Happy businesswoman using mobile and laptop while working at home

How has lateness changed?

In an ideal world, we would never be late. There would never be traffic jams on the road, computers would not abruptly restart, and children would never be sick.

Even with the best of preparations, life can throw unexpected curveballs which end up disrupting our daily routines. As a result, it is almost guaranteed that we have all been late at one time or another.

Many employers value staff members who arrive to work on time and meet all their deadlines. It demonstrates that they recognise and respect other people’s own time and take pride in their work. For a long time, it was assumed that punctuality was linked with productivity. Although with many now working from home or on a hybrid system, have our attitudes towards lateness changed also?

To uncover whether attitudes on lateness have changed in the UK, we surveyed over 1000 workers, who work in an office, work from home, or work under a hybrid working model. Those surveyed were asked to reflect whether they believed their views on lateness have changed and how lateness differs between those who work at home.

Which excuses are most frequently used when running late to the office?

As part of our research, we asked respondents whether they have needed to provide an excuse for lateness within the past year.

It seems that employees who desire the most flexibility in their work may be struggling with time management the most. Under a hybrid model, employees have the freedom to choose whether they work from the office on some days or from the comfort of their own home on other days.

We found that

  • 15% of remote workers admitted to being late for work
  • 35% of full-time office workers admitted to being late for work
  • 40% of hybrid workers admitted to being late for work

When asked around which were the reasons causing lateness, the most frequently used answers were being stuck in traffic followed by family emergencies and doctor’s appointments.

Infographic: Have you used any of the following excuses for being late for work in the past 12 months?

Unsurprisingly remote workers, rarely needed to use traffic related lateness excuses or rely on public transport. Although remote workers did say that due to childcare commitments or the morning school run, there were occasions when they would be caught in traffic.

Which late excuses are most likely to work?

In most cases honesty is the best policy when you are running late. However, some late excuses are seldom believed, even if they are genuine. Our research revealed that there are good excuses and bad excuses for when you are running late.

We presented survey respondents with a range of excuses, and they were asked to identify which excuses they were the most and least likely to believe.

Infographic: Top 5 most believable excuses
Infographic: Top 5 least believable excuses

Excuses concerning traffic and public transport were the most likely to be believed by colleagues. However, it should be noted that certain car related excuses were seen as too fanciful to be real, such as being unable to find a parking space or losing your car keys.

How long should you wait for a guest in a virtual meeting?

Working from does alleviate many excuses for lateness. People are unlikely to find themselves stuck in traffic or having issues with public transport. Even in cases in which a colleague has overslept, chances are their home office and laptop are only a few steps away.

Unfortunately for some, technology has been able to highlight the fact that some people are consistently late for meetings.

There are still plenty of excuses for being late to a virtual meeting which are completely valid. You could have wi-fi connection issues, you might have a boisterous pet to deal with. You may even be over running on a previous meeting.

Though many of us are not forgiving when a colleague dials in late to a virtual meeting. One in five desk workers believe that it is never acceptable to dial in late for a meeting, but how late is late?

Our research indicates that the cut-off time to dial in late to a virtual meeting is 3 minutes and 58 seconds.

Infographic: How late to dial-in/video meeting do you think is acceptable?

However, if you’re only running a little late for a meeting there will always be some colleagues irritated by your lateness. Nearly half of desk workers surveyed believed it is acceptable to dial in late for a meeting within 3 minutes.

Why would you risk being late?

Most people hate arriving late to work or being behind on a deadline. In fact, 40% of survey respondents indicated that they would not want to risk being late. While no one actively tries to be late, there are times when people would take a risk even if it meant they would be a little tardy.

Infographic: What are you willing to be late to work for?

When respondents were asked what activity, they would risk being late for, 30% of adults would risk having a job interview at a different organisation, closely followed by one in four UK workers risking an extra 30 minutes in bed.

How should you work with those who are late on your team?

We spoke with Grace Pacie, a former business consultant and author of ‘LATE! A Timebender’s guide to why we are late and how to change’.

Whilst researching her book Grace interviewed people who are struggling with punctuality and reviewed available research across different fields all about lateness. We asked Grace for her thoughts on how to manage and work with those who struggle with time management.

“Time Management courses are designed to improve workplace efficiency, typically advising employees to prioritise their tasks, schedule their time and avoid distractions.

“Unfortunately, the concept of time changes depending on your perspective. In 2001, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, Jeff Conte, conducted a study in which he separated participants into two groups. One group contained people who described themselves as creative, while the other group described themselves as ambitious. Conte asked each group to guess, without the use of a clock or counting, how long it took for one minute to elapse. The ambitious group felt a minute had gone by when roughly 58 seconds had passed. While the creative group felt a minute had gone by after 77 seconds.

“I call these people Timebenders. Those who may be occasionally late will often share traits of flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness. Timebenders may be five minutes late for work, but they not easily stressed and happy to squeeze extra tasks into a tight time schedule. These traits are vital weapons in the fight for economic security. Overall, The more creative input you need, the less you should focus on working hours.

“Today the world is a vastly different place – the future is less certain than it has ever been. In predictable job roles, the most effective employees are the ones who arrives late every morning and the last to leave at night. And a simple, ‘Sorry I’m late’ should be the words you most want to hear when your staff arrive at work late?”

Methodology and studies

We conducted a survey of 1,000 UK adults, to uncover which are the most frequently used excuses for lateness and how long they would wait for colleagues running late to work. The sample only asked those whose work hybrid, full time in office or from home.

Data was accurate of December 2022.


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