Dealing with a tardy cow-orker.
September 15, 2005 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Help with a perpetually tardy co-worker.

My wife has been frustrated for quite some time with a co-worker who is perpetually late. When her hours were set so she was supposed to arrive at 9am, she'd show up at 10:30. When her hours were changed so she was supposed to come in at 10, she'd show up at 11 or 12. Management inexplicably turns a blind eye to the situation. However, it is affecting the rest of the office, since this woman's tardiness means that her work-product doesn't get done until others who need to process it are getting ready to head out the door, and sometimes end up working late to get their jobs done. Other workers end up pitching in and covering for her. As far as I know, direct confrontation either doesn't work, or has caused so much ill-will that the small office environment can't cope with it. And the woman realizes she is lackadaisical about it, but either can't or won't change her habits.

I suggested to my wife that she and the other people in the office start showing up late, too, and force management's hand to do something about it. But my wife doesn't see that as a useful option, as she doesn't want to jeopardize her standing with management.

So can anyone suggest any novel ways of dealing with this perpetually late pest?
posted by crunchland to Work & Money (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is your wife friendly with the woman in question? If so, she could have a word with her and find out why the woman is late. It may be problems at home in which case your wife might be able to offer support or solutions, or it might be pure laziness, or the woman may hate her job so much that she feels no obligation to turn up on time.

The point being, the woman's lateness is her own business until it affects her co-workers. Now that it has begun to, some friendly enquiries or advice may solve the problem. If it doesn't, your wife's priority should be to protect her own job.

I absolutely hate my job and feel mistreated by my employers, and so feel no guilt in coming in late, leaving early and generally try to get away with doing as little as possible. However, my laziness doesn't affect my co-workers. If it did, I would feel guilty about it and probably pull my socks up.
posted by pollystark at 7:28 AM on September 15, 2005

It seems odd that management would refuse to deal with such an egregious problem. In every workplace in which I've worked, showing up an hour and a half late on a consistent basis would not sit well with the powers that be. In any case, though, here's one idea: If any of the affected coworkers have the power to set deadlines for her, start setting them at 10:30 AM. Leave assignments in her office/cube/chair at 8:00 AM, with a note that the work product is needed before lunchtime. Come by shortly after she shows up, and ask for the work product, pointing at the note. It's not direct confrontation about her problem, but sufficiently pointed. If it happens often enough, maybe she'll change her ways.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:31 AM on September 15, 2005

How has management turned a blind eye to it (i.e. are they SURE that the management realizes the scope of the problem)? Have other co-workers talked to the management directly about it? Has anyone put a complaint in writing? Does this office use time cards or other time tracking devices? Is this employee paid by the hour?

(I have a lot of questions, sorry!)
posted by bcwinters at 7:33 AM on September 15, 2005

Organize. All the workers who are affected by the latecomer's habits should band together and confront management.

They can't fire everybody, and if everybody is there looking at them, they can't dismiss the issue as one person's personality problem.

If that doesn't work, do the everyone-comes-in-late thing. If management recriminates, contact a lawyer.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:39 AM on September 15, 2005

I mean that they can't dismiss the issue as one complaining person's personality problem. Obviously, the problem is one person's (unless you count management).
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:41 AM on September 15, 2005

It really sounds like the other people in the office are caught between a rock and a hard place. So the woman gets confrontational when the others try to talk to her about it, so that doesn't work, and when they talk to management about it, they turn a deaf ear, so that doesn't work either? Is that right? Sounds like your wife needs to find out who this woman's screwing or blackmailing ;)

The office workers could get together and buy her a month of a wake-up service for her next birthday or whatever (just to see what happens), but she might receive it less than graciously, from the sounds of it. If it were me, I'd get together with everyone else in the office and confront management. (upon preview, what Kirth Gerson said)

Perpetual lateness is sometimes a sign of OCD, too.
posted by iconomy at 7:43 AM on September 15, 2005

Showing up late would be a passive-aggressive way of handling it. Simply talk to the boss and explain that it is not acceptable and you will not be covering for her. If you get nowhere either quit or keep your head down. She might have something on the boss and in that case, you're just likely to get yourself in trouble.
posted by letterneversent at 7:47 AM on September 15, 2005

Stop doing her work and stop staying late. If the work doesn't get done because she can't be on time, then management will either do something or learn to live with work that isn't done. Either way, why should cover for her?
posted by duck at 7:53 AM on September 15, 2005

Here's another approach:
If the woman's output is something that someone else knows how to do, do it, before she comes in. Make sure management knows this is happening. Do this only if it's less extra work than Ms Dilatory is generating by her lateness. If it works out right, management will see that it's paying an unnecessary salary, and will stop doing so.

