the ability to flex their time so they can go to the doctor at 10:15. Imposing a strict lack of flexibility and calling it work-life balance isn’t fooling anyone.

    If you’ve managed to escape the tradition of, for example, writing out all memos in longhand on carbon paper, then you can take another look at the stuff you’re doing for “tradition” and whether it makes sense for completing the work.

    1. SarahKay*

      Yes, members of senior management not following the rules was the part at which I went “Oh, boy!!! I’m amazed they have any staff left.”

      If senior management aren’t leading by example then I’m noping right out of that. At least if they’re all following the same rigidity being enforced for me then I might be (hugely) irritated by the rule, but would be far more inclined to accept it, and less likely to leave.
      If they’re not following the rules they (oh-so-kindly-and-not-at-all-paternalistically) say are for my work/life separation (yeah, right) then I’d better really need something about that specific job for me to stay.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I missed that part on first read. Yeah that’s the kiss of death for that policy. A senior management that pushes strict hours on their staff, does not adhere to them themselves, and cannot come up with a business reason why the strict hours are needed other than “it’s for your work-life balance” (lmao that’s not how work-life balance works). And on top of it, “among senior management there’s now a discussion about setting up a new system to punish people for being late” while they themselves are also late. Makes it look like a power move for the power move’s sake. Which I’m sure is on everyone’s list of top reasons for why they’d want to work somewhere; leadership on a power trip. I suspect that by now, the place has either changed their policies, or ceased to exist. I cannot imagine a company getting away with this “traditional”-ness post-Covid.

  31. DataSci*

    If the claimed reasons are the actual reasons, I suggest you take a hard look at what employees actually need to be efficient and have good work-life balance. Because it’s very, very unlikely that a system with zero flexibility for coming in early and leaving early to pick up the kids, or being fifteen minutes late every other Wednesday to take your kid to get their allergy shot, or taking lunch early so they can go to the dentist on their lunch hour, helps anyone achieve good work-life balance – there’s more to it than just “we don’t make you work sixty hours a week”!

    If those aren’t the real reasons – if you’re in a coverage-based situation where customers or clients are left in the lurch if every single employee isn’t in the office at the stroke of nine every day without fail – then THAT needs to be the reason you give people. And if you do have coverage needs but it doesn’t require every single person, offering staggered start times so some people are scheduled to be in at 8:30 and leave at 4:30 while others are in at 9:30 and leave at 5:30 may be more agreeable.

    But there’s no way to rigidly enforce a rigid policy without imposing consequences on those who violate it. Either relax the policy or accept that good employees are going to be hurt by it and may choose to look for jobs elsewhere.

  32. TurnedMeIntoANewt*

    OP, this policy stinks. It doesn’t sound like it is your creation or that you are particularly supportive of it. Just trying to make things work. Still, there needs to be pushback because the policy stinks.

    I have one point that might be helpful in pushing back because I worked in an office like this. The work did not require us to show up exactly on the dot, but the employer did. This meant that any time people were running late, they often took their time in coming in. Might stop for a coffee or something instead of running in because the policy was “late is late”. This means that someone who would have been a bit late might add 10-15 minutes to how late they were. We didn’t have meetings or anything that we’d miss. It was purely “because I said so” garbage and we had a lot of turnover even when the job market was dismal for job seekers.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      This is a really good point. If I’m running behind and am rushing so that I’m only going to be ten minutes late instead of 25 minutes late, but I find out that the punishment for both is going to be the same, I’m going to stop worrying about stressing myself out trying to be less late.

  33. ijustworkhere*

    Unless you have customers waiting in line to see you when you open the doors, or the phones are ringing off the hook at 9:00 there is really no reason you cannot relax these workplace standards.

    Give it a try. You can always say you are doing a pilot project that you will re-evaluate in six months. I bet you at the end of six months, everyone will be happier and you’ll get just as much work done, if not more.

    1. Tired of Working*

      “Unless you have customers waiting in line to see you when you open the doors, or the phones are ringing off the hook at 9:00 there is really no reason you cannot relax these workplace standards.”

      The phones do not have to be ringing off the hook at 9:00 AM in order to require someone to be sitting at the front desk promptly at 9:00 AM. You seem to have forgotten about the need to get messages from the answering service.

