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My boss wants me at work by 8:00 a.m. Outside of rush hour, my drive to work takes about 15 minutes. During rush hour the commute time can vary greatly. (Public transporation isn't a reasonable option, as I'd have to change buses a couple times, so that would take hours.) I allow at least 30 minutes to drive to work and am usually at my desk by 7:55. Occasionally (about once per month) traffic is exceptionally bad and it is 8:05 or 8:10 before I'm at my desk - it has never been later than that. My boss - who gets in at 7:00 a.m., always makes some sort of comment when I'm here later than 8:00. It has not (yet) been threatening, but he seems to be making a point of letting me know that he noticed I'm late. My response has always been along the lines of "Traffic was especially bad today. Sorry I was late."

Extenuating (and somewhat aggravating) factors: With an 8:00 a.m. start time I'm expected to stay until 5:00 p.m. I'm always at work until at least then, and often later. When I'm late I make sure I stay in the office at least that much longer. Since my boss gets to work at 7:00 a.m., he leaves at 4:00 p.m., and he never stays after that time (although on a couple occasions he has come back into the office to help fix problems), so he doesn't see how late I'm at work. Also, I often work Saturdays to catch up on things that got pushed aside during the week; I've never seen him at work on a Saturday.

It seems to me my boss' expectations that I never be late are unreasonable. Thus my question is How can I diplomatically tell him that I'm doing the best I can and that he should overlook these occasional, uncontrollable times when I'm a few minutes late?

Edit to add some information (some already noted in comments):

  • I have never been told that arriving after 8:00 is a real problem, my boss just makes a point of saying something when it happens, which gets on my nerves. Also, I didn't know my supervisor starts at 7:00 until after I started the job.

  • Part of my job is to help people in other departments when they are having trouble. It depends on the department, but most of these people are supposed to work 8:00 to 5:00, although some start as early as 6:30. If I'm not around, they can call my boss.

  • My boss has a reputation of being an unpleasant person (in fact, other than my issue here, I generally get along with him better than most people in the organization), so people almost always call me and not him if they need help.

  • We don't have any sort of guarantee of immediate response. In fact there have been several times when I have been at someone else's desk providing assistance when another call comes in. Some of these people have told me they just waited for me to respond, instead of calling my boss.

  • While I've been lucky enough to avoid being egregiously late in the few months I've been on the job, traffic in this area is so bad that I don't think there is any time I could leave home and guarantee I'd be at work by 8:00.

  • Due to home responsibilities, starting my commute significantly earlier than I do isn't possible.

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    Why do you work extras on the weekend? I am wondering if you would be better off aiming to arrive at 745, so if you are late you get there by 8, and then have your entire weekends free. What am I missing? – enderland Sep 25 '15 at 18:19
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    You are a staff IT guy in the united states and you have a boss that cares about minutes late? I still say conform. Target 7:45 and read a newspaper or the Internet until 8:00. – paparazzo Sep 25 '15 at 18:57
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    So probably not a good answer, but I know of someone who had the same issue with a boss. They asked their boss to confirm that they wanted him to stick to agreed hours. Once he did, he proceeded to tools down the second the end of day came. Likewise, he would then turn up early after that but not do any work until the start time. The boss cracked first and eventually agreed they were both being unreasonable. Not everyone will be so lucky. – Simon O'Doherty Sep 27 '15 at 12:19
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    @Erik I don't believe it is, as it is a confrontational technique. It's more likely to back fire then solve the issue. Depends a lot on the job and how much job security you have. – Simon O'Doherty Sep 28 '15 at 19:03

10 Answers 10

24

How can I diplomatically tell him that I'm doing the best I can and that he should overlook these occasional, uncontrollable times when I'm a few minutes late?

Most likely you cannot.

If your boss "always makes some sort of comment when I'm here later than 8:00" then promptness appears to be very important to him. Thus saying (however diplomatically) "I'm doing the best I can. Stop fretting so much and don't worry that I'm late a dozen times or so per year." isn't likely to be productive.

