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How can I accept the tardiness of those around me?
November 28, 2007 12:14 PM   Subscribe

How can I accept the tardiness of those around me?

Briefish background: After years of freelancing and general work-for-myselfitude, I've taken a position at a genuine office with cubicles and everything. I've been here about two months, I'm settling in nicely, and I'm enjoying the stability of a *cough* real job.

The problem: (Mostly) everyone here is very passionate about the work they do, and I would never question their commitment, but there's a MASSIVE culture of tardiness in the air. One weekly meeting, which always takes place at the same place, at the same time, has never started any earlier than seven minutes after its scheduled beginning. A few weeks ago, I was actually shooed from a room when I showed up a minute early.

The catch: Although I am in a middle-management position, and could influence some, the problem extends all the way to those on top. Moreover, despite my personal belief that persistent tardiness reflects a lack of commitment, the company is, unarguably, extremely successful. For whatever reason, tardiness works, and everyone else has drank the Kool-Aid.

And so: Help me swallow this Kool-Aid! I'm not at all an uptight person, I'm simply coming from an environment (of my own creation, admittedly) where promptness was extremely important, and now that it isn't anymore, I'm having trouble adjusting. Is there anything I can do beyond rolling my clock back seven minutes?
posted by SpiffyRob to Work & Money (45 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I hate being late or starting late for things. I totally understand where you're coming from. However, a similar culture exists where I work. Be patient. Accept it. You'll not change it. You will get used to this.

If you arrive at a room early, don't go in until the time of your scheduled meeting. If the door is closed, gently knock and state that you're scheduled for the room now. People will get used to you being on time. People will vacate the space.
posted by onhazier at 12:21 PM on November 28, 2007


What's there to adjust to? If you're consistently early (relative to the others), just carry a newspaper and enjoy the extra time. No one will resent you for being punctual.
posted by hjo3 at 12:30 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I work at a large company that has tons of meetings. Most people here look at the "start" time of the meeting as the earliest possible time that the meeting can start.

There are various reasons why a meeting might start late. The people using the room may take up a few minutes more than their allotted time wrapping things up, for example. Or someone might have one meeting scheduled from 9:00-10:00 and another one across the building from 10:00-11:00.

Since meetings tend to start late, everyone assumes that the meeting will start late and plans around it. Nobody shows up early, and if a group has a room booked until 11:00 then they assume nobody is going to barge in at 10:57. If someone important doesn't show up within a reasonable amount of time at the start of the meeting, someone calls them to make sure that they are going to show up.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:34 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I just cannot, for the life of me, think of an office meeting starting just seven minutes after the scheduled start time as tardy. In fact, that sounds pretty reasonable. So, you may want to re-examine your own standards for promptness. But, of course, you don't have to.

Maybe you should start paying attention to the important features of a meeting. Does everyone (or everyone who needs to) show up? Do the important topics get discussed, with good input? Do matters get resolved? Do they end reasonably? Does everyone there get work together well? Are the meetings efficient?

Those are signs of a good meeting. And if you can think about meetings in terms of those questions as opposed to "Did everyone show up at the exact minute the time began?" then, you may find yourself worrying less about promptness. (And, of course, the same applies to other circumstances than meetings.)
posted by Ms. Saint at 12:35 PM on November 28, 2007


When you arrive someplace earlier than everybody else, take the opportunity to make up a little song in your head about some of your favorite animals.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:40 PM on November 28, 2007 [30 favorites]


You could try setting your watch 5 minutes slow.

It works for me (although I set mine 5 minutes early), so perhaps the opposite is true.
posted by smitt at 12:43 PM on November 28, 2007


I just cannot, for the life of me, think of an office meeting starting just seven minutes after the scheduled start time as tardy. In fact, that sounds pretty reasonable. So, you may want to re-examine your own standards for promptness. But, of course, you don't have to.

It... I... wow.

I don't mean to be rude, and I think the rest of your response contains some very helpful points, but do you really not see why something that starts seven minutes after it's supposed to start might be considered tardy?