      At a previous job, a new receptionist was hired while I was on vacation. I returned to the office on the fourth day she worked there. She was late. I asked the office manager if I should call the answering service for messages. The office manager said, “No, it’s her job. She needs to do her job.” Okay.

      Eventually, the receptionist showed up. I didn’t pay attention to what she did, because I was busy doing my job. At 3:30 PM, she happened to mention that she hadn’t called the answering service. I was horrified. I asked her why, and she said, “Dawn trained me. She told me that if you got here before I did, then you would call the answering service.” I immediately ran to the office manager and told her what the receptionist had said. She started to get angry, and I said, “If you remember, I offered to call the answering service, and you specifically told me not to.” Then she stopped being angry and said, “She must have misunderstood Dawn. Dawn would never say anything like that.”

      But after that, the office manager became hyper about the answering service being called. So when the company eventually hired a new receptionist who made a habit of arriving late, I would tell the office manager, “The receptionist isn’t here. Would you like me to call the answering service?” And she would say yes. Eventually it got so that I just called without telling her, although she knew that the receptionist was late.

      1. gmg22*

        Is “get messages from the answering service” a common need for your average office in 2023, when voice mail and email exist and are used by almost everyone? Even if so: If the messages in question constitute emergencies, I would assume that the office should have a procedure for those messages to be actively and directly diverted to the person who handles those particular emergencies. If they are not (ie, they do not immediately need to be retrieved at exactly 9 am as opposed to 9:30), then I would assume that the receptionist could simply deal with them as soon as he/she arrives.

  34. Rebecca*

    So, I want to be kind, and it seems like LW is reasonable enough b/c they do not want to “punish” people for being late. However…the rigidity is absolutely why people are leaving. I’m not sure the actual reasons behind this (likely) unnecessary strictness, but I’m almost positive it’s not for work-life balance, which would by nature require flexibility.

    I’ve worked for a company like this in the past, and after being “pulled aside” one day for being – without exaggeration – two minutes late one morning, I began my job search. As I discovered that day, the CEO (THE CEO) checked employees’ workstation login times every morning. Focusing on that, rather than real issues, drove me out.

    It’s not unreasonable for employers to require on-time arrival, especially if you are, say, a doctor’s office or another type of business where phones will presumably be manned by a certain time. But to say employees should “plan commutes accordingly” is to deny reality. Yes, there are traffic accidents, bad weather, car problems, and not all these things can be adequately planned. There were days when I could leave my home three hours early and still not have made it to work “on time.”

    I think relying on people to be grownups and account for their time properly, rather than micromanaging it, is probably the thing that needs to change. Or have them clock in and out if you want to be sure everyone is working 40 hours down to the minute. But I just don’t think you can expect people to be “punished” like schoolchildren for occasional tardiness and think they will be happy and productive employees. There’s really not a good way to infantilize people in hopes of improving behavior.

  35. Ridiculous Penguin*

    I work for a company that has flex time (and only one required in-office day per week). As long as we’re available during the core hours of 10-3 (with an also-flexible lunch break), everyone is happy. Meetings are rarely scheduled before 10 or after 3 (and none after 4).

    There are times, though, when I leave super early to account for bus lateness… and still don’t get there when I want to. The bus ride is normally 45 min; I leave 45 min early and aim to get there by 8:30… and last week I still didn’t get there until 9:45.

    (There is a more-consistent train available but there are often people smoking in the cars – a post-pandemic problem no one apparently knows how to solve, with some people being injured when asking others to stop – and I have asthma.)

  36. cncx*

    I work in a department of three that needs coverage starting from 8am until 5pm. One of us at a minimum needs to be caffeinated and computer on at 759. So the expectation is that we will show up sometime between 730 and 750 and not 8. It cuts both ways too- I tend to arrive at 730 so I often get to skip out at 445 because I took 8am for the team. Assuming these rules are about coverage, do people understand that 9 means ready to work?

    More importantly, are these people paid to show up beforehand, like I am? If I was working for a bean counter that only let me clock in at 9 but also expected me to be ready to go at 9, no. I would waltz in with Starbucks at 907 on the reg.

    I reframe it in my mind that if it’s showtime at 8, then I need to take a bus that gets me there at 8 minus whatever time it takes me to go to the bathroom and make coffee.

  37. anon for this*

    I left oldjob that enforced strict start times for one that is “normal” and flexible. Not surprisingly, oldjob had a very high turnover rate.

