How to manage an employee who’s always late

Rosie Ward
Rosie Ward
Marketing at Timely
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Chronic lateness is something most of us will encounter in our lives, whether it’s from our coworkers, our staff members, or even ourselves. It can be difficult to know what balance to strike between being too lax and ruling with an iron fist, especially if the lateness isn’t necessarily cutting into client time.

Tardiness isn’t the only behaviour that falls into this awkward grey area in salons! There are a lot of little habits that staff indulge in that they might not even realise are a problem. Things like being a little too chatty with fellow staff on the floor, forgetting to enter re-bookings into your Calendar, or wearing something that’s a little too far from the salon’s vibe.

Luckily, the method for dealing with all of these seemingly little problems is the same: communication!

Communication is important enough that you can get entire degrees in it. Multiple degrees, if you’re into that!

Often when it’s talked about, ‘communication’ feels really nebulous and hard to define…so we tune out.

And of course, your needs are going to change based on how big your business is, what your role is, and what kind of services you provide.

But ultimately, good, clear communication is how you train your employees up to the standard you want (which we talked about a little bit here). It’s how you discipline staff without ruining relationships. It’s how you make sure you’re running the tightest ship possible.

Take the example of the employee who’s always late. What does good communication look like in that scenario?

Lay the ground rules

First of all, have you told your staff they’re not to be late? This sounds obvious, but a lot of managers assume that things like this are common sense and won’t bother stating the obvious: do not be late.

The only way to get your staff to do what you want them to do is to tell them what you want them to do. Sounds simple? It is! But it’s so often avoided because sometimes having difficult conversations is hard. And we don’t want to do it. So we don’t.

Other things you might be assuming they know:

  • How to call in late
  • Who is responsible for keeping which areas clean
  • How to switch shifts
  • How to handle difficult clients

And it goes without saying that once you make a rule, you’d better be the first to demonstrate that you’re following it. Not doing so is sure to create resentment among your team.

So, make sure you’ve actually made it incredibly clear that you expect your team members to be on time. And make sure they know what that means! If their first client is at 9.30am, what time should they be in? If you leave that up to them – perhaps by saying “make sure you have enough time to set up your space,” then you’re leaving too much up to interpretation.

Call out the behavior

The key to communication is clarity. You have to first set up the rules, then follow up quickly and clearly (yes, that word will keep popping up!) if they’ve broken those rules. Don’t assume they know that they’ve made a mistake – call them out, firmly and non-confrontationally.

Let’s go back to that tardy employee. What do you do if a team member keeps coming in late?

The non-communicative approach

“Oh, you’re here! I wasn’t sure that you would make it in time.” Sure, someone can read into that kind of statement and know that you’re displeased, but they could also choose to take it at face value.

The communicative approach

“Mark, you were almost 10 minutes late today, and you’ve been late a few times over the last couple weeks. I need you to get here on time so that no one has to cover your prep work or worry about whether or not you’ll be here before your appointments.”

Then, if he does it again, follow up with “You’ve done this again. What’s the problem here? How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

The communicative approach removes any chance of misunderstanding. You can now reprimand Mark for being late because you’ve already laid the ground work by:

  1. Telling him your policy on lateness
  2.  Calling him out on being late and given him a warning

Now you’ve got the moral high ground to say “hey, you messed up.” But you don’t get to do that if you’re not setting clear expectations.

This is also where you can remind people that you’re there to help. Why is your staff member coming in late? Are they having problems with the schedule you’ve set them for some reason? Is there a way that you can change the schedule to better accommodate them? Is it a transportation issue?

Communication is a two-way street. If you’re communicating at your staff, you’re really just lecturing.

Apply it everywhere

For a lot of us, this kind of communication can feel like confrontation at first. But if you’re firm, polite and open, it can really help nip problems in the bud. If your staff know that they can trust you to tell them exactly what you expect from so there are no surprises, it will be harder for them to be resentful if you do have to crack the whip every once in a while.

The best part about communication is that it forces you to think about what’s important to you. If you’re managing a team of creative people, or young people, or people who just really enjoy talking to each other (all highly likely in a salon or spa!), you’re going to run into a different set of issues than a normal office might. But even if you’ve never managed people, the answer is still the same: clear, consistent communication.

Rules aren’t meant to make your staff feel like unruly children. But the clearer your rules are, the easier it is to keep things in the salon humming along smoothly, instead of jumping from crisis to crisis, reprimand to reprimand.

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