Back to School Blues

“Sorry to be late, the traffic was crazy!” This was the employee’s greeting as she hustled through the door ten minutes late, sweating and complaining about the bad drivers, breakfast in one hand and Blackberry in the other.

This will be a familiar scenario at workplaces throughout the Caribbean as the school term has re-opened. Employers are faced with increasing challenges in managing employee punctuality and productivity, in the face of increasing gridlock at all times of the day. The problem is not peculiar to us, in a 2007 study by Career Builder and USA Today, 31% of late employees cited traffic as the cause of their tardiness. I am certain that that percentage would be much higher in our region.

The punctuality issues definitely impact productivity and the bottom line. If an employee arrived ten minutes late each day, another paid vacation week would have accumulated by the end of the year. Multiply this by the number of employees in your organization and then in the industry and then across all industries in the country and the region. Millions!!! No wonder in a recent International Labour Organisation study it was found that value added per person employed in the Caribbean is nearly three times less than in developed economies.

Productivity is impacted not only by the time lost each day by late arrivals, but by time taken to settle in and focus, time for breakfast that was missed because employees left home at 4 am to beat the traffic. Then this is repeated during the day by employees leaving to pick up the children from school and drop them off.

Solutions! Solutions!

1. Develop a culture of being on time – begin meetings on time, discuss the important issues first, do not repeat information for late comers
2. Reward employees for perfect attendance and punctuality;
3. Discipline employees for tardiness and absenteeism (we can debate about the pros and cons of solutions 1 vs 2);
4. Have a clearly documented attendance and punctuality policy;
5. Introduce flexible work arrangements, telecommuting, compressed work weeks (9-80), job sharing – these help with recruitment, retention and morale;
6. Discuss the importance of being on time at the offer stage; during Orientation Sessions
7. Train managers in dealing with these issues and encourage them to coach employees
8. Remind employees of the existence of the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to help them cope with work life issues;
9. Organise sessions through the EAP on Stress Management, Work Life Balance;
10. Provide on-site catering of breakfast;
11. Introduce a shuttle service for employees and their children
12. Encourage car pooling (some people even ride bicycles around now)
13. Offer on-site child care or benefits towards child care arrangements

1 Key Indicators of the Labour Market, Fifth Edition, International Labour Office, Geneva 2007

Bianca Attong
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