Since you "have never been told that arriving after 8:00 is a real problem" perhaps you just need to ignore his needling. After all, it's only once a month or so. You might just say "Sorry boss - the traffic was brutal today!" then forget it. But perhaps it has reached a point where you feel you cannot.

In that case, if you value this job you should leave home earlier and try harder to be on time. But if you think you'd have to leave "significantly" earlier to not be tardy when you hear that traffic conditions are poor, and if it's true that "starting my commute significantly earlier than I do isn't possible", then you might need to find a different job. Perhaps you'll find a job that doesn't care as much if you are occasionally late.

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    Well, I have noticed that leaving promptly at 4:00 is important to him ... – GreenMatt Sep 26 '15 at 0:01
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    @GreenMatt - I mostly concur with Joe Strazzere. My wife, a senior IT manager in local government with > 100 employees in her division, STILL gets crap from her boss, the CIO, if she rolls in a few minutes after 8 am. Doesn't matter how many hours she works evenings or weekends. Just like your manager, he is playing power games to remind you, or maybe himself, that he's the BOSS.I would not even bring it up to him, because that's an argument you can never win. When he tsk-tsk's you like that, just hang your head and promise to do better in the future. – Nolo Problemo Sep 26 '15 at 20:18
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    @NoloProblemo and Joe; or you could not apologize, since it's likely not a sincere apology anyway, and just state the fact that traffic was bad. If you need to "hang your head" over something that you are not truly sorry about, and should not be sorry about, then you are essentially a slave. OP can try to be on time, say "Traffic was bad" with no apology, and then OP will either continue more confidently or get fired for not kissing butt. Getting fired for refusing to be demeaned is frustrating, but it is less frustrating than being demeaned. I suggest you not hang your head. – Aaron Jun 26 '17 at 18:47
38

Well, for what it's worth - in Germany, it is expected that you are never late. If you know that it can take 40 minutes just sometimes, then you have to get into your car 40 minutes early every time. There is no "well, I'm on time 80%, this is good enough."

How you manage to not be late is your problem, not the problem of the company. This is even true for known bad weather conditions. The only exception would be for something really unforeseeable (flat tire, ...).

Update I:

Anyway, your boss told you that it is important for him. There is a fair chance that you can't lower his expectations - why would he? He pays you. You also can't bring up the problem of your workload right now - if you say:"I have to work even Saturdays." the response will be:"Well, no surprise, you are always late."

My suggestion would be to ask for a new schedule. 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. You have much better arguments for that ("Rush hour is making me late rarely. At 7 a.m. I'm still brain dead and of no use.") than for expecting him to let you be late. And..if you are there then at 8:00 a.m. anyway, it's easier to justify that you leave at 5 p.m., because he has seen that you started at 8:00 a.m.

Update II:

Considering that your job is to help people who start at 8:00 a.m. and who might have a problem at 8:01 a.m., it seems even more reasonable to expect that you are never late, unlike a job where you code in a cellar all alone. If I call a helpline that is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. I expect someone to pick up at 8:00 a.m.

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    Lars, I think that it depends on your job. As a software engineer in different parts of Germany, and also Austria & Switzerland, I never saw that anyone particuarly cared. I never even saw it mentioned to anyone (other than greeting with "Mahlzeit" :-) – Mawg Oct 3 '16 at 16:33
  • The boss is probably a little bit distressed that someone actually has a problem at 8am and calls him because the IT guy is late. He doesn't want to deal with IT issues. Naturally he requires GreenMatt to always arrive on time. – daraos Oct 3 '16 at 17:23
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    I realize this answer is old, but saying one should never be late seems impossible. How much time do you really allow, what if 1 in 300 days your car breaks down and it takes 4 hours to get in, do you go in 4 hours early every day? From what I can see you can only make it arbitrarily unlikely you are late but doing so to an extreme extent becomes ridiculous ie never going home is the only way I see to never be late. – Vality Dec 21 '16 at 6:04
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    The OP has that scenario covered: "The only exception would be for something really unforeseeable (flat tire, ...)" – Robert Dec 1 '17 at 19:12
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    There's a pretty vast difference between being late maybe once a month, which should fall closer to "something really unforeseeable" and the 20% tardiness that this answer compares it to. That's not an honest comparison or characterization. – PoloHoleSet Sep 28 '18 at 16:23
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I recently had a job ended after 7 months because I was late six times in that period - never more than 15 mins, 1 was actually officially noted as 2 mins because of traffic.