    I would take a pay cut to get this benefit but did not because usually, jobs that enforce times like yours does (or want to) also pay less. I did take a cut in PTO but don’t miss it because if I’m 15 minutes late, I just work 15 minutes extra.

    You are going to continue to lose people with a policy like this.

  38. Spicy Tuna*

    I had a job once where the hours were 8AM – 5PM. The manager locked the door at 8:15. Turnover was high!

    1. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

      Sounds like a call center atmosphere. I worked in one where we if we were even one minute late past shift start time, we got docked 15 min of pay. Thought that was illegal but they still did it. And it still didn’t prevent people from being late, because you know, life happens.

  39. 15 Pieces of Flair*

    The larger issue in this letter seems to be the insistence on a “traditional” office culture to the detriment of retention and results. Even if LW was able to get some flexibility on the start time, the deeper cultural issue is likely still playing out in other areas. For example given that these are office jobs, there’s a strong probability that they could be done remotely. However, based on the LW’s description of their culture, I’m guessing that this company insisted on RTO as soon as it was feasible. Inflexible employers like this undermine their own success because the best employees don’t want to work for old school “butts in seats” employers.

  40. HonorBox*

    I’ve tried really hard to reframe my response to this situation because I came from old-school lines of thinking, had parents whose jobs were very specific start times, etc. So here’s where I come down on this, while understanding there’s some ambiguity in the letter that leaves us wondering both whether the uniform start time is critical and what “efficiency” means.

    Flexibility is good. Life can be unpredictable and it sounds like the majority of employees (there’s a mention of 2/3 at one point) are coming in a certain amount of time late. So it seems like start-time flexibility would be appreciated in this workplace. That said, as I’ve tried to be less rigid about start times over my career given that no one in my workplace is relieving overnight employees to keep the lines running, I do think there needs to be some flexibility on the back side of the workday too. If the people getting in late are leaving right at the closing bell and nothing is being said, there’s zero incentive to anyone else for being there 9-5. But if those employees are working an extra 15-20 minutes on days they’re coming in later, then the workplace is getting what they need, and no one should care. Also, are those folks who are coming in late fully productive? I worked with someone who was late EVERY DAY… sometimes 10 minutes and sometimes more than an hour. AND they weren’t getting their work done efficiently and completely all the time. People were waiting on them for updates and information even though they were “working late” and never left when everyone else got done for the day. It was haphazard and caused a lot of waiting.

    But if the workplace is getting what they need from the employees and they’re accounting for their time on the end of day side, the timing shouldn’t be an issue.

    1. WillowSunstar*

      Hard for me too because I used to be a temp and in pre-COVID days, would’ve gotten fired for being 5 minutes late on the reg. But yeah, you never know if people have kids and one kid just was refusing to get dressed to go to school, or people with pets and the dog just refused to go outside to go potty at the scheduled time, or the cat was busy knocking something off a shelf, etc.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      The thing is “people can’t reliably reach you”, “your work isn’t being done well”, and “you’re not working enough” are all separate issues. It might be that the solution to A and B exists in C somewhere, but that’s a bigger issue that should be handled with that one employee.

  41. Punk*

    An unspoken issue is that, often, other people’s flexibility depends on someone at that level being there to get things started, because there actually is work to do and that person is effectively covering for everyone. It’s not about “I as an individual don’t need to be here.” Someone does.

    Strict punctuality may not matter at the staff level but it matters for management. Put the punctual ones at the beginning of the line for promotions.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          At the letter-writer’s job. Right in the last sentence: “What alternatives can we consider that will both enforce our policy but not punish the staff, especially when other members of senior management can’t seem to follow the policy themselves?” (bolded for emphasis).

  42. Veryanon*

    Your policy stinks and you know it. Where are you writing from, 1955? Unless there’s some mission-critical reason why people need to wear business professional dress and arrive right by the stroke of 9, you need to rethink your office culture. It’s much less efficient to continually lose and have to rehire staff.

  43. onetimethishappened*

    For many years in my career, my commute was around 45 min in the mornings. About 1-3 times per month (weather permitting, as it was usually the cause) I was late. I would usually leave about 1 hour before work started to give myself a buffer. But any earlier and I would be very early to work. In addition I often had my kids in the morning. While I didn’t handle drop off (my husband did). I was watching my toddlers and young kids, until my husband was up and showeerd. So my departure time was pretty solid. I got all my work done with no issues. If I was super late, I would always make up my time. I would be really upset if I got in trouble for “being late” . I too would leave.

