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How to Respond to Your Boss About Being Late

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Even the most conscientious employee arrives late for work from time to time. Like most workplace issues, what you say often matters less than how you say it. Instead of deflecting blame, you're better off taking responsibility and discussing ways to avoid future tardiness. This approach defuses the immediate fallout from your late arrival and eases your supervisor's fear that this might turn into a chronic problem.

Occasional Lateness

An apology probably isn't required when you show up a couple of minutes late, but if you arrive 30 minutes late or more, then you should take the time to apologize to your boss directly. Then start your shift as soon as possible, advises "Forbes" magazine in its February 2013 article, "The Most Ridiculous Excuses From Tardy Employees." Avoid trotting out an elaborate excuse. Be honest about why you were late, whether it was due to bad weather, oversleeping or poor driving conditions.

Habitual Lateness

Serious tardiness -- whether it's one major incident, or a repeated pattern -- will require offering more than an apology to avoid damaging your reputation at work, "Boston Globe" etiquette columnist Peter Post writes. First, call the office when you're running overdue by 30 minutes or more, which shows your willingness to take responsibility for the situation. However, wait for a private moment to talk later with your boss. Own up to the problems your behavior caused. Then offer a solution to make up the lost time, whether it means taking a shorter lunch break or staying after hours to catch up on your work.

Common Solutions

Don't feel defensive or put on the spot when discussing the issue with your boss. Your conversation may pinpoint other issues for your lateness, such as workloads you're not managing well, or a lack of understanding of how your behavior affects others at work. Don't feel ashamed to discuss them, since most managers are willing to help find a mutual solution. Your boss will probably ask for ways to avoid future problems, so prepare a couple suggestions for him to consider.

Other Considerations

Honesty goes far in most workplaces, but remember that your boss isn't bound to accept your apology or explanation. He may still give a verbal or written warning, or require a performance improvement plan to correct the problem. However, even if you're not facing such sanctions, strive to ensure you are on time in the future. Avoid routines that lend themselves to tardiness, like stopping for coffee during rush hour. Otherwise, you won't acquire the self-discipline that arriving on time demands, and risk losing your job.


Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.

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