Overall problem was more complex reason than your traffic issue but the bottom line was it was a breach of my contract.

I was hired to start at a certain time, it was made clear on day one what expectations were and I broke them. I am disappointed to say the least that I lost my job but the crux is, I broke my contract. Of course, they had the power to dismiss.

My advice: Eat humble pie. Keep your head down and get in on time even if that means you're in by 7:30 most days.

One additional idea to help you - have breakfast at work. Some people I have worked with bring in a box of cereal to put in their locker/ office kitchen, milk in the fridge. Nothing wrong with that because at least they are being proactive in making sure they're on time.

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    Wow, 2 minutes late? Was there a time clock with punch cards? Did a whistle blow letting you know it was lunch time/quitting time? Where are you, what industry, and what was your job, if you don't mind. – Nolo Problemo Sep 25 '15 at 20:55
  • That brings back memories. My very first job was working in a grocery store as a teenager. We had actual paper punch cards and a clock, which I eventually figured out ran a few minutes fast. Naturally, the first thing I did when arriving was punch the clock, then take my jacket off, put on my apron, etc. Of course I was reprimanded -- "don't clock-in until you're completely ready to work!". So glad I went to college :) – James Adam Sep 26 '15 at 0:24
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    @DaveisNotThatGuy I've worked in several companies using punch clocks, last one was in 2011. Other companies have access cards you need to enter the building and each entry and exit is logged (sometimes down to individual rooms). If you need to swipe your ID card to get into the car park or front door, assume the entry is logged including time, and that that information will be used to check if you indeed worked the hours you logged/billed. – jwenting Sep 27 '15 at 12:52
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    @jwenting I should have included the <sarcasm> tag in my comment. My current employer has key cards on all the doors, and enough spyware on our laptops to make NSA envious. Last year they installed cameras to cover all doors and the perimeter of the building. I just think that by measuring hours (minutes!) worked, bosses aren't measuring output quality. It's sure easier on them to measure minutes, but if they don't know how to lead, they need to grab a broom and do something useful. – Nolo Problemo Sep 27 '15 at 19:15
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    @DaveisNotThatGuy certainly agreed on the last one. If people care about what their employees do rather than for how long they do it, and reward them properly, employees tend to be a lot more productive. And that includes trusting them to do their work, and setting clear and reasonable standards and targets. Of course it's a lot easier to just measure hours worked rather than production goals, so that's usually what ends up being measured... – jwenting Sep 27 '15 at 19:27
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5 minutes late once a month is not all that serious. Your boss is just keeping you on your toes I would say. Otherwise he would have taken you to task over it and told you it is unacceptable. I would not worry about it unduly. If it comes to the crunch you can explain to him that rush hour is unpredictable.

Don't assume that because your boss finishes at 4 he doesn't know you stay late.

You only need to get worried if it becomes a regular habit or your boss makes a big thing over it. Just pointing it out is normal procedure to let the worker know that they're aware. Precisely so that the employee does NOT let it become a habit.

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    I don't know that I agree with this answer. If it's important enough to the boss, he could potentially move forward with disciplinary action, and GreenMatt won't be able to say he wasn't told it was a problem (even if he disagrees on how big of a problem it is). I could also see the boss putting it in the yearly review ("you do good work, but you need to arrive on time more often, so your final score has been lowered accordingly") and it affecting his long-term outlook at the company. – Adam V Sep 25 '15 at 21:02
  • anything is possible... I just don't see a need to stress myself over something so small that would in my opinion never eventuate. The boss is just being conscientious and doing his job letting the OP know. At no point has he said "Don't let it happen again" or "this is unacceptable" or even "how come you're the only one who can't make it on time" Those would all raise flags. – Kilisi Sep 25 '15 at 21:12
  • @Kilisi there are cultural differences in all likelihood. In the US, the examples you give would be considered very strong reprimands, particularly in a white collar workplace. As Adam V suggests, the boss could even use it as part of evidence gathering for a negative performance review. – Chan-Ho Suh Sep 26 '15 at 2:22
  • @Chan-HoSuh they are very strong reprimands... I don't understand what you mean... they would raise flags... the fact of the matter is he specifically mentions that he DID NOT get strongly reprimanded... they're in my comment as an example, not in my answer as something that happened – Kilisi Sep 26 '15 at 3:00
  • @Kilisi I mean there are many bosses that would be reluctant to say such things, even if they considered the lateness unacceptable. – Chan-Ho Suh Sep 26 '15 at 3:19
4