  44. Jamie (he/him)*

    The alternative, which is to measure *outcomes* and *output* rather than enforce made-up rules and sanction your best performers whilst praising the slackers for their presenteeism, must now seem like hard work.

    An office filled with useless, dispirited workers who are in on the dot and leave on the dot *must* be more efficient than an office full of happy, empowered workers who want to go the extra mile, right? That’s what your bosses think.

    Or, you know, you could be actually allowed do your job as a manager and work with the people who aren’t efficient to make them efficient, and promote the ones who are very efficient, no matter what time they clock on at each day.

    That you want to try to make this horrible, counterproductive hell work in some way tells you all you need to know. This job has rotted your soul and ruined your ability to be a manager. Run.

    1. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

      Well put. I don’t think I ever had one manager in the past who knew the first thing about how to actually measure output and outcomes. Zero effectiveness as a useless middle manager but they were all too glad to take a bigger paycheck.

  45. Nancy*

    Flexible hours helps work life balance more than strict hours, in my opinion. My employer lets us set our own hours for the most part.

    Is something not getting done because everyone isn’t there at 9? If not, accept that people may be a few minutes late due to commutes. Commutes can be unpredictable, and people can try to account for things like weather and still be late because a train breaks down or something. I rather an employer who understands that I cannot control public transportation and will sometimes be a few minutes late than one who gets upset that I am there at 9:10am instead of 9:00.

    If people absolutely need to be there by 9 otherwise work is negatively affected, change the start time to 8:45am.

    1. Becky*

      My company sets “core hours” where you have to be working between 9:30 and 3:30 (in your local time zone) but you can tailor your 8 hours however you want around that. I’ve had co-workers who worked 7:30 AM -3:30 PM others work 8-4 and some work 9-5.

  46. CocoB*

    The same message in mass email repeatedly and signs eventually get ignored or not read. Move out of mass communication to direct communication between the individuals who are not compliant and their supervisor. Mass communication leaves too much room for individual interpretation. (Jane thinks well it’s ok if I’m 5 minutes late b/c that is the bus arrival closest to my start time, otherwise the earlier bus gets me here an hour early.)

    It’s great that your company tries to prioritize separation between personal and work life, but when they collide – like I really need to be 5 minutes late because daycare doesn’t open any earlier – you are not valuing the employee’s personal life, you are creating great stress and anxiety.

    “Intangibles” are as valuable to your employee’s are good wages and benefits and affect retention.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      To add, if Jane takes the earlier bus and gets there an hour early, it doesn’t sound like she then gets to leave an hour early. If her choice is 9:05-5 or 8-5, which one do you think will get picked?

  47. WillowSunstar*

    The nice thing about being remote as an hourly worker is that it’s very easy to be on time and you no longer have traffic as an excuse for being late. The downside is that now they are strongly encouraging overtime and it’s also easy to expect people to work it because hey, no commute. But also yay time and a half.

  48. not a hippo*

    Genuine question: when arrival times are loose, how late is “too late”?

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      When it starts impacting work (yours or other people’s) or outcomes.

    2. Jackalope*

      At my job we have a flex window for arriving. It varies depending on what your position is, but for example my position right now is 7-9. You then have to stay until 8 1/2 hours after your start time. If you arrive at 7:00 you sign out at 3:30. If you arrive at 7:33 you leave at 3:33. If you arrive at 8:59 you leave at 5:29. It works really well and people are almost always at work within that time frame (besides obvious prescheduled stuff where you set things up beforehand). I personally in over a decade with this employer have been late past my window exactly once, and it involved a flat tire, a snow storm, and a late bus that was delayed by said snow storm. It’s great for morale and helpful for giving everyone both flexibility and time when they have to be around (core hours being 9-3:30). And the strictness is enforced on both ends of the work day. If I log in at 7:03 I can’t log out at 3:30, and must wait until 3:33. On the other hand, if I’m off at 3:33 and a supervisor comes by to ask me for something at 3:34, I tell them that I’m off for the day and they respect that and leave me alone (and send an email if needed that I’ll see the next morning). It’s entirely possible to make sure people are working a full day and also give them flexibility in sign-in times.