Maybe I'm just not far enough removed from the academic world, but I know plenty of professors who lock doors five minutes after the start of class, and if you're not in the classroom by then, you're absent. Is it really such a strange idea that we should hold professionals to the same standard as students?
posted by SpiffyRob at 12:44 PM on November 28, 2007


This is going to be the least of your worries in corporate-land. I'd work on listening to what you're being told rather than building a meritocracy of presenteeism in your head that you'll never find in the real world.

The standard isn't that the meeting is 60 minutes long from precisely noon to 1pm, the standard is that the topics to discuss are discussed and action is taken where appropriate. If you have 53 minutes to do it, so be it.

You've probably spent 7 minutes posting and reading this already (I know I have) so you may as well take a laptop and post your next question while you wait next time you have a meeting.
posted by kcm at 12:47 PM on November 28, 2007


I once heard a psychology lecture about group dynamics which stressed the importance of respecting time boundaries. Wasting another's time is very disrespectful, but many people don't realize it. So I can see where you're coming from.

However, I only think you have a problem if the meetings aren't ending on time. Starting a few minutes late is a courtesy to those who are stuck on the phone or running from a previous meeting or frantically photocopying handouts or putting slides together. In an ideal world everyone would have ample time to get everything together ahead of time and would show up right on the dot. In the real world of a fast-paced office environment, well, shit happens.

On preview:
I have heard the same thing. However I have also showed up for a meeting with a professor and found him chatting with a student from his previous meeting; he holds up one finger, I go away and come back in 5 minutes and they wrap up. Tardiness! Unprofessional! Or else a courtesy to the student who is currently sitting there, and really no big deal when you think about it. In an office, people are critically schedules (like professors), which means there are more demands on their time than they can meet. Slips of a few minutes are really not a big deal and in my opinion not unprofessional when it's between colleagues.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:50 PM on November 28, 2007


sorry, by 'have heard the same thing' I meant professors locking doors 5 minutes after class starts.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:51 PM on November 28, 2007


It's a good thing you don't live in my world. Seven minutes after the announces start time is about 10 minutes earlier than any meeting will ever start.

Perhaps, you could get into the habit of getting up from your desk at the announced start time. The time it takes to walk to the meeting room (perhaps you could get some coffee on the way) should get you more in rhythm with your office mates.
posted by oddman at 12:55 PM on November 28, 2007


Is there anything I can do beyond rolling my clock back seven minutes?

This is actually not a bad idea.

If the majority of people within a certain system (whether that's the office, on the road, whatever) act in a certain way, it's more efficient to act in the same way as the majority than to stand out (e.g. if all other drivers speed, you're more likely to cause an issue by not speeding.. same here). Of course, you don't want to feel like a tardy person, so simply use scheduled times as a time to actually begin the process of attending the event (unless, of course, it's not in your immmediate vicinity!).
posted by wackybrit at 12:58 PM on November 28, 2007


In a word, maybe. I know that many of my meetings involve managers who do three or four meetings that are an hour or two in duration per day. It's not unheard of for them to be running late because they had to duck into their office to check email or voicemail between meetings. Or even to walk into a meeting late because it's double-booked. So in-house meetings tend to take roughly the allocated calendar time, but there's some free flow.

Note that interviewing external candidates, meeting with representatives from other parts of the company, and anything public tends to go on time. Working within my group at work tends to mean we're working on the same goals so things happen in due course.

Seven minutes just isn't tardy to some people. If you feel that your business priorities would be well-served by a punctual culture, then run your meetings punctually. Otherwise, figure out what the actual priorities are and concentrate on those -- eventually you'll forget that you ever worried about starting a meeting on time.
posted by mikeh at 12:58 PM on November 28, 2007


Don't think of it as "The meeting starts at 10:30 and ends at 12:00." Think of it as "The meeting will start after 10:30, and [hopefully] end before 12:00."
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:02 PM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


I also work for a large corporation where this kind of tardiness is endemic. (Seriously, there are people who consistently show up 20 minutes late...when they were just sitting at their desk beforehand.) I agree that with the others who said that you should find a way to deal with it that falls short of standing in the room slapping your hand with a ruler as people file in.

