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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Ways to Deal With the Co-worker Who’s Always Running "a Little Late"

person waiting in meeting
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It’s 3:15 PM. Not a particularly special part of the day, except that your meeting was supposed to start at 3, and Dave isn’t here yet. But you’re not surprised—because Dave is late every single time, often without any explanation or apology.

And you’re pretty over it.

I would be, too. My mom has taught me many things in life, including the importance of being on time. Heck, we lived two minutes from our church but consistently left half an hour early to get there.

And sure, I trickle in a few minutes late every once in a while. Life happens, and no one is perfect (except my mom). But chronic tardiness, especially at the office? And I’m not talking about two to three minutes late, here. (With people scheduling back-to-back meetings, it’s hard to get from one to the next right away, unless you’ve mastered teleportation.)

But if it’s seven, 10, 15 minutes and everyone else has already arrived? Not only is that just plain rude, but it’s a threat to your productivity, the harmony of the company, and, possibly, your relationships with your clients. OK, fine, that escalated quickly—but it’s not that far off-base.

So, if you’re working with someone like this, try any of these three approaches:

1. Start Without Him

Don’t feel the need to delay just because Dave’s missing. Time is everything, and you shouldn’t waste everyone’s just because of one person.

If you make it the norm to start on time, he’ll hopefully notice that the world doesn’t revolve around him. And if it’s important to him (which it should be), he’ll make more of an effort to get there earlier. If he doesn’t, then at least the rest of you don’t have to sit there twiddling your thumbs. You can make progress, even if he doesn’t.

Now, if there are specific answers you need from Dave, you can still get them. Save them for when he arrives or send a follow-up email to the team once you’ve dispersed.

And, yes, I realize that this option may not be the best if the meeting only consists of, well, you and Dave. So, if that’s the case, you’re going to want to jump right to number two.

2. Leave the Meeting

When I was in college, there was an unspoken rule that if a professor wasn’t there by 15 minutes after class started, we could leave. I’ve carried this over into my professional life (when appropriate), and it seems to work pretty well.

If Dave is essential to the check-in and he isn’t there, it’s just plain silly to sit in a room staring at each other or comparing which Real Housewives franchise is the most ridiculous (and, thus, the best).

Reach out to him once to see if he’s on his way, and if doesn’t respond, pack up and go back to your day (and if you need urgent responses, shoot him an email). If there are items the attendees can address without him, though, take care of that before you plan your escape.

I’m fairly confident that if Dave keeps showing up to an empty room, he’ll get the picture.

3. Stick to a “Hard Stop”

When a meeting’s put on your calendar, whether it’s by you or someone else, you’re all agreeing to a certain end time. So, stick to it.

Just because Dave’s 10 to 15 minutes late doesn’t mean you should extend it by 10 to 15 minutes at the end to account for what was lost at the beginning. No siree! You can’t rearrange your schedule just because someone else didn’t respect it.

And even if you don’t have to meet with anyone after it, you most likely still set aside that time to work on a project, answer emails, or catch up on other things you can’t devote attention to when you’re in conference rooms all day. Those plans are just as important.

Fingers crossed, Dave will begin to see that his delayed arrival decreases the minutes you all have to touch base and collaborate, which makes it hard to make any headway.

Dave probably isn’t a bad person—he just struggles with time management. And if you aren’t his manager, it’s probably not likely that you’ll pull him aside to discuss his attendance issues.

But I’ve found that these three suggestions can help give the chronic latecomer a reality check about respecting others, and help save you and your colleagues from accumulating a lot of “dead time.” They won’t be the quick fix to every situation. If your boss is the repeat offender, for example, things can get a little tricky. But they’re a good place to start.

Have any other suggestions? Tell me on Twitter.