    3. Sarah*

      We have core hours. 10am-4pm Eastern. So after 10 would be too late. But most people start between 8 and 9, although no one is watching.

  49. Managing to get by*

    Honestly, I’d love a strict 9am start time if the flipside was I was guaranteed to get a lunch break everyday and not be required to work past 5pm.

    I’m tired of all the “flexibility” being used as a reason that I’m expected to be available at any time of day and generally required to work through my lunch due to required meetings.

  50. Immortal for a limited time*

    I’ve always wondered where these “9-to-5” jobs are. I live out west, where we work 8 to 5.

    1. Utahn*

      I generally work 9-5 but I don’t have a paid lunch. I could take an hour unpaid and work 8-5 or 9-6 with that unpaid hour in the middle but I usually end up working while eating because I don’t want to start earlier or stay later to take an unpaid lunch.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      My offices have always been 9-5 with some flexibility on either end

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I always thought it was a figure of speech. I’ve seen 9 hour with 1-hour lunch, and 8.5 hours with 30-minute lunch. 9-5 is neither of those…

      1. ClaireW*

        A lot of jobs where I am (N. Ireland) are actually 37.5hrs plus lunch – so 9-5 with 30min lunch or 9-5.30 with an hour lunch. Even the big US companies that are here, they talk about 40hrs but are generally flexible enough that that most people work 9-5.30 or 10-6 or whatever suits them, in my experience.

  51. Addison DeWitt*

    At one of the ad agencies I worked at, we got a new psycho boss who was appalled that people tended to waltz into the office at 9:30 or 10:00. Mind you, they tended to work till 10 pm, at least some of the time, and since this was so common, the whole office kind of ran on the assumption of such hours, so even if you find it shameful, the office worked. (I live in a city where most people took public transportation, so you kind of didn’t have total control over your arrival time, anyway)

    Well, worked for us but not for him. So he announces that if you weren’t there at 9, you’d be sent home, second time, sent home for a week, third time, terminated. Of course, the first person who violated the rule and got sent home was his #2, who was incensed that the rules applied to him. Other lowlier people figured out that if you were on the train and you knew you weren’t going to make it on time, you should just call in sick and head back home, so there was a lot of that.

    It lasted a week and then he declared victory. What he actually accomplished was convincing a lot of people to leave—I kept the office directory for the day I started and checked off about 75 people out of 150 who quit by the time I moved on, after 10 months.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I worked for someone who, one day, sent us an email saying that the start time for our team was now exactly 8:30 and not a minute later. (I got a temporary extension because my husband had just had two hip surgeries, had a pin in his hip, and was not allowed to drive. I was the only one able to take the kids to school and daycare. My parents helped pick them up in the evening, but mornings were all me. I pleaded my case to the boss and he said OK you can come in at 8:45, but only until your husband can drive again.)

      The strict hours policy died a natural death after a few weeks, because the boss kept strolling in at 9:30ish, and without him, there was no one to enforce the policy. No declarations of victory, he just pretended that it never happened, and never mentioned it again.

      1. Addison DeWitt*

        Honestly, I have no idea when Psycho Boss came in because we NEVER had anything to do with him (and remember, the office had about 100 people, not thousands). Hey, we were only the creative department, which produces the product you’re selling, why would you introduce yourself to us when you were transferred here from the Florida office, or ever talk to us about the work of our company?

  52. Veryanon*

    Earlier in my career, I worked in HR at a billing office where people had some flexibility with their schedules, but if you committed to a certain schedule, you were expected to stay with that schedule. A manager came to me once because he wanted to write up someone who was 2 minutes late and I was just like, dude, that is a surefire way to get all your good employees to quit (and we had a lot of turnover in general). He didn’t listen to me and the good employees did, in fact, all leave his team.

  53. Pogo*

    “to allow employees to feel more separation between their work and personal life.”

    Sorry, what a cop out and this is complete garbage.

    1. rayray*

      Yeah, being forced on a strict schedule makes it harder to separate. If I have to barter just to go to a dental cleaning vs being able to come in late or leave early, that’s where my work-life balance is negatively affected and I feel super tied to my job.

