Luck is not on your side today, and you’re running late to the office. Maybe you don’t have a meeting scheduled for 8 AM sharp—or maybe you do and you’re already stressed!—but regardless, you know your boss isn’t going to be happy to see you waltzing in behind schedule.
Whether your tardiness is completely out of your control or due to a fault of your own, here’s exactly what you should do.
In general, the usual suspects are to blame for why employees are late to work: traffic (51 percent), oversleeping (31 percent), bad weather (28 percent), too tired to get out of bed (23 percent) and forgetting something (13 percent). But sometimes the excuses can be much wackier. When asked about the most outrageous excuses employees have given them for being late, employers shared the following:
- It’s too cold to work or something due to the weather.
- I had morning sickness (it was a man).
- My coffee was too hot and I couldn’t leave until it cooled off.
- An astrologer warned me of a car accident on a major highway, so I took all backroads, making me an hour late.
- My dog ate my work schedule.
- I was here, but I fell asleep in the parking lot.
- My fake eyelashes were stuck together.
- Although it has been five years, I forgot I did not work at my former employer’s location and drove there on accident.
Ok, laughs aside. So, what do you do if you’re running behind?
You never want to get to the point where you’re walking into the office at 11 AM and your boss has no idea where you’ve been and why you missed half the day. Chances are if you’re running late, not only do you have the means to warn your manager ahead of time (hello, that’s what a cell phone is for), but you also know pretty early on how late you’re actually going to be.
If the conductor hops on the mic to tell you your train’s going to be held at the station for 20 minutes, you should try to find a signal and contact your boss right then and there. If you get a notification the night before traveling home saying that your flight may be delayed, it’s worth sending your supervisor a note before heading to bed. If your child starts coughing up a storm and you know that means you’ll need to pop into the doctor’s office, whip out your phone.
Use your best judgement—you may decide that even with your delayed transportation or detour to the nearest health clinic you’ll still be able to make it in at your normal time (or at least you’ll only be a tad late). But know that there’s absolutely no harm in preparing your boss for your potential tardiness. Worst case, you actually show up on time and all’s forgotten.
As tempting as it is to say, “But this crazy thing happened! There was a 50-car pileup right in front of me and I literally got out of my car and climbed over the heap to get here!” you’re better off going with the truth or giving no reason at all (unless the pileup thing actually happened to you). The risk of getting caught in a lie is too great, and when something actually happens to you where you need their trust they’ll be less inclined to give it to you if you’ve fibbed before.
So opt for honesty, even if it’s terrifying to say you slept through your alarm or forgot to put gas in your car. It may not resonate well with them now, but when you arrive on time every other day after that, they’ll more often than not let a mishap or two slide.
Apologise! Even if you have zero regrets about getting an extra hour of sleep, still say you’re sorry—after all, your lateness affects your boss and co-workers, too.
You’re going to be late—you can’t control that at this point. What you can control is how you react to it. Besides sending your boss a proactive note (see below for what that looks like), you’ll want to make it clear you’re ready to compensate for this small mistake.
Maybe that’s as simple as doing your work, and doing it well—starting with answering emails on the train while you wait for it to get moving. Or maybe you stay a bit later that day to make up for lost time. Or maybe you immediately offer up solutions to fix the fact that you missed an important meeting that morning. Whatever you think will impress your boss enough to convince them to overlook this minor inconvenience, do it.
It might be wise at the end of the workday to give your boss a quick thanks for being understanding of your lateness. You certainly don’t want to keep bringing it up if your manager has moved on, but if they were especially receptive or accommodating it’s worth acknowledging that.
Showing up late to work happens. Everyone does it, and usually when it occurs once or twice it’s no big deal.
But make that three, five, seven times, and you’re bound to become someone everyone expects to be tardy. More importantly, you’ll begin to lose the respect of your boss.
Remember that being a full-grown adult means, among other things, being on time to stuff as much as possible. So set your alarm to full volume, leave your house 10 minutes earlier, or if you really need to, talk to your boss about adjusting your schedule—just do whatever it takes.
How you choose to contact your manager to let them know what’s going on—phone call, email, text, Slack—depends a lot on your relationship and their communication preferences.
In certain cases it might make more sense to contact your boss more informally—whether because that’s how they tend to communicate their tardiness, because that’s what they asked you to do, or because you’re not going to be so late that you want to make a big deal out of it. It also might be a better strategy if you want to be sure your boss gets your message before it’s too late (like if they’re about to have back-to-back meetings).
Overall, whether or not you need to address it comes down to company culture. If everyone is diligently working when you come in late every morning, then you probably stand out. If the occasional late arrival is OK according to your culture and policy, you likely won’t be disciplined.
Check out my related post: What to do at your first month at a new job?