Crucial Conversations QA

My Coworker is Late Every Day. What Can I Do?

Please welcome Lisa Vermillion as a new author to the Crucial Skills Newsletter. Lisa joined the VitalSmarts team in September of 2019 as a Master Trainer and Client Solutions Engineer. Her professional background includes designing curriculum, writing books, coaching business leaders, and speaking and training.

Dear Lisa,

My coworker walks in after 8:00 a.m. every single day. They never get to work on time and are five to fifteen minutes late every single day. I have spoken to my manager who has spoken to my coworker several times but my coworker goes back to their old behavior. I am disgusted with my coworker and it’s causing resentment and even a feeling of “I cannot stand this person.” Unfortunately, we share a common job and I have to sit near this person every day. I am at my wit’s end. Can you advise?

Signed,
Boiling Pot

Dear Boiling,

I hear your frustration and desperation! Working in close proximity with someone can often be challenging. Most everyone has experienced this challenge, and many of us have tried to ignore it and suffered in silence. Eventually, the feeling that “I’ve had enough!” may reach a breaking point that can result in some kind of outburst that we will likely later regret. How can we make these conversations productive, not destructive?

At first glance, it seems that it is your boss’s job to address this problem—again. However, I suggest to you that because the issue has degraded to the point where it affects your relationship with your office mate, the responsibility lies with you. It is still your boss’s responsibility to correct the behavior, but you need to have a conversation about how it is affecting your relationship.

The first set of skills in preparing to hold a crucial conversation is to Work on Me First. Many of us would rather skip this step and continue to wallow in blaming the other person, but it is absolutely necessary before you broach a difficult conversation in order to have true dialogue. So, I have a few hard questions for you to consider.

  1. Why does your co-worker’s behavior upset you? Perhaps you have to cover for them while they’re gone. Maybe you are a stickler for being on time and expect others to be the same. Or perhaps you feel they are “getting away with” something. Whatever it is, the first thing to do is examine your own heart and mind. In the end, no one can “make” us mad or resentful. We create our emotions by how we interpret events. We call these interpretations our stories.
  2. What do I really want? For myself, for my co-worker, for the organization? This question takes us beyond the immediate frustration and to a greater understanding of what outcomes we want. You already know the outcome of not saying anything, and it isn’t acceptable. You can probably predict the negative outcomes of speaking out from the place of your exasperation. So, what outcomes do you really want? You probably want to feel calm and not frustrated, and you want your coworker to come on time. But more importantly, you likely want to have a good relationship with them. How would you behave if that were your motive for the conversation?
  3. What stories are you telling yourself about your co-worker? Here are some examples of stories you might be telling yourself: they are irresponsible or inconsiderate, they don’t have a good work ethic, they are the boss’s favorite so they can get away with things like that. Your stories may be different but understanding how you interpret your co-worker’s behavior can help you to turn down the intensity of your emotions before holding a conversation. Because here’s something to consider: what if your stories are incorrect?
  4. Why would a reasonable, rational person do this? Could there be other reasons beyond what you have assumed that would explain why this person is chronically late? For example, do they have to drop off a child at school or daycare at a certain time? Is the bus schedule difficult? Have they never been accountable for lateness before? Do they stay 10 minutes late to make up for the missed time? Do they have chronic insomnia that makes mornings a challenge? Have they come to an understanding with the boss that you don’t know about? There are many stories other than yours that could explain the behavior. Before we approach a crucial conversation, we must be willing to consider and listen to different motives and explanations. Approach the conversation with curiosity and respect in order to allow space for real dialogue.

Once you have really examined your own motivations, stories and emotions, you are ready to use your STATE skills to plan how to hold the conversation. Remember to make it safe for the other person to open up, and to keep judgement and blaming at bay. That way you can have true dialogue. Will this fix your co-worker’s behavior? Perhaps not. But it can go a long way in resolving your frustration and restoring the relationship.

Good Luck,
Lisa

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Lisa Smith

Lisa Vermillion is a Master Trainer and Client Solutions Engineer. She has been a business trainer and public speaker for over two decades and has trained more than 45,000 businesspeople all across the United States, from top management teams of large corporations to small business owners.

15 thoughts on “My Coworker is Late Every Day. What Can I Do?”

  1. The response from Lisa Vermillion on “My Coworker is Late Every Day” article. Was right on point. She was very concise and direct and every word made so much sense. Every co-worker should read this as we all tend to judge on every level– most times not considering what the other person may be going through. The issue are those that abuse the system and it makes it tough for those that have real life issues. Well done!

  2. I think the reponse was really great so thank you for that because you ask the person to first look at themselves.

    I also feel like this person is overly invested in the behaviors of others. I don’t understand why the persons 5-15 minutes tardiness matters so much. They could have limitations on getting a child off to school or on the bus. They could have issues with public transportation that are different than her own. Maybe this person also takes a shorter lunch, less breaks, leaves later to balance out the need to arrive later.

    I think it’s very important to not only approach conflict productively but to have a realistic understanding of why something is bothering you. I think if someone is putting their expectations of themselves on others then maybe those expectations are out of line. From the sound of the issue, the jobs are common but I don’t hear that they are dependent upon each other such that one persons productivity is negatively impacted by another. If they are dependent, then I think it’s worth while to have a conversation to mitigate the issue. I don’t think the solution is as black and white as the tardy person needs to change an always be one time because they may be other factors in play that the submitter isn’t aware of or being sensitive to.

