There’s no getting around it: healthcare is an industry in which
service is often measured by how long the patient had to wait for their
appointment. So, it stands to reason that one of the most frustrating
things to deal with is an employee who is habitually late, and who
doesn’t seem to understand that this lateness is not just their problem.
Instead, it impacts the practice, the patients, and their fellow
Have you ever heard chronic lateness excused with a breezy phrase
like, “I’m just late; that’s who I am!” It must be special to be that
person. The whole world is their private stage, and every time they
appear, tiny trumpets toot “ta-daaa!”
Now, we help managers and practice owners address topics like
tardiness and absenteeism every day, so along with developing the real
way to solve this problem, I’ve also come up with some private thoughts
that go along with certain backstories as to why an employee is
inevitably late. Here are some of my favorites from our ever-expanding
database of excuses.
Traffic, family, and WTF
1. “The traffic was terrible.”
Here’s my internal answer: “Really? So, you were stunned to find traffic on city streets during the work day? And, of course, having never encountered traffic before, you probably didn’t know to allow any extra time…”
2. “My family [made me late in X, Y, or Z way].”
My internal answer: “This is the 73rd time you have used your family as
your excuse. I have to wonder, how the heck does your family manage to
constantly come up with new ways to make you late? Do they physically
barricade the door with whatever furniture is nearest to hand? Do they
restrain you? Can we create some sort of plan for making sure this never
3. “I left on time, but I still got here late…I’m not sure what happened…”
My internal answer: “I need you to pee in this cup…”
Snide internal commentary aside, I promised you that we’ve also
cracked the code for talking to an employee—or anyone, for that
matter—about being late. Here’s a sample script containing the four
things you need to address.
Thing #1—the issue.
“When you are late for work, it makes us all late. No, seriously,
whether you realize it or not, you play a key role here as [something or
other]. So when you are not here, all the fantastic things you do are
missing. Which leads me to the next thing…”
Thing #2—the impact.
“When you are not here to do the things we need you to do, someone
else has to do your job for you. That means that they, believe it or
not, might as well be late, too. Why? Because when they are doing your
job, they are not doing theirs, so they show up as missing, too!”
Thing #3—the impact of their tardiness on how they are perceived.
“When you are late, the sum total of how we perceive you is “late.”
Contrast that with how great it is when you are here, enjoying what you
do and getting things done. When that happens, we perceive you as a
fantastic professional doing your best. So being late literally
redefines you as a person in our eyes…a person who needs other people to
get things done for them.”
Thing #4—your request for a self-correction.
“So here’s what I need you to know. I don’t feel like I can—or even
should—make you be here on time. It’s a choice you are going to have to
make. But what I can control and make decisions around is who I
work with. And I am letting you know that I am going to choose not to
work with you if you are going to be late.
“Please don’t make me make that difficult decision.”
Your way or the highway
Wrap up your discussion with a specific, measurable request: “Can you be on time? …Because this is something I HAVE TO GET FROM YOU.”
If your employee answers with anything other than, “Yes, absolutely,”
hold them to a yes. Tell them that “I’ll try my best” is not what you
are looking for as an answer.
If they need time to think about it, they can take it right then.
Give them five bucks to go get a cup of coffee and then they can come
back and let you know what their commitment is going to be, going
forward. Get an affirmative answer, and thank them for giving you a
chance to express your concerns and give them feedback.
Or you can throw the book at them… (except, you know, don’t throw the book)
Of course, there’s always the alternative method—you can always pull
out your employee handbook and tell employees that the rules say they
have to be on time, that their shift starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 5
p.m., et cetera, et cetera. I am all for that, but eventually it stops
working, because everybody already knows the rules.
The 1, 2, 3, 4 approach only works if you are up for it and are
willing to bring a little levity to the conversation, along with, in
most cases, a serious close. If you are, it can bring some refreshing
honesty to the discussion, and it should always leave you with a firm
commitment from the employee to self-correct and step back up.