Attendance & Punctuality

(Editor’s Note:  Thanks to @ohmap for asking a Twitter question that inspired me to write this post.)

As a HR professional, I have dealt with a plethora of employee issues:  sleeping on the job, theft, sexual harassment, etc.  But I’ve found over the years, there’s one issue that plagues managers more than all these other issues combined.  Yep, that’s right…attendance and punctuality.

I would honestly say the majority of the employee discipline I’ve seen or been involved with has to do with either (1) people not showing up to work or (2) people not showing up on time.

Organizations have contributed to this matter with some of their pay rules.  For example, I’ve worked at companies that didn’t dock your pay until you were more than 7 minutes late. But you could be written up if you were 5 minutes late.  Needless to say, it’s confusing to explain to an employee that they’re being written up for being late…but still going to get paid for the time they were absent.

The second thing organizations do that confuses the attendance issue revolves around progressive discipline.  Let’s say you have an employee with an attendance problem.  They’re coached, given a verbal warning, and then maybe a few written warnings.  The next step in progressive discipline is, of course, suspension.  But if not showing up to work is the problem…why would companies give employees time off as discipline?  It reminds me of an old Bill Cosby routine where his wife sends him to his room…which is where he wanted to be in the first place.

Dealing with attendance and punctuality issues are huge time wasters for management. And, they have a negative impact on productivity.  But all that being said, they’re one of the hardest employee matters to deal with.  Because in my experience, once employees get in that downward spiral of poor attendance, they just can’t seem to get out.

I’ve seen all sorts of action steps to correct punctuality and attendance problems – everything from two alarm clocks to having family members wake them up.  Nothing seems to work.  If you have some “attendance success stories”, drop a note in the comments below.  It would be a huge help to managers struggling with this same issue.

Organizations should take a look at their attendance related policies and make sure they align with pay and performance guidelines.  I can’t help but think consistency in this area would have a positive impact on the workplace.

P.S. Speaking of attendance – If you are in Oklahoma, there’s an event coming up that you won’t want to miss. It’s called the Festival of Hope. The event promotes the Heartline organization, whose mission is to offer compassionate listening, crisis intervention and suicide prevention. My blogging friend, Jessica Miller-Merrell, recently shared with me some alarming statistics about Oklahoma ranking 9th in the nation for annual deaths by suicide and it’s the 2nd leading cause of death among Oklahoma youth. So I offered to send this message out to spread the word not only about the event…but the importance of the cause.


  1. says

    I think that part of the problem in many cases is companies reliance on archaic models of attendance and scheduling. While it is true that in some cases it is absolutely vital to have an employee at their workstation from X time to Y time, it is completely unnecessary in the majority of cases. The only question at issues should be: “is the employee performing their assigned tasks at or above company standard?” If the answer is yes, who cares when they come and go, or even if they show up at all? The old school mentality of “you have to be here when we say you do” is an outdated and counterproductive model for many work environments.

    Take a look at Best Buy’s “Results Oriented Work Environment” for more information. Instead of trying to discipline employees, maybe we should be trying to persuade management to try something a little more 21st century?

  2. says

    I would love for every company/position to be like that, Kevin, but it’s not feasible for everyone. I do think that companies that have employees who would fit in a ROWE should give it a try. I’m fascinated with the whole idea.

    Our employees work directly with the mentally handicapped in shifts, so they absolutely must be at their posts by a certain time. I’d be interested to hear what others say on the topic, though. I’m always willing to listen to a good idea. :-)

  3. says

    I think you both bring up valid points. Organizations should create policies when they need them…not for the sake of having rules.

    Thanks for weighing in on the post!

  4. Jennifer Parker says

    I think that there are more jobs that require you to be at your work station at a certain time then not. In manufacturing and in the medical community, it is absolutely vital that an employee is on time and works their required shift. There is not that many people that work in Corporate America in the grand skeem of things.

  5. Sheila Garner says

    Kevin – I think you express a very Gen Y point of view that a few of us who have been around a while don’t necessarily understand. In reading your post, it almost seems as if there is a sense of entitlement that you and/or your co-workers should have the freedom to come and go as you wish. I totally get the idea of “as long as I get my work done, what does it matter” However, for the majority of jobs, that just isn’t feasible and would create scheduling chaos for managers who are held accountable for the performance of their organizations.

    Good luck on finding or keeping a job where attendance and punctuality are not a priority!

  6. says


    I am actually at the tail end of the Baby Boom. No Gen Y angst here. :) However, the resistance to the ROWE model, especially from HR departments is very conventional. :)

    The ROWE model works in more environments than you think. I encourage you to find out more about it. Just Google it or read the book “Why Work Sucks, and How to Change It.”

  7. says


    Read the ROWE article, and those are all valid points. I agree it doesn’t or wouldn’t work everywhere… nothing works everywhere. There are no universal truths or silver bullets. ROWE still has to be managed, though it is a completely different approach. I do think, though, that it is something that shouldn’t be feared, and is absolutely the right approach in a lot of environments even when it scares the willies out of management and HR… maybe even ESPECIALLY when it does. :)

  8. says

    OK, I can buy the argument for the staffer having to unlock the Starbucks store in the AM, and maybe a few others

    But how many businesses that have 7 freaking minutes & doc your pay – gladly have mandatory 6 PM Friday meetings?