      Offer flexible start/stop times with some core hours that you want everyone there, so for example, office could be open from 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM, and employees can come and go as they see fit, but maybe there are core hours, such as 10:00-2:00 that you do want everyone there – though you should also be accommodating when people need to tend to personal matters, but just keep that communication open and it works out just fine.

      Trust me, the more you treat people like adults and with respect, they will act accordingly. Treat them like children, and they’ll quit or will be unhappy while they look for something else.

    2. Moonstone*

      It’s absolutely a cop out and the complete opposite of work/life balance, so LW is just lying to themselves.

      If senior management aren’t even following the rules then why would LW expect anyone else to? The quickest way to engender apathy and low morale is to set ridiculously rigid rules around hours and dress code for the employees while senior management flouts them. If the rules don’t apply to everyone then what is the point? I hope LW takes these comments to heart and can effect change in that office because it desperately needs to get with the times.

  54. Tara*

    At a previous job, I was chronically late. The reason was because I hated working there and struggled to make myself go in the morning. I’d look for possible causes of bad morale.

    1. Chirpy*

      I definitely have this going on right now. I just can. not. get going in the morning, because I’m going to be rewarded with…yet another day at my crappy job.

  55. Hiring Mgr*

    If there’s no way to change the policy, you could do like in elementary school and give “perfect attendance” certificates to those who make it on time every day. That way nobody gets punished, other than the intense envy of one of their colleagues getting the award.

    1. Happy Peacock*

      Envy or possibly resentment from people who have less control over their arrival time due to public transportation.

    2. metadata minion*

      Does this award come with something other than the certificate? I can reliably make it to work on time if I know there’s a reason for it, but getting a certificate like that would indeed make me feel like I was in elementary school and I would have the strong urge to come in late the next day just to spite management.

  56. Jill Swinburne*

    This is nothing to do with work/life balance. If it was, management would be understanding of the fact that life sometimes gets in the way of your bum-in-seat time – traffic, public transport, preschooler spending 20 minutes putting their socks on before getting out the door, cat vomiting right before you leave, etc.

    1. Pogo*

      Exactly. Also the “formal” dress to make a separation between the two? I’m honestly so disgusted by that and this type of thought process.

  57. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

    Management knows the commute can be hellish and take 1.5 hrs, then they want to punish staff for being 5 min late? That’s pretty messed up. I’d be on my way out the door literally the second I could find another job.

    1. rayray*

      Yeah, they aren’t paying employees enough to live within a reasonable distance of the workplace and then have super rigid rules too. Then they are shocked that people aren’t rays of sunshine about it all.

  58. El l*

    OP, management not obeying their own rules says more about the practice’s realism than all the hectoring and fines in all the world.

    And I’m guessing that management’s reasons for not obeying the time regulations will be pretty much the same as those of the rank-and-file.

    Learn accordingly.

    Final question: Does the company never let/make people work overtime? Because unless they prohibit that, it can’t be about work/life balance.

  59. TG*

    I am surprised anyone works there – it is mostly so people have a division between work and life – are you kidding me? This is so archaic. I’d never work there.

  60. Nomic*

    You said it takes somewhere between 30m (normal) but randomly 90m to get to work. Exactly how am I supposed to plan my day around that?

  61. NCA*

    It also might be a good idea to consider the demographics of who is going to be taking transit vs driving, especially if you’re in a metro area where parking and car related costs are sky high (even if we’re setting aside the fact that transit is better for the environment, and that some/many people can’t drive). Even in a /good/ metro transit system, there are going to be delays and there are going to be routes that force the employees into choosing between a much earlier transit time (wasting more unpaid time on work) or one that makes them 5-10 min late which they can make up later. I was lucky that my boss in that situation was extremely understanding and went with the latter.

  62. CorgiDoc*

    I used to work a job where I routinely had to arrive to work 45-60 minutes early because of bus schedules (and the alternative was being 5-10 min late). There was a real business need as it was a veterinary ER clinic and I had to arrive on time to relieve the other ER doctor who was often coming off a 14 hour shift. Drove me bonkers and I hated arriving that early even though I understood why I needed to be on time. I would also not have been happy if my relief was even a few minutes late.

    If I was expected to do that for a job that didn’t have the risk of forcing my coworker to stay late or an animal dying because there was no doctor available, I would be out of there as soon as physically possible.

