ALC English Journal Topic September 2014

Timeliness vs. Flexibility

Many people show up late for work, and they always have an excuse explaining why it’s not their fault. How can our team decrease the number of people arriving late to work?  


I understand your frustration, but let me warn that I’m not a big supporter of strictly enforced working hours. Oh sure, there are certain jobs where it makes sense for people to arrive at a specific time. For example, it’s vital that the entire surgical team be present when an operation starts, and a store that advertises a 9 AM opening time will irritate customers if the doors are still locked at 9:05. But there are plenty of workplaces that insist that their people arrive at a fixed time for no better reason than “That’s how we’ve always done it.” Even worse, working hours often have no logical connection to the needs of the customers or the business.

Increase Commitment and Accountability. Tradition isn’t a good enough reason to require your people to all come to work at the same time every morning. Individual situations vary, unexpected things happen, and business needs change. If your business situation doesn’t require a fixed start time, be flexible!

People Support What They Help Create. If there are good reasons to show up at a specific time of day, I suggest that you base your working hours on real business needs, not historical start times. Here’s one way to get started:

  • Get your people together to discuss work start time openly.
  • Focus on a shared goal, such as the needs of key stakeholders and overall business success.
  • Jointly decide what work hours would best meet the needs of your customers and other people who depend on your team.
  • Negotiate clear agreements about when people will arrive for work, and get firm commitments from each individual involved.
  • Agree on reasonable and enforceable consequences for those who don’t keep their promises.
  • Uphold those agreements by enforcing these consequences.

What About the End of the Workday?! Professionals in today’s workplace routinely work 10 or more hours a day, and some frequently work far longer. Do managers show up at the end of these long days to insist that their people stop working? I doubt it! So why should managers be overly concerned about exactly when their people start working?

It Costs Nothing to Be Flexible! With very little effort, most work environments could provide more flexibility with no negative impact to the business results. A flexible start time is a great way to increase motivation and reduce stress. Rush hour commutes would be easier, and morning elevator rides would be less crowded. Anyway, in today’s world of mobile devices and cloud-based information-sharing systems, people are often being productive long before they arrive at their desks.

Where humanly possible, relax your start-time policy and give your people flexibility in when they arrive at work. This is part of a “Results Only Work Environment” (ROWE) trend that is spreading through the business world. Your people will appreciate it, and you will have one less thing to cause you stress. Naturally some managers may worry that they can’t keep track of their people’s work hours. But trusting your people and measuring their results, rather than the time spent producing those results, will create a “culture of accountability”, which has been proven to out-perform “command and control” work environments.

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