If I have a meeting where it's important to start on time due to some kind of time constraint, I spell that out in the meeting invitation and that has gotten results. The other thing I do is start the meeting with whoever's present. The stragglers can catch up when they get there. My bosses are always running late and they expect this to happen - it might not work if your bosses are the type to make everyone wait until they are there.

And those who refer to academic settings...isn't there usually a little time buffer built in? I remember classes running from 8:00-8:50, for example. There is no such buffer on work meetings, usually.
posted by cabingirl at 1:05 PM on November 28, 2007


Is it really such a strange idea that we should hold professionals to the same standard as students?

It really is. A classroom is run by one person- the teacher, who can set the schedule however they please. An office is run by all the people who work there- some more important than others, but all valuable (in theory, anyway).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:07 PM on November 28, 2007 [5 favorites]


This used to be me, but now, years later, I am late to meetings all the time and you know what? It really doesn't matter.
posted by mattbucher at 1:12 PM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm habitually tardy, yet I am very committed to my work. I'll spare you my reasoning for my problematic relationship with time, but much of the conventional wisdom is crap.

Meanwhile, bring your laptop and read email, or bring a book and read. You might feel better if your time is not being squandered. And, when you become a manager, you can let it be known that you value promptness. My boss' request for me to be on time is a pretty good motivator.
posted by theora55 at 1:14 PM on November 28, 2007


I just wanted to recognize that this can be really annoying. My office is the same way. After about five months, I just gave up and stopped going to meetings until after enough people showed up to get the meeting started (about 2/5). Not only has this gone over fine, but more than once they haven't had the meeting (and people have complained about not having the meeting because there really was stuff to be discussed). I know this isn't a solution, but as someone who is also in a successful company that can be incredibly tardy, it can be really weird. It's one thing if meetings are sometimes late; it's altogether different if it feels like there is a culture of tardiness.
posted by history is a weapon at 1:18 PM on November 28, 2007


i had this problem at my old job. so, instead of starting to gather things together at the 15 minutes before mark and heading over, i switched to wating until the start time of the meeting, then heading over.

i think that's what everyone else did too, which is why everything always started late.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:24 PM on November 28, 2007


Everyone at my work is habitually tardy, from my assistant to the owners. After 3 years, I've pretty much accepted that they don't care to be on time. My job is time sensitive. I have a set schedule at which deliveries are made and pickups need to happen every day. Time is very important to me. If a meeting doesn't start on time (I'm not talking 7 minutes, I'm talking 35) I don't hang around and wait, I go do what I have to get done. Either they will come get me when they are ready or I miss the meeting because I had other things to do.

Tardiness is also one of my pet peeves, which is why I don't really tolerate it. I once had a boss who said "If you're 5 minutes early, you're 10 minutes late." I take that to mind whenever I'm making plans.
posted by Phoenix42 at 1:32 PM on November 28, 2007


Thanks all. A fair number of useful solutions, though some of them embedded in comments I didn't whole-heartedly agree with though.

My question has been more or less answered, though not in the way I imagined. Clearly, my problem is not unique, and the corporate workforce is made of people who either recognize and sympathize, but have learned to deal with it, or people who deny that there might be something a tad askew about a system (institutionalized lateness) that blatantly defies the most universal system of all (time).

Any chance I could get a scatter graph of time employed in corporate world against sympathy toward person trying to adjust to corporate tardiness? Any guesses on the correlation?
posted by SpiffyRob at 1:39 PM on November 28, 2007


Meetings in my office start 5-15 minutes late, too. I think it's partially due topeople running in from other meetings as folks above have referenced. Another part of it is that once people realize meetings don't start going to start until 10 minutes after the scheduled time, they don't bother to show up until 10 minutes after that, because they don't want to sit around waiting. No one wants to be the first one there.

When I'm running a meeting, right before it starts, I intercom the people attending the meeting and give them a reminder/warning that the meeting is going to start in 2 minutes. I find that this gives people permission to be on time because they know everyone else will be too.

