How Your Late Employees Improve Your Competitive Advantage

Guest post from Grace
Pacie:

We’ve all heard the story that lateness costs the country
billions in lost productivity  – it’s claimed that lateness costs American businesses more than $3 billion dollars a
year, but can that figure be trusted?  Are
late people a liability or an asset in the business world?

Punctuality issues are very often combined with a bundle of
behaviours which I have christened “Timebending”
in my new book ‘LATE!
A Timebender’s guide to why we are late and how we can change’. Timebenders do
not work in a linear way – they get deeply absorbed in their work and can lose
all track of time, which can result in them being late. However, Timebenders
are not always late – on the contrary, they are highly motivated by deadlines,
and when facing a tight time limit on an important task, they are able to concentrate
extremely effectively, and often produce their best work. On the other hand,
employees who arrive early for work and meetings typically work at a steady
pace, allow time for every eventuality, and lose the ability to think clearly
when they are under deadline pressure.

According to a YouGov survey, 19% of the US population are
late for work at least once a week.
  But
does an employee who regularly arrives late, actually work fewer hours than one
who arrives early?
 Lateness tends to
attracts universal condemnation, particularly from the ‘time anxious’ who are
obsessive about punctuality.
   Yet the
people who arrive late for work are usually the last to leave, because they can
get lost in their work, and are less focused on the clock.
  Lateness for meetings also deserves closer
examination.
  While there is no doubt that
someone who is late for meetings can hold everyone up, there is another side to
the issue. People who arrive early for meetings and events are typically less
productive than those who arrived a few minutes late, since the Timebenders are
likely to have been working right up to the deadline on their previous task.

Is Time Management the Answer?

Time Management courses are designed to improve workplace
efficiency -, typically advising employees to prioritise their tasks, schedule
their time and avoid distractions.
 
However, these are only successful strategies in an environment which
has a predictable and stable workflow.
 
In businesses which need to be responsive to client needs, and where
priorities might need to change at short notice, a workforce of punctual
timekeepers who work at a steady pace and cannot deal with interruptions will
be a liability rather than an advantage.
 
Timebenders may often be five minutes late for work, but they are
also flexible, not easily stressed, calm in a crisis, and will squeeze extra
tasks into a tight time schedule.

The Time Management model fits a traditional manufacturing
environment, but can be counter-productive in the new world of flexible working
and responsiveness to client needs.
 

Creative agencies and consultancies who need their staff to
come up with original solutions to problems, often at short notice, know that
timekeeping is a very low priority on the skills list. A deadline doesn’t just
force Timebenders to get the job finished – it can stimulate them to perform
certain tasks better. There are numerous examples of outstanding work achieved under
pressure. Martin Luther King famously added the words “I have a dream” to his
speech just as he was standing up to make his address. Bill Clinton, Lewis
Carroll, Aaron Sorkin were all ground breakers and also famously for lateness.
Did they unconsciously realize that the last minute was when they did their
best work?

Punctuality Around the World

If
you are working in international business, don’t assume that expectations of
punctuality will be the same in every culture. In Germany, South Korea or
Japan, if you’re not 10 minutes early, you’re seen as late, whereas in Saudi
Arabia lateness is a mark of seniority, and it is highly offensive to consult
your watch during a meeting.  In Russia
and China, attitudes to punctuality match those of Brits and Americans, whereas
Southern Europeans, South Americans, South-East Asians and Africans tend to
work on the principal, “If everyone’s late then no-one’s late”. 

Where
Are We Headed?

The
concept of Time Management is now a century old, invented at a time when
productivity and efficiency were keys to competitive advantage.  Today the world is a very different place-
the future is less certain than it has ever been, and the Timebending traits of
flexibility, adaptability and responsiveness will be vital weapons in the fight
for economic security.  Maybe in this
post-COVID world, your most effective employee might be the one who arrives 10
minutes late every morning, but is the last to leave at night. Perhaps ‘Sorry
I’m late’
should be the words you most want to hear when your staff arrive
at work tomorrow morning.


Grace Pacie is a strategic
business consultant specializing in international buyer behavior.  She has a BA and MBA, and is qualified in
Myers Briggs, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Emotional Freedom Technique,
Hypnotherapy, and Marketing.  Her new
book,
LATE! A Timebender’s guide
to why we are late and how to change’
is published as an ebook and Amazon paperback, and will shortly be released
as an audiobook.