This may not work either, if Ms D. is actually someone's relative/blackmailer/best buddy. Try to find that out first, or you'll just be enabling them.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:56 AM on September 15, 2005

I had this exact problem several years ago--tardy coworker in extremis and indifferent management. Ultimately, I was chosen to discuss the issue with our department head. As I would later learn, the woman in question was struggling with alcoholism and fighting to keep custody of her son. I mention this since perhaps there is something else going on in this coworker's life that your wife and her coworkers don't know about. Or the woman could just be a lazy jerk.

Anyhow. I would agree with your wife that a company-wide late-in probably won't solve her problems. Is there a way to push back on this woman? You say she dumps work on people, forcing them to stay late. What if they refuse to stay to finish the project?

Here's how I could see this handled. There is a deadline for Thursday. It's Wednesday morning and the coworker isn't in yet. Your wife could e-mail her, copying a manager if it doesn't sound too petty, saying something like this:

"Sue, as you know we have that deadline tomorrow. In order for us to meet it, I will need your part of the work no later than 2 p.m. today. Please let me know as soon as you get in if you are able to meet your deadline."

Repeat as necessary.

I think this accomplishes several things: It establishes a paper trail so that when the blamestorming begins , your wife and her colleagues have documentation. It puts this woman on notice that her coworkers aren't going to pick up her slack. It also notifies management about the tardiness problem and points out its effect on the whole department and their ability to meet deadlines.
posted by Sully6 at 7:59 AM on September 15, 2005

Stop doing her work and stop staying late. If the work doesn't get done because she can't be on time, then management will either do something or learn to live with work that isn't done. Either way, why should cover for her?
posted by duck

I agree 100%. Otherwise why should management care?

My husband fired someone yesterday for being late. Verbal warning. Written warning. Fired.
posted by LadyBonita at 8:03 AM on September 15, 2005

Put up a sign on the wall stating clearly when entry time is. Or ask management to implement a timesheet, since "some co-employees are abusing the current relaxed environment, and thus creating more work for others". This will get noticed without singling out anybody.
posted by markesh at 8:03 AM on September 15, 2005

You know, this exact thing happened with me and my direct supervisor, except he'd show up at noon or 1 (instead of 9), and leave by 4 - he taught a Community College class in the evenings, so that part was approved by management, as long as he could keep up with his workload. Problem was, with only being in the office 3 hours a day, he ended up spending that entire time dealing with specific requests from everyone (including me) and answering emails. He didn't have time to do the routine part of his job, and most of it fell on me, or lagged (literally months) behind.

On one hand, it was kind of nice not to have him around all the time (if I needed to be 15 minutes late or something like that, no one would have noticed), but I can't really explain how frustrated it made me to have to deal with this and cover for him on a daily basis. Eventually, the rest of my office got fed up too, as they needed things from him, and we made management specifically aware of the problem. They talked to him several times, but nothing ever came of it until he screwed up royally, and then they fired him.

So, my answer: talk to management, but realize that nothing may come of it. Explain to them that it's affecting everybody else's work that the person in question continually shows up late. She shouldn't approach management in an accusatory way ("she shows up late all the time, and we're all sick of covering for her), just in a matter of fact way ("without everyone here on time, the work isn't going to get done").

Also, they need to stop covering for her, and everyone needs to go home when they're supposed to, even if it makes everyone's lives difficult for a little while. Let the crap fall onto the person who is causing the problems. Don't feel guilty about it - I certainly didn't feel guilty when my old boss would stay until midnight on Fridays, and I'd be out at 5. From Little Miss Late's point of view, why shouldn't she show up late? They've made it easy and acceptable for her.
posted by AlisonM at 8:04 AM on September 15, 2005

Instead of confronting, can your wife meet with her, explain why it's a problem, and offer help in creating a solution? If the company has an HR Dept., see if they can help, and if there is an EAP (Employee Assistnace Program), get in touch with them. There are lots of reasons for chronic lateness. thread.
posted by theora55 at 8:06 AM on September 15, 2005

I agree with the idea of stop working late, but document the hell out of it so when people complain you have a valid reason.

It does sound like one of two things, either the lady has some serious shit going down in her life, or she is taking care of the "needs" of someone higher up. As a manager I can't see why else there would such disregard for the behavior. In the first instance she should be transferred or given a LOA, which ever is more appropriate. In the second... well perhaps the company should have a hired position for her talents... no, no, sorry.
posted by edgeways at 8:32 AM on September 15, 2005

I've actually done something like this before...not an hour and a half late every day, but I'd say 30-45 minutes late, and up to an hour once or twice. The reason was that I was tired of the job and really just wanted to quit, but it was an unusually busy time at work and I knew that if I did leave they would never catch up. They were desparate for me to stay, so they didn't say anything. I really just wanted to quit, so I considered it charitable for me to stay at all and I wasn't about to stress myself out by rushing around in the morning to make sure I arrived on time. This went on for at least a couple of months.

If they would have fired me, I would have been relieved, but they didn't and I eventually quit anyway. I gave them notice and as predicted they didn't even get around to having interviews until it was almost time for me to leave.