If it's someone else's meeting, I assume that the actual start time is 5 minutes after the scheduled time and plan accordingly.
posted by paddingtonb at 1:53 PM on November 28, 2007


Many if not most meetings are pretty useless and a waste of time (and this is speaking as someone who both runs and attends meetings), and many/most/all people dread them, and therefore put a really low priority on getting to them, let alone on time.

If you're *running* the meeting, there're some techniques you can use to encourage people to get there on time, like making the last person take notes, buy donuts, or sing your animal song out loud. Another suggestion I always try to implement is *start* the meeting on time, regardless of who's missing, if you can, especially if you have any juicy news.

If you're not running the meeting, about the only thing you can do is talk to the meeting "leader" about it or, as other people has suggested, bring something to do and/or come late yourself.
posted by edjusted at 1:53 PM on November 28, 2007


I didn't mean disrespect or to imply that your view of tardiness is flawed. For me, however, I've never known any system of people to be so punctual that seven minutes late was an extreme. I can understand why you consider it to be tardy, but I was hoping to make clear that that's not the standard I've encountered. All I was hoping was to point out is that not everyone understands tardiness the same way you do, and perhaps appreciating this difference in meaning could help you understand other people's behavior. In other words, if you understand that people don't see themselves as being tardy when they show up a few minutes late, you'll see they didn't mean disrespect or anything. That's all!

(And, for what it's worth, I've never had a professor lock a door.. And I have had very, very few professors who didn't show up to class a few minutes late.)
posted by Ms. Saint at 2:04 PM on November 28, 2007


do you really not see why something that starts seven minutes after it's supposed to start might be considered tardy?

Seven minutes? You live in a whole different world from most people, and you'll have an easier time if you adjust to their world. Seven minutes is nothing.

Maybe I'm just not far enough removed from the academic world, but I know plenty of professors who lock doors five minutes after the start of class, and if you're not in the classroom by then, you're absent


Ah, I think this is the problem. Yeah, you're not far enough removed from the academic world, and furthermore you need to realize that the academic world is a hellish little cockpit of overinflated egos like those of the power-mad professors who lock doors five minutes after the start of class, and if you're not in the classroom by then, you're absent. I had one of them too, and I hated his guts, and I've more than once had the satisfaction of reflecting that if he had to try to make it in the "real world" he'd be out on his ass in a week, because he would have no idea how to get along with people if you can't threaten to fail them. Also:

Many if not most meetings are pretty useless and a waste of time (and this is speaking as someone who both runs and attends meetings), and many/most/all people dread them, and therefore put a really low priority on getting to them, let alone on time.

This is the truest true thing that was ever said. I've never known anyone who was eager for a meeting to start, and I can't imagine ever feeling that way. If you actually enjoy meetings, that's great, but you need to be aware that your fellow employees do not feel that way.
posted by languagehat at 2:06 PM on November 28, 2007


Bring some paperwork to do before the rest of the attendees arrive.

And in my academic experience, professors and students are less punctual than industry employees.
posted by Quietgal at 2:11 PM on November 28, 2007


I doubt German companies have a problem with this. And it sounds like Google doesn't either. I sympathize with you. I think punctuality is one of life's higher virtues.
posted by jasondigitized at 2:12 PM on November 28, 2007


Ms. Saint, absolutely no offense taken.

I'm realizing that my need to accept this is greater than I thought! Knowing it exists on a global level is baffling to me! Maybe it just needs to find a home in the silent, contained rage portion of my brain along with grammar/punctuation anger, (apostrophes, a whole nother, etc.) misused words, (tragedy is a literary device!) and referring to non-popular music as "classical" (although, to be fair, there's not really a better term. "Art music" unfairly marginalizes so-called "popular music.")

On preview, I seem to be belying the notion that I'm not uptight.
posted by SpiffyRob at 2:27 PM on November 28, 2007


This is going to be the least of your worries in corporate-land. I'd work on listening to what you're being told rather than building a meritocracy of presenteeism in your head that you'll never find in the real world.

