Watch CBSN Live

Stop managing by the clock

I received these two questions earlier this week. The first is from an employee:

I am due to work by 9 a.m. Unfortunately, with traffic and finding a parking space, I seem to be arriving at 9:05 or 9:08. Of course the answer maybe to leave earlier but it's quite difficult being a single mother with a child in elementary and having to drop her off.

My boss is now asking me to put in a leave slip for the five or eight minutes that I'm late.

I agree this is fair but what I don't find just is that I'm being discounted for 15 min late since the system does not allow for anything under 15 min late. Furthermore, I wasn't even told that 15 min would be discounted only the time I was in late for. I still stay up to my last min that I'm due for.

The second is from a manager

I am a new manager over a group of HR consultants. My boss (who owns this organization) has asked me to fix the problems with this group. The problem that is bugging me is the current employees do not have any time tracking system over here. They come around 15 -30 min late. But they don't have fixed time when they will be leaving their office.What should I do in this case? Is there any method to handle this problem?

With both, I want to bang my head against the wall. What we have here are two managers who are far more concerned about a clock than they are about work performance. Clocks are cheap. Good employees are not, so let's all step away from the clock and focus on performance, shall we?

Now, in the first case, if you are the employee of a manager who wants you in by 9:00 and you want to succeed in this job, you better find a way to get there by 9:00. Stupid, but we must deal with reality and not with the ideal world. Pay (if you're paid hourly) should be based on actual hours worked, and not by deducting anything from your paycheck. Some time systems do only pay out in 15 minute increments, in which case there will be rounding, but it shouldn't only be rounding down.

But, if you're the manager, ask yourself the following question: What bad thing will happen if my employee comes in 15 minutes late?

Now there are some bad things that could happen, depending on the organization, If you're retail and the store can't open until the employee shows up, that's a bad thing. If your employees are nurses and the last shift can't give report and go home until the next shift is there, then that's a bad thing. If you're a call center that starts taking calls at a certain time, then that's a bad thing.

But what if your employees are a bunch of HR consultants? I presume this means they are doing actual consulting work, like helping businesses with their staffing needs or developing succession plans and not an HR call center where they are following a script to answer employee questions regarding the number of vacation hours people have left. (And why, why, why on Earth do employees not know how much vacation they have left? Seriously, people, track your own hours and stop calling me.) What bad thing will happen if they aren't in at exactly the same time as everyone else every day?

<crickets chirping>

Of course you can make bad things happen. "We have staff meeting every morning at 8:00! If everyone is not there, they will not know what the password to the sever is for today!" Okay. Stupid. They can ask someone else or you can send out that information in an email. "Well then what happens if a client calls and a late employee misses a phone call?  Hmmmm???" What does happen in that situation? Oh, I know, the call goes to voicemail, exactly the same way it does if the employee is sitting in a mandatory staff meeting, or is in the bathroom or on the phone with a different client. So, you can't tell me that that is a bad thing.

What is a bad thing is your employees not meeting their objectives and goals and not providing high customer satisfaction. For exempt employees (which for the purpose of this article, I assume HR consultants to be), that should be the only thing you worry about. Face time should not matter. If John comes in at 8:00 and Harriet doesn't come in until 10:00 it shouldn't matter unless John and Harriet need to work together on a project, and then (because John and Harriet are grownups) we should let them figure it out. As a manager, you may need to step in once or twice to help them figure out a workable solution, but the solution is not always, "Harriet must be here by 8:00!"

Because what you want to focus on is results. If you're the hourly employee who can't get in to the office by 9:00 because the school won't let you drop your child off 5 minutes earlier and you can't realistically find someone to babysit your kid for 5 minutes (harder to find then it sounds), then you should talk to your boss and negotiate a new schedule. Instead of 9:00 to 5:00, you work 9:15 to 5:15. Problem solved.

Now, I can hear the screams now. "The problem is not solved! If I let this employee work 9:15 to 5:15 then everyone will want to do that!" Really? I doubt it. But you might find someone who prefers to work 8:30 to 4:30, which can certainly be a benefit in many cases.

If you're a manager who takes a look at your new employees and thinks, "Oh no! They are coming in late and not all leaving at the same time!" stop and ask yourself how their performance is. I have never encountered an employee in a professional job where the true problem is arriving late. Arriving late can be a symptom of low performance, but it's not the cause.

If you have a problem with an employee's performance, solve that problem and the arrival thing will solve itself. Yes, you can set core hours that everyone needs to be there. Yes, you can mandate that people be reachable between certain hours. But stop looking at the clock. Look at the results. Let your exempt employees manage their own time.

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue