When People are Late to Meetings

The meeting was scheduled to start at 11:00.  It’s 11:06 and the person running the meeting says…

 

Let’s just give everyone a couple more minutes to arrive…

 

And you think…

 

Sure.  I’ll just stare out the window.  No worries.  I’ve got nothing better to do.

 

This is frustrating all around:  for the person who planned the meeting, for those who were on time, and often, for those who are late and get the joy of walking in and feel everyone glare at them.

 

People are late to meetings for many reasons:

  • They have had a genuine emergency that caused their tardiness
  • They are subconsciously exerting power over the group
  • They are chronically late to most appointments (see this article)
  • They have not allowed any “travel time” in between their back-to-back meetings
  • There is a culture in the company or team that supports a more lackadaisical attitude toward punctuality

 

While it is important to be patient with occasional late-comers, you can still respect the on-timers.

 

The next time you oversee a meeting, try a few of the tips below to help round up everyone at the same time.

 

 

Tips to Start Meetings on Time with Everyone Present

 

Before the meeting:

  • Send a meeting invitation that includes a clear agenda. List the topics, the persons responsible, and the time people will be presenting.  Put late offenders at the beginning of the agenda.
  • Include these words on the meeting invitation: Please note that this meeting will begin and end on time.
  • Confirm the meeting by email a day or two prior. Remind participants about the purpose and anticipated outcomes of the meeting and what they will be contributing.
  • Set up a tardiness fine of $1 for every minute a person is late. Donate the money to charity or toward a quarterly “Late Lunch” for the team.

 

At the meeting:

  • Start the meeting on time. Don’t punish punctuality.
  • Continue the meeting even as latecomers enter the room. Do not rehash what was discussed before their arrival.
  • Close the door when the meeting begins.
  • Cancel or end the meeting if the key decision-makers are not present. Don’t feel the need to keep everyone in the room if the goals of the meeting cannot be met.
  • Finish at or before the promised end time. This sends a clear message that you are respectful of people’s time.

 

After the meeting:

 

If your boss is always late:

  • Find out if she needs to be present at all for meetings such as the ones for which she tends to be tardy. Perhaps an email after the meeting that summarizes what happened would be sufficient.
  • Gain his buy-in for starting the meeting on time, even if he is not present.
  • Check if a different day or time would fit her schedule better so she could be there at the start of the meeting.

 

If a subordinate is always late:

  • Speak to the associate privately and try to find out why he is chronically late for work or meetings.
  • Make this article or even this book required reading before the discussion. She should come to you with a plan to address the issues.
  • Discuss the resources that the company is willing to provide to help him improve. Maybe a time management class or, ahem, a productivity specialist can help?
  • If the tardiness continues, you may need to initiate a performance improvement plan.

 

To summarize:  respect the time of those who were punctual and offer professional “grace” to those who were tardy.

 

After all, the next time, it could be you making a grand entrance into a meeting that is already in progress…

 






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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at getproductive@melissagratias.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.

13 Comments

  1. Joyce Teal

    Why do people even feel it is OK to be late? Remember in high school there was a tardy bell? That was a lesson to teach you to be on time.
    Patricia Fripp, https://www.fripp.com/, continues to speak to corporations and more and has for over 4 decades. Fripp always starts her presentations 5 minutes early with a preview of what is to come. This leads to greater interaction with the audience making a more successful presentation.
    At work, it can be incorporated into meetings. Let’s say one of the purposes of the meeting is to have people offer to work on different portions of an upcoming project. Those who arrive early would have the first opportunity to sign up for a portion of the project. If you are late, you will get the “leftovers,” the parts that others did not want! Imagine your boss stating that others had shown the initiative to arrive early enough to select a role they were enthusiastic about rather than what they were assigned. Great way to show that you are interested in the future of the company and in improving yourself within the company.

    Reply
  2. Lucy Kelly

    I love the way you show how to set super clear expectations about start and finish times. So often, it’s a vicious circle – everyone’s late because a meeting never starts on time – because everyone’s late. You show how to reset that and stop punishing the people who are on time. As someone who is chronically early, I appreciate that!

    Reply
    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      One of my old bosses was fond of saying, “If you’re not early, you’re late!”

      Reply
  3. Sabrina Quairoli

    I love that you mentioned, “Start the meeting on time. Don’t punish punctuality.” I always felt that time is valuable, and it is important to acknowledge that other people value time. Thank you for permitting me to start the meeting on time. I think all managers need to realize they do not need to cater to the late-comers.

    Reply
  4. Seana Turner

    I absolutely love this! I always appreciated an old boss who began meetings by saying, “I believe in honoring those who are on time,” and then would begin promptly.

    Your suggestion about putting the latecomers at the top of the agenda is brilliant! These are such practical tips.

    Reply
  5. Julie Bestry

    “Don’t punish punctuality.” Doc, I love you for writing this! There are two main issues here: individuals with tardiness issues (which may or not be the individual’s fault, but in an era of texting, there’s no excuse not to communicate) and organizations with a culture that accepts and even leads to temporal dysfunction. I love every single one of your tips, though I wonder if the “late fine” concept, even with a charitable angle, will cause people to rebel in small ways if the delay is outside of someone’s control because of other job obligations. (“I’m running late, so I may as well not rush if I’m getting docked money anyway.”) But I really love making sure the tardy ones know they’re speaking first.

    Reply
    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Good point about the late fine possibly leading to passive aggressive behaviors. I wonder if the group could come up with a mutually-acceptable “punishment” that was more of an inside joke yet still motivational. Principal Clark made students sing the school song in “Lean on Me”…

      Reply
  6. Sheri Steed

    I love this post! So often people conducting meetings try to be nice and wait for late comers to arrive, but it really just disrupts the meeting and wastes everyone else’s time. I also liked your point about not reiterrating what’s been discussed for those who come in late. Being in the dark should be a consequence of showing up late.

    Reply
  7. Melanie Summers

    I appreciate the sentiment – ‘don’t punish punctuality.’ This is a great way to look at it and prioritize a respectful culture. I often find that having clear, written expectations up front alleviates many awkward/annoying issues. Great post.

    Reply
  8. Lisa Gessert

    Excellent Post Melissa! and thank you for addressing this issue!!!

    Reply
  9. Diane N Quintana

    Really great advice, Melissa. I am one of those who is chronically early to appointments and meetings. I feel extremely embarrassed when I am late and so avoid that feeling by being early. I appreciate your advice to those holding meetings to start the meeting on time. I also like that you say not to rehash what has already happened during the meeting. Truly terrific and actionable tips here, Melissa.

    Reply
  10. Jill Katz

    Great tips here, Melissa. And I love that you included advice for all members of the meeting: The leader, the boss, the subordinate. Starting on time and with an agenda are key components of any meeting.

    Reply
  11. Jonda Beattie

    I love this! When I run meetings I am always torn when I know someone is late – especially if they have texted that they are on their way. In that case I will often do a few minutes of chit-chat with those there before beginning. I may need to rethink that.

    Reply

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