  63. CLC*

    This needs to be changed. It doesn’t sound like it’s critical to the business and it’s not working. I had a job with these types of rules almost 20 years ago and it seemed outdated even then. And I (and many others) left at the first opportunity for more flexible time and dress policies.

  64. LightenUpFrancis*

    OP, if you want everyone in at 9:00, it’s clear (from the comments) that you have to change the start time to 8:30, and tell them it’s flexible.

  65. Morning reader*

    The situation reminds me of my first office job, which was 8:30-5:00 with a half hour lunch. I was often running a tiny bit late and I would know I was late if Paul Harvey came on the car radio. His bit was on my station at 8:30. Every time, I’d be determined to run into the office the second I parked, but inevitably, his story would suck me in and I wouldn’t leave the car until 8:35 when he finished. I don’t recall that anyone ever noticed or complained. And that’s the rest of the story.

  66. SB*

    I have a different take on this one to most commenters. You know you are being paid from 9 to 5 so you should be seated at your desk, ready to start work at 0900 most days. Everyone understands that things happen sometimes that cause you to run late, but this should be the exception, not the rule. If it is becoming the rule for you, then you are clearly not leaving yourself enough time in the morning to get ready & get top work.

    Believe me, when it is the same people always running 10 minutes late every day, it causes resentment with those who are able to manage their time better.

    1. LightenUpFrancis*

      I’m with you. I’m stunned at the level of resentment displayed in the comments.

    2. ClaireW*

      I guess that’s part of the point for a lot of folks though – I’m not getting paid to be physically in an office for set hours, I’m being paid for the work I do. If the company wants my best work and wants me to be willing and motivated to put the extra time in when needed or go above and beyond, then nitpicking because my requirement to use public transport to get to work means I arrive at 9.10am instead of 9am is NOT going to get them that. I think a lot of the opinions on this boil down to whether you see it as “you are paid to work these hours” vs “you are paid to get this work/these tasks done” and I know for my own job, it’s the latter.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Honestly, at this point in my life, if anyone offered me a nice salary and benefits for the hard work of sitting in a chair from 9:00 to 5:00, I might go for it! (As long as I’m allowed to get up and stretch – lower back issues at my age are no joke.) But I’m being paid for meeting deliverables. And I’m expected to be able to stay late, arrive early, or work evenings and weekends, if needed. Having to adhere to a strict butt-in-chair policy takes up the energy that I need to do my actual work, and so interferes with it. Being told that this is for my own “work-life balance” is insulting.

      I’m on my 6th job in my 26 years of working in corporate US and I never had one with strict hours, because, anytime I saw one, I’d either not apply or say “no, strict hours do not work for me” and end the hiring process at whatever stage of it I found out about the strict hours. Pretty much everyone I know does the same. Places that insist on strict hours when there’s no business need for them are losing out on talent, but hey, as long as those chairs are being kept warm, am i right?

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Wanted to add:

      “Believe me, when it is the same people always running 10 minutes late every day, it causes resentment with those who are able to manage their time better.”

      FME? no. I could not tell you if my family’s lives depended on it, who of my colleagues came in at what time every day when we were in-office. I’d remember things like not doing one’s work and ditching it on teammates. Or doing sloppy work and making code reviews more time-consuming/ditching the rework on teammates. Not answering the calls when they’re on call and causing tier 1 staff to call the next tier 2 in line (me) – those are the ones I still remember 20 years later, because it’s hard to forget a three am call that starts with “I am so sorry, I know it’s not your week, but Fergus isn’t answering the phone”. These I remember. People who came in 10 minutes past the arbitrary start time? No idea who they were. It didn’t affect my or the team’s work in any way. I agree that this depends on the job and some jobs do require one to be at their desk at a set time to provide coverage, but OP’s job is clearly like mine, nothing in their letter says otherwise.

      1. yala*

        Yeah, I legit cannot imagine noticing or caring for any reason other than YOU getting in trouble but not THEM.

        And even then, like…it’s not them I’d be annoyed with?

  67. Raida*

    “What alternatives can we consider that will both enforce our policy but not punish the staff, especially when other members of senior management can’t seem to follow the policy themselves?”

    You have a few options, let’s see the first four I wouldn’t recommend:
    Positive reinforcement – adding something to the staff that are on time as a reward and lure to people not on time
    Negative reinforcement – removing something disliked from the staff that are on time as a reward
    Positive Punishment – adding something to the staff that are late
    Negative Punishment – taking away something liked from the staff that are late.