Obviously you will be occasionally late, but since your boss is a stickler for time, be a stickler for time.

  1. Keep trying to be as punctual as possible, he is not going to be happy no matter what, so don't lose sleep over this.

  2. Stop working extra hours, seriously. This is the biggest burn out and one reason it hurts so much when he complains. Be like Fred Flinstone and jump out of the cab right at the 5:00 whistle. Also, no more weekends, unless requested to do so or if part of an on call situation etc. Turn off the email and enjoy your weekend.

  3. You may want to consider a new job. While you get along with this individual better than most, you will eventually want to punch him in the face. You want to get out of there before you get to that point. So shop the resume around a bit and see what's out there.

3

I would make a point of recording all the times you are arriving early - if you have "punch cards" they would be automatically recorded, but if not, you are in luck and might be able to do the following:

When you start every day - say 7:55am you send your boss some innocuous email a'la this is what i have in my task list today And when you finish your day - another email a'la this is what I did today

Ergo, the next time you arrive 5 minutes late - same email with sorry I'm 5 minutes late today; hence by notifying him that you are late & keeping written track record IMHO should rectify this situation and your boss would have hard time whining then. Dont let your boss tell you that you are late, show him who's in charge and tell him you are late!

If the boss is still unbearable - you can either make yourself so valuable that they can't let you go or find a job that starts 9am ;)

Best of luck!

  • I agree with this answer :) – LOSTinNEWYORK Sep 27 '15 at 4:44
  • if his job is manning a callcenter where the phones start ringing at 8, he'd better be at his desk by 8 and ready to answer those calls. Being there at 7 3 days a week only to be there at 9 the other 2 days won't compensate. – jwenting Sep 27 '15 at 12:57
  • No punch cards. Also, I have to go by his desk to get to mine, so emailing him to say I was late seems redundant when he's already made a note of it. It seems like a good suggestion for people to whom this applies... although I'm not sure about the showing "... him who's in charge ..." bit! – GreenMatt Sep 28 '15 at 13:06
  • I tried something like this answer at a past job and don't think it helped, though my boss was not the one complaining. I logged exact in/out times for a while, emailed boss when even 1 minute late, and even provided proof on one occasion that I was available when the complainer claimed to have called (she actually called at a different time) - company information system backed up my proof. When the complaining started, my boss questioned me and was happy with my response. When the complaining continued despite my data, boss told me not to worry about it. Complainer kept complaining. – Aaron Jun 26 '17 at 19:08
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There are two possibilities: 1. You have a job where your presence at 8am in the morning is absolutely essential. For example, if you are the receptionist and if you are 10 minutes late then hundred workers can't get to their desks for 10 minutes. 2. You have a job where your presence at 8am doesn't make the slightest difference, as long as your work gets done.

In the first case, the boss should make your job start at 7am and not complain if you arrive at 7:15am.

In the second case, what does your boss want? Does he want to make you feel bad about being late? That doesn't serve any purpose; you can't move the traffic faster on the next day because you got told off. The only thing he achieves is to kill your motivation which reduces your productivity, and make you look for a different job.

Your problem is unfortunately that many people (bosses) are not intelligent enough to understand this. So you might carefully ask the next time when it happens whether he wants you to feel bad about it, or whether he wants you to fix the towns traffic problems. It might start a thought process where none was.

On the other hand, you might ignore him. If your boss makes a serious complaint, you decide whether you want the job so much that you arrive earlier, or not. In the second case, the boss needs to decide whether pointless punctuality is so important to him that he wants the cost of finding and training a new employee because of it, or not.