This comes off as pretty condescending. I work in the real world and I assure you that many people, including myself, value punctuality. And can value it without losing the ability to listen! I don't looove meetings, but sometimes it is necessary to bring people together for updates or discussion. It's less painful when it's more efficient.

Practically speaking, SpiffyRob, you can save yourself some irritation by doing as misanthropicsarah suggests -- leave for the meeting at the start time. And bring work to do with you.

It's okay to get known as the punctual one, too. (No need to be rude about it, of course.) There are other closet punctualists who will applaud you.
posted by desuetude at 2:35 PM on November 28, 2007


Punctuality is important, and it's an important way to value other people. However, there are other pursuits that are also important, and one can't be 100% focused on all of them.

Family; staying with a creative train of thought; lowering your stress level; making sure you're completely prepared for the meeting so you don't waste time during the meeting; Being polite and saying hello to people when you meet them; eating healthy, relaxed lunches; remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and that your friend's son played an important soccer game; exploring new information so you don't stagnate in your job; these are just a few of potentially hundreds of priorities that a person might have.

Being on time for everything takes a serious amount of thought or effort. For me, it means de-emphasizing some other priorities. I have to choose whether I'm in "prompt and together" mode, and I can usually only do that in one area of my life.

It's not just a question of allocating time to all these different things. It's a question of focusing my mind on one or two important areas - if I'm focused on sensing other people's feelings, or coming up with creative solutions to problems, then that's what my mind works on most of the time, not calculating how many minutes I'll need in order to prepare, travel, and situate myself to be on time. I'm lucky if I remember to glance at my schedule, sometimes.

Am I overcommitted? Maybe so. But I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.
posted by amtho at 3:10 PM on November 28, 2007


Oh and I should also add that being late/on time can be a cultural thing too. There are definitely some cultures where you will get entirely different kind of answers...more the "7 whole minutes *late*?! Gasp! That's incredibly unprofessional!"
posted by edjusted at 3:33 PM on November 28, 2007


I find meetings a general nuisance.

As a result I usually carry some song or poetry I'm trying to memorize and a notebook to write in. Before (and sometimes during) meetings I read my source material. During meetings I look like I'm furiously scribbling notes when in fact I'm just writing down lyrics from memory.

Via this method I've memorized a good deal of Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking glass, and I'm looking forward to doing "The Hunting Of The Snark" during the next design cycle.

Alternatively a number of my friends knit during meetings.

Either way, a few minutes of free time is always appreciated when you have ongoing projects to work on.
posted by tkolar at 5:14 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I am a punctual person, and I work at a company where I am, except for one person that I work with closely, the only person who is habitually on-time. I value being on time, because being late is stressful to me, so I'm there early to on time, and me and the other punctual person either do work or shoot the breeze til everyone else shows up.

The only reason that this does not bother me is that I know that the people I work with are not slack. I know they are doing their jobs, and I know they're not late because they don't respect the rest of us. It's probably because they're doing something that needs to be done, and I've become OK with that. Some people just don't get a kick out of being on time or ticking something off a to-do list.

It's a challenge to accept, but once I relaxed and asked myself, "are these people being shitty, or are they getting the job done?" I realized very quickly that they were, in fact, getting the job done. And that's all that really matters (where I work, that is - ymmv).
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:49 PM on November 28, 2007


Punctually means different things is different cultures. For example, if you were invited to dinner in France it's supposed to be impolite to show up on the dot. Different countries also have more or less relaxed standards about asking employees to work on their lunch break or so forth.

Therefore, assume that the given time is your seven minute warning?
posted by Phalene at 6:57 PM on November 28, 2007


Sodoku. I print some out, tuck them in my notebook, and happily sit and do them while waiting for people to show up (and sometimes during the meeting, if it's boring).
posted by TochterAusElysium at 7:04 PM on November 28, 2007


At my company, if I show up seven minutes late, I'll be the first person there.

