What Does It Mean if an Employee is Habitually Late for Work?

When an employee shows up late for work, it’s easy to feel frustrated.

After all, shouldn’t employees be on time, every time?

While it is true that employees should strive for near-perfect attendance, the fact is that things can and do come up. Life happens, people get sick, and cars break down. Of course, then there are the habitually late employees, ones who may be seeing how long they can get away with being late before you say something.

According to one study by CareerBuilder, 29% of employees show up late to work at least once a once a month. Tardy employees are not something you should overlook, but this doesn’t mean that you should fire them on the spot for being late twice in a row. When you notice that an employee seems like they may be starting to make a habit of being late, it’s time to take action. In many cases, your first step to solving the tardiness problem is to try to find out what’s causing them to be late, and see if there’s anything that you can do to help.

While there are a whole host of reasons that your employee could give for their lateness, generally speaking, there are usually a few common factors that are often behind absenteeism.

Trouble at Work

If employees are running into conflict at work, this can impact their attendance levels. Unfortunately, problems at work are often behind an employee’s lateness. When your workplace environment isn’t an enjoyable place to be, naturally, your team will get more flexible with their punctuality.

Consider asking for their feedback as you seek to get to the bottom of the issue. Is there a culture of gossip or negativity that may be alienating some of your team? Is there something that’s causing them concern or causing them to feel unsafe? What changes could help to improve the workplace? Your employee could prove to be a valuable source of information for you, allowing you to make some much-needed changes.

Don’t forget to direct them to the human resources department in case they’d be more comfortable disclosing the reason for their late arrivals there. It can be tough for business owners to break past the barriers caused by their power dynamic, and even if you notice something off about an employee’s behavior, they might be uncomfortable disclosing the personal reasons behind it to their boss.


Not every no show has a bigger meaning behind it. If employees have a long commute, or are driving during rush hour, their excuse of traffic may be legitimate. While it’s true that they could just, ‘leave for work earlier,’ sometimes, this isn’t a feasible option. The more involved their personal life, the more they’re likely already making concessions for their work schedule.

If your employees are struggling with their start time, consider rearranging their schedule to allow them to arrive, and leave at a different time, in order to avoid the rush hour. If a number of your employees have an especially long commute, you may want to consider allowing your team to work from home on a more regular basis. The pandemic has shown that flexibility for employee attendance doesn’t necessarily result in less productivity for a given workday. Just the opposite – working from home sometimes results in improved employee performance.

Conflicting Schedules

Another common reason for employee lateness is conflicting commitments. For example, they may have to take the kids to school before they can leave for work. If conflicting schedules is the issue, consider sitting down with your employee and mapping out a timetable that will help them to arrive on time more easily.

Overworked and Overwhelmed

Tired and stressed employees are often late employees. If your employee has been pulling some late shifts or working a lot of overtime, it’s possible that they are simply exhausted and in need of a break.

“More than half of U.S. employees feel overworked or overwhelmed at least some of the time,” states ABC News, and, “70 percent say they often dream of having a different job.” Consider whether your team is working too many hours. Another common cause of stress at work is constantly having to pick up the slack for other team members or go above and beyond what’s in their job description.

You might have noticed a lack of disciplinary action mentioned overall. While employee tardiness is a problem that needs to be addressed, it’s important to approach this issue with a bit of empathy. Keep in mind; your employees are human.

Before you bring the hammer down hard, consider asking if there was a reason for their tardiness, you never know what may have taken place before they walked through the door. They could have a legitimate reason for being late.

Only when absenteeism continues after these empathetic approaches should you start with the verbal and written warnings and the references to company policy before ultimately leading to termination of employment if the issue isn’t resolved. Until that point, taking a softer and understanding approach is more likely to resolve the issue for good – and win points with your employees around the office as they come to understand that you’re not like other business owners – you truly do care about your team’s well-being.