  • Or, he can just get to work on time? I've never had a job where being ANY minutes late was acceptable. – A. McDaniel Oct 3 '16 at 16:53
  • And I have never had a job where anyone cared. If you are an employer in London and an employee needs to use Southern Railway, then you live with them being significantly late half the time. – gnasher729 Jan 30 '17 at 21:52
  • Your commute is NEVER an excuse for being late, especially on a consistant basis. Leave earlier or move. If an employee of mine was late even on a weekly basis and used "The public transport was slow today" as an excuse they'd be out the door. – A. McDaniel Feb 1 '17 at 6:16
  • In London, that attitude means you will be all alone in your office, and you'll have to do all the work yourself. If you think I should move, a nice 1 bedroom apartment 10 minutes walk away from my office is about £1,100,000. – gnasher729 Feb 3 '17 at 9:22
  • Then leave earlier. I leave at 5:30 AM every day to ensure I get to work by 8:00 AM. Usually I'm in by 7, but sometimes traffic is bad and I'm glad I've left myself some margin. THAT'S the type of attitude I want in people I hire, not "sorry traffic was bad today I was an hour late" every other day. Your personal transportation issues are NONE of my concern. Handle your own issues, don't let them bleed into work. – A. McDaniel Feb 3 '17 at 21:18
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As previously suggested, see if there is any leeway for an 8:30a start time to ensure you are always on time. Otherwise, you may just need to move closer to work.

I don't know the exact dynamic of your work place, but the little comments your boss gives you are more indicative of power games than genuine concern for work performance. He should be very direct if your start time is having a negative impact on your role and people relying on you. Comments like he is giving you just serve to remind you that he "is watching" and do nothing other than annoy you and try to remind you who is in control.

This doesn't address your question at all, but this is why I don't ever work with commutes. It gets on my nerves to have unpaid time traveling.

1

I don't think you've identified what is important to your boss. Either 8:00 AM has some very important reason to it or he wants to make sure you're working a certain amount of time.

Some people see being late as either not caring or a willingness to make a special effort. Or it's a way to keep you on your toes. Others just want you to get in your 40.

The bigger problem is you have no open dialog with your boss. He comes in at 7:00, why don't you? You could end up saving a lot of time by avoiding rush hour. Either that or shift your hours later. Ask to discuss a workable solution. Mention the issues with traffic. If you come early, do you get to leave early?

No one here has any insight into this situation or what your boss is thinking. You're going to have to be able to have an adult conversation. If this is causing him to think less of you, it could be a sign of a declining work relationship. He may resent this and feel like you're confronting him. I don't see what you have to lose. You are already having troubles with your boss.

  • First answer that gets to the heart of the matter: Before acting, find out WHY your boss cares about 8am so much. Then find a solution that addresses the underlying problem, not just the symptom. – Hilmar Oct 4 '16 at 0:36
1

This sounds like something that is worth sitting down with your boss to discuss. He has an expectation that you will be on time every day. You have a situation that makes it impossible for you to live up to his expectations every day.

So you need to have a discussion with your boss so that you can explain to him that you understand his expectations and do everything that you can to meet them. However on rare occasions you will be late 5 or so minutes because of traffic. Chances are there is something that you can do like setting your normal work hours to start at 8:15. You can still try to be to work by 8 but now if you are 5-10 minutes late its not a big deal, and since you already work late most nights anyway the extra 15 minutes should not be a big deal. '

Or it could be as simple as sending an email or text to your boss on those days before 8 letting him know that you are stuck in traffic and going to be late. I once had a boss that didn't care if we were late everyday so long as we let him know we were running behind and when we would be in. It was not so much about not being on time as his not being able to be accountable for our absence. So find out what your bosses expectations are and what you can do to meet them.

It may be possible that doing anything short of being there everyday at 8am is unacceptable to your boss. If that is the case, and you can not comply then it may be time for you to decide if you are willing to endure the consequences of being late, or if you need to find a job with more flexibility in your schedule to accommodate your needs.

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