    The first two are the more effective of the four – whether or not there is *anything* that would suit the second one in an office setting is in question, and if there is – what do you do if all staff are on time? Who does the washing up/refilling the printers/tidying the kitchen/checking the carpark/cleaning the fridge now?

    The second two are less effective but *feel right* and so understanding the ineffectiveness of them and negative side effects (people feel less seen, valued, looked down on, quit…) is important before defining a punishment.

    So, what I’d suggest as an alternative would be…
    Flexible start and end times, with core hours.
    Make it SMALL – 15mins before/after 9am. That’s enough that it’s worth getting the earlier bus because I can start work whenever I arrive, and also enough to make a commute less stressful.

    Have a no meetings rule until 9:30am each day, to allow time for people to start their day on time and settle in, prep for a meeting.

    Sticking to a set of rules that do not have a clearly stated purpose or benefit – or a proven benefit – which are a source of stress and wasted management time, plus staff leaving, just shows the business is out of date.

  68. Sarah*

    If this was my company, I’d be on-time every day. But I’d also be leaving the second the clock turned 5. Mid-email, oh well. It can wait for tomorrow.

    This is not shift work where you need coverage for a reason. For example, I worked in operations for an electric utility. Someone needed to monitor the lights 24/7. If you were late, you missed handoff, and potentially delayed the other person leaving. This job sounds like the only reason to be in by 9 is because that’s what the boss wants.

    1. Deidre Barlow*

      Exactly. I’d be taking all of my breaks and leaving dead on time- there would absolutely no goodwill or flexibility from me!

  69. should decide on a name*

    I’m always amazed that employers like this are allowed to hire people. And can all the “9-to-5, butts in seats, no WFH” people please just leave management entirely and never come back? Get another hobby that does not involve torturing the people who do the actual work.

  70. Mothman*

    I fully agree that the problem is the policy, not the employees. This all seems to say the reason has nothing to do with work but, frankly, with power.

    You say it’s about having this clear line between work and life, but it’s actually negatively affecting both — and the bosses know that. Your people have to plan childcare and commutes around more of an 8 to 6 than a 9 to 5 “just in case” in an industry that, per your own words about their previous jobs, doesn’t have that as a norm. Then, they have to wear uncomfortable clothes all day and worry about whether or not they’re being monitored at every second because, again, someone is checking to make sure they’re precisely where they’re supposed to be.

    See? Power, not balance or productivity.

    It’s time the bosses look ahead rather than back at the way they’ve always done it.

    There are absolutely jobs that require rigid hours, but is this one? Far fewer have a real need for business attire; does this one?. Something absolutely has to give if y’all want to keep your people.

  71. Deidre Barlow*

    What an oddly micro-managey and inefficient use of everyone’s time! If it makes absolutely no difference to business need whether or not everyone starts work on the dot of 9am why is the organisation so determined to lose masses of goodwill and, potentially, staff? It might seem like a small thing, but pulling at this particular thread can easily unravel the whole jumper…

  72. TootsNYC*

    The times I’ve had no problem with people being late is when they understand the important of being on time. What’s getting accomplished? (I know a person who had catering gigs and nearly got fired for being late; understanding that the first minutes are when the early transfer of information happens, etc., is what made that easier for them)

  73. Stacey*

    we work in shifts at my job and if someone is late I can’t leave until they are there and clicked in. It wouldn’t be bad if they are 5 minutes late and I just get to go but if I get stuck on a task because they were not there I could be there another 20 or 30 minutes. so some jobs should have a strick no late policy

    1. Observer*

      Well, that’s the difference between your job and the OP’s office. In your job there really is a very clear and concrete reason for people to be ON TIME. Every time.

      The OP’s office doesn’t have that.

  74. It's Me*

    I was one of the people who did manage to be on time in an unnecessarily rigid workplace. You know what I didn’t care about? Other coworkers who came in late when their lateness didn’t in any way impact me. You know what stuck with me for YEARS? A crippling anxiety over obstacles utterly outside of my control, like traffic patterns, bad weather, broken public transit, and sick pets.

    Folks in needlessly rigid workplaces, be aware that “everyone else” may not be handling it as well as you think.

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