The difference was that everyone at that place was backed up, so my lower productivity didn't affect anyone down the line. But I just wanted to tell you about that so perhaps you can have some insight into her reasons for being so late, and the possibility that management hasn't disciplined her because losing her would be too hard for management to handle.
posted by leapingsheep at 8:53 AM on September 15, 2005

Set fair deadlines, document the heck out of everything, don't pick up her slack any more than you would for co-workers who come to work on time every day. When she fails to meet deadlines and doesn't produce product in a timely fashion, begin complaining to the management about these specific incidents. Think of it this way: "She's always late" is not a situation requiring an immediate solution. "Client will be angry because work was late, work was late because completely reasonable deadlines were not met" requires a solution. Establish a documented pattern of her damage (or potential damage) to the company.

Also, your wife should speak to her direct supervisor about how her own work is being affected. Other co-workers should do the same. CYA.

I don't think doing anything passive-aggressive or cute is appropriate. Co-workers should all take the high road and be exceedingly professional, or risk having their own behavior questioned.
posted by desuetude at 9:00 AM on September 15, 2005

Rather than direct confrontation, why doesn't your wife (and other affected co-workers) speak to their managers about the problem this causes. She/they should let the management know that they have no problem working hard but they draw the line when it comes to staying late just to cover a perpetually tardy co-worker.

incidentally, my cousin has the exact same workplace situation. Only, she is the late one. By any chance, does your wife happen to work for DHS?
posted by necessitas at 10:12 AM on September 15, 2005

"When her hours were set so she was supposed to arrive at 9am, she'd show up at 10:30. When her hours were changed so she was supposed to come in at 10, she'd show up at 11 or 12."

I guess the true passive/aggressive thing to do would be to change her scheduled arrival time to 7am.
posted by Marky at 10:33 AM on September 15, 2005

I guess the true passive/aggressive thing to do would be to change her scheduled arrival time to 7am.

That's what I was thinking. If you all had already submitted to the fact she is allowed to show up at 10am, why not set the time back at 9am and just assign work as if she's going to arrive at 10am?

(on an unrelated note, it seems with these kind of incredible slackers that I'd be able to find a job somewhwere, but nooooooooo)
posted by jmd82 at 10:44 AM on September 15, 2005

Ummm... do you have any management where you work? This needs addressing, pronto. By management. This person is doing what we Brits call "taking the piss" and she needs to stop it or be sacked. You need to organize, confront management and demand she be disciplined or fired. Seriously. I've known a few of these irksome slackers in my time and they need the big stick. Nothing else sorts them out.

If you don't take action you'll keep on having to put up with carrying this lazy bugger. That's the choice, I'm afraid.
posted by Decani at 11:13 AM on September 15, 2005

Oh yeah, and as others have said.. stop covering for her. I mean why the hell would anyone do that? Let her get what's coming to her.
posted by Decani at 11:16 AM on September 15, 2005

Get her to get her work done a day earlier?

Then you're not waiting on her work, and her tardiness no longer affects you.
posted by shepd at 11:25 AM on September 15, 2005

I agree with what someone else said she either has serious personal problems or is having an affair with the head honcho or some such person of reponsibility.

Is she related to any of the managers by chance?
posted by Justin Case at 2:07 PM on September 15, 2005

schedule critical meetings at 9:00 sharp.
posted by centrs at 8:58 PM on September 15, 2005

Well, this person is in a management position above everyone whom her tardiness effects. She is not related to the upper management. She is probably burnt out, and probably is bored and hates her job, but probably isn't qualified to do anything else, especially at the salary she is probably earning. Aggravating the fact is that she recently moved out to the distant suburbs as well as had her first child, and that's what prompted the later arrival time. The way the office works, everything is on a last minute deadline, so it's not really feasible to demand the work be done a day ahead. Even if there was work product that could be scheduled that way, the stuff that needs to go out sooner always trumps the slower stuff, to the point where the slower stuff's deadline approaches and its suddenly a last minute thing, too. The office is so bare-bones as it is, there hasn't been a HR person for years and years. The head honcho is also a woman, as is the vice-head honcho.
posted by crunchland at 11:28 PM on September 15, 2005

We're having a similar problem here at my workplace. The tardy worker has also been "out sick" something like 25 days in the last three months. She's pregnant. Until very recently most of the other staff were sympathetic. Now more of them are realizing that they all came in and worked when they had morning sickness, so why can't she? Her supervisor is a great woman, but very uncomfortable with confronting anyone.

It's really making everyone here grumpy, but until her direct supervisor does something about it none of the rest of us feel like there's anything we can do.

I do think that not making up for her undone work is a good suggestion, but I realize that in some work environments that's just not possible. The work has to get done somehow.

So, I don't really have any good advice, just sympathy.

Good luck.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 10:06 AM on September 16, 2005

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