    I say this because as a single parent and having had a significant health issue recently, I’ve had coworkers get frustrated with how I managed my work schedule even though there was no impact to them. Most often the accommodations were worked out with my management and my teammate was unaware of the changes since there was no impact to them and thus no need for them to be aware. Unfortunately this did not stop them from having an opinion, being frustrated. If they had come to me to complain that I wasn’t in the office till much later than they felt I should be, I would have been offended and felt they were overstepping.

    Just an alternative perspective because I think our culture has become overly invested and opinionated in the actions of others.

    1. I believe that people do have other situations that their co-workers are unaware of and giving people the benefit of the doubt is often a good idea.

      If someone is upset about you being late, however, I do not think they are automatically incorrect to feel that way. You are being held to a different standard than they are and its natural to feel a little put out by that. Regardless of your other commitments and obligations, you work there just as they do. Not everyone asks for special accommodations even though most people could benefit from them. Maybe they could benefit if they asked for accommodations as well. I would say though, it’s less likely your manager would want to make special exceptions for everyone even if they all had good reasons.

      Lastly, you said that your change in work schedule does not impact your co-workers. I do not know that you could say that with any authority. It may very well impact your co-workers in ways that you do not know. Not knowing what someone else is dealing with goes both ways. It would also explain the resentment.

      I’ve never heard of anyone who is naturally enthusiastic about someone else they work with being allowed to not follow the rules. That being said, it is worthwhile to examine why it bothers you if it does to a large extent. In the grander scheme of things it is not that big of a deal and will take a toll on you if you focus too much on it.

  3. I supervise someone exhibiting the same behavior, and am addressing it through HR, civil service, and a discipline process. My actions to address the issue are not “visible” to their co-workers. I suggest co-workers bring the issue to their supervisors and understand if the response is along the lines of “the issue is being addressed, and it’s not appropriate to discuss the details.”

  4. Perhaps the co-worker has ADHD and has asked for accommodations? Is the job one where being on site at exactly the right minute is crucial to operations or does that few minutes not really make a difference in operations but just annoys the coworker? I had one job where the commute across town could take anywhere from 40 minute to an hour and a half and it was never clear which way it was going to go. I would sometimes show up late when it was a bad traffic day despite leaving rather early (and arriving earlier than necessary most days as a result). I lucked out when a new road was built that connected to a toll road and I was willing and able to pay to get in at a more predictable time — the coworker may not have options like that.

  5. I’m listening to the book Unoffended right now. It might be worth a read: Other people are not perfect, I’m not perfect. I can choose to be upset about it or just face the reality peacefully.

  6. My goodness … 5 to 15 minutes late? Who cares? Unless you are involved in shift work, no one should be such a stickler for on time behavior (unless it is a meeting or something like that, in which case you should be on time).

    Here’s a good rule of thumb: If no one worries about it when you work a little extra, no one should worry about it when you come a little late. It all balances out. If we are all professionals, we should be trusted to manage our own schedules and work.

    These must-start-at-8 and on-time-at-any-cost people hold such antiquated ideas about the workplace. Just be good at your job, hire people who are good at theirs, and do good work together. Don’t worry about the rest.

    1. While I respect this point of view, I think this is a deeper personality issue for some of us. As an ISTJ (based on Myers-Briggs), I am a hard-working and dutiful employee who values rules and structure. In some ways, this makes me an excellent employee and/or coworker, but there are drawbacks too. I am always on time and I have an innate sense of fairness, so my response to this is “I stay late sometimes, too… does that mean I can come in late every day?” My supervisor has clearly told me no, but then it doesn’t make sense to me when he says “well, she gets her work done…” I get my work done as well, but I still feel the (internal AND external) pressure to get to work on time every day. My expectations of others are my downfall, but my personality type contributes to a tendency to have high expectations of myself AND others.

  7. Not being at work on time is stealing from the company, no two ways about it.

    How late is the person getting to work, and by that I then mean the person arrives says good morning to everyone, gets a cup of coffee, answers a text, etc. before ever starting to do the task the person is hired to do.

  8. Dear Boiling –

    The time and energy you spend monitoring and fretting over your co-worker’s whereabouts are a strong indicator to me (an HR Manager) that you have entirely too much time on your hands. If you brought these concerns to me, I would be completely annoyed by your creepy clock-watching as it is evident that you are easily distracted and not as productive as you could be. Does your co-worker sign your check?

    You may have been living under a rock, but there has been a total paradigm shift in the workplace – work-life balance is and has been just as important to employees as compensation. Just a few of the thousands of articles and research on this are below. Progressive workplaces do not micromanage or clock-watch employees. Redirect that energy to your own position and showcase YOUR talent.

    https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/345538

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/soulaimagourani/2019/05/03/this-is-how-the-future-of-work-life-balance-will-look-like/

    https://www.qualtrics.com/blog/work-life-balance/

    PS – Simmer down Fran.

    1. Most workplaces still are concerned about when people show up. It would be bad business to not.

      As an HR manager, I am surprised by how rude your message is. You can get your point across without being insulting.

    2. Thank you for that comment and that is exactly how I feel. I’ve just resigned from an office work place where a band 5 felt it was in her duty to speak to my line supervisor that I had not logged in by a certain time (working from home and had no set time of when to log in) under the guise of ‘concern’ whereas the reality is she wanted to know where I was and didn’t like the fact that I hadn’t logged in. This person was also someone who rigidly logged in at 8 for god knows how many years.

  9. I’m with Ash on this one. Without more info, I find it disturbing that a co-worker would micromanaging a colleague in this way.

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