If you sit there waiting, you're considered a time waster. You're supposed to check that the meeting was not a) cancelled; b) moved; c) postponed; etc. or else give up after a minute and go back to your desk.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 8:25 PM on November 28, 2007


There are some pretty uncomfortable assumptions about tardiness in yr question, particularly I get the sense that you think your company is somehow successful *despite* the timekeeping, which I don't think is proven.

If you're recently out of academia, reflect on what makes it successful. Whatever you come up with, I'm willing to bet it isn't "they pay people to sit around playing soduko". Adding on 7 minutes of goof-off time to each meeting you turn up anally promptly for *will* get noticed, and may end up being a demerit.

O the irony.
posted by bonaldi at 9:05 PM on November 28, 2007


Bonaldi,

You are comfortable, then, with the assumption that showing up on time for things makes a person anal?

I really am thankful for the advice everyone is given, and seeing that this isn't unique to my company has been a huge help. Still, I find it so bizarre that people really want to defend this practice. I would never want to give the impression that I can accept no reason for tardiness, as there are plenty of good ones. That said, most people seem comfortable showing up for meetings late just because everyone else does. Agreed, showing up on time to play Sudoko doesn't cause business to thrive, but dawdling just to maintain the status quo does?

Baaaaaaaa.

And to my scattered timely warriors out there, please keep up the good fight.
posted by SpiffyRob at 5:27 AM on November 29, 2007


I think a number of yr posts have implied anal-ness, sorry. Nonetheless, you're still making with the assumptions -- is everyone dawdling before the meetings as you say? Or are they actually working away before turning up on time for what the office culture has taught them is the correct time for a 10am meeting -- namely 10:07.

Time is purely a construct. Cleaving to the top of the hour does not make you more in control, or more efficient, or more successful. As your company proves.
posted by bonaldi at 6:51 AM on November 29, 2007


Still, I find it so bizarre that people really want to defend this practice.

It's always hard at first to get your mind around the concept that everybody else doesn't think as you do, but since you posted "How can I accept the tardiness of those around me?" I would think your response to a lot of people telling you that "tardiness" is not a significant issue would be to thank them and adjust your thinking, not mock them and cling to your righteous sense that you are The Only Good Employee.

most people seem comfortable showing up for meetings late just because everyone else does.


Well, yes, just as most people wear the clothing they do and use the forms of language they do "just because everyone else does." That's pretty much a definition of life in society. Are you saying that because one person comes to work there who feels that "tardiness" is a sin, everyone else should change their social behavior to accommodate him?
posted by languagehat at 7:07 AM on November 29, 2007


...your righteous sense that you are The Only Good Employee.

The last thing I'd want to do is turn this into a "who's making bigger assumptions" contest, but come on. That's a bit of a stretch.

I asked this question specifically for help in adjusting my thinking, not for criticisms of the way I currently think.

Let's abstract:
-
I feel strongly about X, but realize Y is the norm.

Although I maintain X makes more sense, I would like help accepting Y.

Question: Please help me accept Y.

Answers from languagehat, and many others (I don't mean to single you out.): X??? X??? Why would you think X? If you think X you're anal and righteous! Y is right. Accept it!
-
So, you know, the defensive side is going to come out a bit.
posted by SpiffyRob at 7:39 AM on November 29, 2007


Just wanted to thank you for asking this question. I'm an open punctualist (is there meetings/support groups I should attend?) and finding it very, very difficult adjusting to living in Spain. I feel your pain and you're not alone.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:44 AM on November 29, 2007


Still, I find it so bizarre that people really want to defend this practice.

I wouldn't call it "defending" as much I would "accepting the way much of the world works." I've had similar conversations with friends about work dress codes. At some places, business casual works and at others you can get away with wearing jeans. Is the office with people wearing jeans any less productive or less professional if they usually wear suits when they have meetings?
posted by mikeh at 11:22 AM on November 29, 2007


It seems more like a matter of honor to me. If someone says they'll do something and then they do not, without any good explanation, they are not someone to trust as their word means nothing.
posted by wackybrit at 2:53 PM on November 29, 2007


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