Developing Punctuality In Your Employees

    December 29, 2003

Dear Susan,

How do I motivate people/ co-employees to come to work on time?


Dear J,

Apparently their values and work ethics do not include “coming to work on time” and you have an ingrained company culture of tardiness. Since this is the case, and what you propose is not going to be popular, you can’t “motivate” with words alone.

This leaves you with the only two things we ever have – reward and punishment (or the carrot and the stick). The bifurcation point will be whether or not you have the authority to hire and fire.

If you have authority over these people:

Think of Peter the Great (tsar of Russia), determined to change the culture of Russia and bring it in line with European powers, lest it become one of their colonies as they proceeded to divvy up the known world. Peter decreed the boars (nobles) should cut off their beards. No small thing, because the length of one’s beard determined one’s chances of entering Russian Orthodox heaven. Fearlessly, he proceeded. He used land to “motivate” them. Those who complied received large land grants (which means serfs, which meant wealth). Those who did not, lost land (serfs, wealth and status). Follow that model!

Let’s assume the “reward” route. State the act that you will be rewarding — coming in on time. You can publicly praise those who come in on time (weak), or set up a program where X number of “on times” warrants a day off or other perc (strong). Personally I’m not in favor of rewarding people for what they should be doing in the first place. It becomes a domino affect – next they’ll expect to be rewarded for wearing long pants.

The quickest way is to fire someone. As they say in the justice system, it won’t “motivate” them, but it will send a message. If it’s in your Policies and Procedures Manual, it shouldn’t be a problem. Doing this gets their attention and will save you a lot of “breath.” (Check with HR. Texas, where I live is an “employment-at-will” state.)

(If this isn’t addressed in your P&P Manual, get it in there!)

If it’s not just one or two people, but nearly everyone, you should precede this with an amnesty of sorts. Do a Clean Sweep. Call a meeting to address this issue and what you plan to do about it. This is not a discussion, nor a group decision, nor is it negotiable. Have your NEW policy in writing. Address only this one issue. Have each person sign the “contract” which now is the basis for their continued employment. Acknowledge that, yes, this has been going on, and was “accepted,” but that from now on, coming in late is not acceptable. Anyone who comes in late, starting tomorrow, will (write out the repercussions).

Be prepared for the fact that you may have to fire someone, or start them on whatever disciplinary procedure you’ve outlined in writing. If you’re afraid to do that, none of this will work. What you say has to have “teeth”.

You must:

1. State that regardless of what’s been going on in the past, new policy starts tomorrow and is not negotiable. It is part of the terms of continued employment.

2. Outline consequences clearly and with no apology.

3. Give each person their own contract to sign, saying that they have read the policy, understand it, and agree to follow it as terms of their continued employment.

4. Be prepared to act on this immediately if there is an infraction.

5. Be prepared for “excuse of the month club.” You must go over in your head any “excuses” you will consider.

6. It is best to say something like “two tardies in one pay period regardless of reason will result in termination.”

If you do not act on what you say, it will not be obeyed. You will lose credibility on that issue, and on all others. You will have established that you don’t mean what you say, so it can be ignored.

Work out “acceptable excuses” in your head, ahead of time, because under the emotional pressure of the situation (“But my car wouldn’t start … but my partner didn’t set the alarm … But no one told me… My dog died … ) it is not easy to think clearly. (Review your EQ competencies!)

If you do not have authority over these people (you say “co-employees”):

Find the right time and place to have a discussion with each, in private and as congenially as possible, where you discuss the benefits to all of coming in on time. Make sure you address what’s in it for them, i.e., better projects, better work product, promotions, goodwill, positive energy, raises, less contention. This may not be possible. It relies on their having promptness as part of their work ethic, and apparently they do not, and of their desire to please and get along.

In either case:

Alternatively, or additionally, you could approach HR with the suggestion of bringing an EQ program to your workplace, where this issue could be addressed unemotionally in terms of overall respect, values and integrity.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck!

Warm regards,

Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach

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