When employers focus on their attendance figures, they tend to place most of the emphasis on absence and sickness levels.
However, lateness is a growing problem with equally dire consequences for workforce productivity. For example, a survey by recruitment firm Reed found that the total cost to the UK economy of transport-related lateness alone is estimated to be £7.7bn a year.
In September, employment body Acas felt lateness was enough of an issue to devote an entire section of its advice booklet Managing Attendance and Employee Turnover to ‘Lateness – or the Monday morning syndrome’.
Hard to define
The issue with lateness is that it is difficult to define. It can fall under absence in HR policy, and in many organisations will fall to line managers to monitor.
In a call centre, where one employee’s punctuality is crucial for the rest of the team, lateness can have a specific impact.
“In a service organisation where telephone response is important, it can mean an impact on response times when customers call,” explains a spokesman for Vertex, which manages contact centres for UK clients.
He adds: “We do not specify a time limit or allowance that would effectively condone lateness. We would expect our managers to act reasonably under the specific circumstances of an instance of lateness.”
Further research by Manchester University found that late workers tend to impose costs on other employees who depend on them or provide cover.
It also revealed that lateness depended strongly on job satisfaction, and younger and single workers were more likely to be late at least once a month.
While the authors advise that strict penalties for being late, such as instant dismissal, may lead to more punctuality in the short term, only a small proportion will respond to harsh HR policies.
Before it goes that far, it is possible to curb lateness in other ways, or at least contain it. At Vertex, for example, the company is able to transfer calls to another team if demands from customers are low at the point the lateness takes place.
Make up the time
It’s possible to get staff to make up for their tardiness with overtime. Acas advises managers to consider introducing flexible hours, or varied working arrangements to help staff who struggle with their timekeeping.
There are a number of workforce planning tools available for managers who want to keep a track of employee lateness. Under Vertex’s policy, for example, lateness is dealt with under a rising scale of warnings.
Finally, find out if there is a deeper issue behind the lateness. Talk to employees to determine if lateness is a symptom of underlying problems, either with the company or the individual.
Facts on lateness
Top reasons for staff being late include commuting difficulties, parental or carer responsibilities, and unforeseen circumstances such as illness of a family member.
A typical 35-year-old is late about once a month, rising to between three and four times a month if their employer has a lax policy on lateness, according to the University of Manchester.
By Zoë Grainge