Cracking Down on Punctuality – Is it Wise?

Is it wise to crack down on punctuality? A manager at Hogan Lovells clearly thinks so. He sent an e-mail to all associates and staff at their Shanghai office demanding that everyone be at their desk by 9:15am, or explain their absence.

Andrew McGinty, a managing partner at Hogan Lovells, said “The Shanghai partners take the view that fee-earning staff are expected to manage their own time in a professional manner, and that their remuneration takes into account the fact that there will be times when they ened to work long hours to meet client deadlines or expectations. [There is] no automatic right for free earners to arrive late the day after late working.”

He continued: “persistent non-justifiable lateness will henceforth be included as a factor that will be considered in relation to internal promotions, appraisals, pay reviews, and renewal of contract decisions”.

So – perhaps not quite the ultimatum that people have built it up to be since the e-mail went viral earlier this month. Persistent, non-justifiable lateness is inexcusable in any job. Still, in a mobile world in which flexible working has grown in popularity, is this approach really going to work? Will it get the best out of people? Probably not…

Campbell Ritchie, Managing Director at HR services provider Right Hand HR says that the approach is likely to prove counterproductive:

‘It’s not what you say but how you say it’ and this is an  example of losing an important point in a generalised message. The chances are that a small number of partners are setting a poor example. A better approach could have been a discussion among the group as whole to get an agreement on the standards they should be setting followed by direct dialogue with the specific individuals causing this concern based on this mandate.’

This view is echoed by Jane Spink, Head of HR at Global HR & Payroll outsourcer Ceridian, who adds that “behaviour begets behaviour, treat colleagues as trusted professionals and that’s how they will behave; clockwatch and dictate contribution and they will count the minutes and do the minimum!”

So how do you approach punctuality?

Staff lateness is estimated to cost the UK economy around £9bn a year, so a balanced approach to punctuality is perhaps the best way forward. There is a financial cost to a lack of punctuality – but there is a financial cost to reduced engagement brought about by ‘nannying’.

In the case of Hogan Lovells, while they may find their employees turning up for work on time, they may find them disengaged, and as Spink says, “doing the minimum”.

Our job is to get the best out of people, not to ensure they’re at their desks. Indeed, by ensuring they are at their desks – ahead of other priorities such as ensuring they’re working to their maximum potential – then you may end up losing them.

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