The Early Bird Ruffles No Feathers

Le tout nous gardons un homme attente, il réfléchit sur nos lacunes. ~ French Proverb

The English translation to the quote above is, “All the while we keep a man waiting, he reflects on our shortcomings.” There is truth in this! If you’re late for work, a meeting, an assignment, event, or any occasion you run the risk of engendering negative thoughts about you in the minds of those who are punctual or who you’ve kept waiting. To some, being tardy equates to being undependable, untrustworthy, unsuitable and even unlikeable. (See my post, The Power of the Early Arrival.)

A survey sponsored recently by CareerBuilder and conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that 26% of workers are late at least once or more each month and 16 percent are late once or more each week. Employers do not view this as a small problem. Therefore, while being chronically tardy or showing up late even occasionally might not seem like a big deal, it can create the perception that if you can’t meet a basic requirement such as arriving on time you certainly aren’t ready to take on greater responsibility. Habitual tardiness on the job can bring an end to your career advancement or even continued employment.

Arrival on Your First Day…

Therefore, arriving on the dot is crucial to making a good first impression to your new manager and coworkers, including those present as well as those who are not present upon your arrival. Make no mistake, word will spread if you’re late on your first day and it will translate to your being lax, arrogant or feeling that you are above the rules; it will not be pretty. Even if everyone appears to be understanding, deep down they will have recorded this poor beginning.

That said, it’s not advisable to arrive too early (unless you’ve been asked to do so by your new manager). Managers want to ensure that your new day is upbeat and well organized. You’ll be expected to be punctual, but if you arrive more than five minutes before your designated start time you could actually cause angst. Your manager, assistant or staff might not be prepared to greet you before your arrival time, and having you sit and twiddle your thumbs can make people uncomfortable. Better to arrive at the building 15 or 20 minutes early, spend that time in the restroom or lobby and arrive at your new office exactly on time or just a few minutes before.

…And Thereafter 

Subsequently, arriving at work 15-20 minutes early – or earlier when required – ensures that you will be more relaxed, confident and organized. Of course, being on time means being present and accounted for at the appointed time and in the appointed place ready to begin the day; standing in line at the company cafeteria getting your coffee or breakfast at starting time doesn’t count!

The Etiquette and Ethics of Being on Time 

Punctuality involves both etiquette and ethics. First, it’s just plain good manners to be on time; it shows respect and consideration for your manager and coworkers to arrive promptly, even – and especially — when you’re the one in charge. Remember, you’re always accountable to someone. Regardless of your position, punctuality and dependability are vital to your performance and brand.

It’s also ethical to arrive on time because that’s what you’ve agreed to when you accept a job, meeting invitation, assignment, etc. Arriving late and decreasing the time or productivity allotted deprives your company, manager and coworkers of your timely input. This can be viewed as a breach of ethics, and can result in destructive morale problems.

The man referred to as the Father of our Country was severely prompt. He didn’t tolerate tardiness in himself, his family, household or White House staff, or Congress. On one occasion when his secretary blamed his watch for his late arrival, George Washington allegedly told his tardy secretary, “Then you must get another watch, or I another secretary.” There might be something to being punctual if it was a prominent trait of the man who greatly contributed to winning the Revolutionary War and establishing the United States of America.

Examples of the Negative Effects of Tardiness:

  • A college intern is hired to work in the marketing department of a Fortune 500 company. One of his responsibilities is to set up the equipment and software for client demonstrations, which must be done one hour in advance of the start time of the demo. The intern is often late arriving to work in the morning and returning from his lunch break, necessitating another staff member to interrupt his assignment and cover for the intern. Despite warnings from his manager, the intern continues to arrive late occasionally, which impacts productivity and runs the risk of keeping a client waiting and possibly losing an account. But, it also damages the intern’s reputation, which can result in his not being offered a permanent position or receive a positive reference for his internship; moreover, it can prompt negative comments about him to others in the industry (remember that word spreads easily and rapidly, both officially and non-officially).
  • An executive assistant routinely arrives at work late when the senior executive vice president to whom she reports is out of the office, although she is expected to arrive at her usual starting time. On those occasions, members of the staff and others who need to consult with her on various issues are unable to do so, often causing delays and confusion. As a result, general resentment builds and esprit de corps decreases among the staff. The EA is either unaware or uncaring of how others feel, and despite her efficiency in other areas and the reflected power that she wields her routine tardiness is negatively impacting her performance and reputation. The executive eventually learns of his assistant’s habitual tardiness and its bearing on the staff when he is out of the office. The snowball effect is that her next annual review is less favorable than expected, which negatively impacts her salary increase, relationship with her manager and future career advancement.
  • A principal at a private mid-size company is chronically late for work, meetings, etc. She’s a hard worker and well-liked otherwise; however, her habitual tardiness demoralizes her staff and colleagues, delays progress, triggers missed deadlines and contract violations. As a result, morale and productivity declines, followed by a loss of clients and decrease in profits. Her partners speak with her about her chronic lateness and its affect on the business, but she does not respond to their concerns. Deciding that they need a partner who is more focused and committed to the success of the company, they vote her out. The relationship with her former partners is in tatters, her reputation in the industry is damaged and her career suffers a setback.

Fix the Problem! 

The above scenarios could have been avoided by self-awareness and self-assessment, followed by action to change bad habits and make better choices. If you’re a chronic late bird, analyze the cause (or causes) and take steps to correct. It might just a matter of reordering your daily schedule, getting to bed earlier, organizing yourself more efficiently, finding a better route to work or simply saying “no” more often and avoiding overload. Or you might need professional assistance to turn the situation around. Like the famous Nike ad says, “Just do it.” Your well-being, reputation and career success depend on it!

If you’re an early — or prompt — bird, you’re already ahead of the curve and on top of the day! Keep up the momentum!

Until next time,


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