    Mandatory “lunch & learns”?

    Docked for 7 minutes while the boss is on 2.5 hr lunch or the golf course?

    Knowledge workers are one of the largest demographics now, and even to many organizations do the same thing there.

    12 hours on the weekend getting that presentation pulled together for you and you chastise me for arriving at 08:07?

    Sorry – I say bullshit

    I am not a huge fan of ROWE, you can never generalize – there will always be a bad apple – but I would blame “significant” time & attendance problems as a Management problem – not an employee one

    That is a work environment that has zero trust, zero team work and zero respect.

    And sorry – that is usually learned from the Boss

  9. says

    Let’s start by taking ROWE off the table. Scheduling flexibility is part of many systems including ROWE. But ROWE itself is a system which is said (but not proven) to work in one part of a large corporation.

    If we leave ROWE out of it we can look at the workplaces we toil in. There are some where having people all show up at the same time simply makes no sense. Change the policy.

    There are others where groups need to be able to work at the same time, but not in the same location. And there are others where having everyone show up at the same time and in the same place is a good idea.

    In those situations the reason that showing up on time matters is more about courtesy to your team and carrying your share of the load. If you’re in that sort of situation you need a clear policy and reasonable enforcement.

    For me that means that most of your lateness will be one-offs that won’t even rate comment. But if you have a pattern, then it’s time to have the conversation where you remind a person of the policy and tell them that their lateness will be documented from that point on. In my experience that’s enough for most reasonable people, you won’t have to write a shred of documentation.

    Your other cases will divide into two groups. One group will have a temporary problem that needs fixing or needs an allowance made. The other group will not. If you can, you’ll make accommodation for the first group. You will write paper on the second group.

    That second group usually will present more than lateness problems. There are usually other behavior and performance issues. They will suck up supervisor time. But they’re a small portion of the team and you can treat them like the exception they are.

  10. Robin S says

    The piece that everyone is missing in this discussion is the perception of fairness or equal treatment between different employees in either a work group, a department or company. When a manager “allows” Sally to have a flexible start time/end time, while Billy has to be there on-the-dot from 8 to 5, it breeeds distrust and animosity. Of course, this becomes a matter of the manager “managing” appropriately, but the reality is… I have seen this backfire more than have a positive effect. We have flex hours at my organization; it has gotten so out of hand, that we have had to reset the bar and expectations. Our business hours are 8 to 5, but when 3/4 of the building is empy by 4 PM, it becomes VERY hard to manage handle customer needs.

  11. says

    A lot of great replies to this post…thank you everyone!

    I’m interested to hear your thoughts on Robin’s comment. It’s definitely a challenge to explain how one position can have flexible hours and another cannot.

    Is it possible that flexible scheduling is a perquisite (and should be explained that way)? I’ve worked for several companies where you worked a 4-day week if you had the overnight shift (and a 5-day week if you worked the day shift). Getting the reduced workweek was a perk of working the overnight shift.

  12. says

    I think Robin hit a key point with “Of course, this becomes a matter of the manager “managing” appropriately.” It’s part of the manager’s job, working within whatever guidelines the company provide, BUT

    Flexibility should attach to the position, not the person. It’s not a good conduct award, the position either can be scheduled flexibly or not. If it can be, do so.

    In my previous life as a working manager I had a team that scheduled their own flex time. We needed to have phone coverage (pre-email) from 7 to 7 and we had a core day that ran from 10 to 4. We expected everyone to be in place for the core. That’s what our customers expected. But we only needed one scheduled person and a designated emergency backup for 7 to 10 and 4 to 7.

    The team worked this out every week for the next week. In theory I was the designated decider, but they always got the job done.

  13. says

    I think every employee should be hired under the guise that if they are late, they are docked the time they are late and that pay is given to the employee who is forced to stay late to cover the shift. When employees are hired, they should be made aware that they are potentially going to have to stay late if their co-worker arrives late. Using this type of “peer pressure”, many times the issues of punctuality and attendance resolve on their own without management intervention.

  14. Dale Marshall says

    I’ve always had a problem with “docking pay.” It’s one thing, IMO, to withold pay not earned – that is, if an employee shows up 10 minutes late, only pay her for 50 minutes of that first hour. But I’ve heard of companies that dock employees a quarter -hour or more. The problem is, if someone reports at 10 after and starts work, but pay doesn’t start until a quarter after, that’s five minutes of free work. Now while five minutes may not seem like a big deal, it is to the person who’s working for free, both in terms of the money and also the perception that she’s being taken advantage of.

    I don’t even know how the law sees this. When I ran HR in a factory and someone arrived past the 7-minute grace period, I wouldn’t let them clock in until the next quarter-hour – that led to more problems and details (“how about the person who gets to work at 8:17?”) ROWE would have been nice, but I can’t see it operating efficiently in a factory environment.