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Guide to timekeeping for managers

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This guide equips managers with essential knowledge and skills to effectively monitor and manage employee timekeeping, including establishing clear expectations, addressing lateness, managing unauthorised absences, and promoting accountability.

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What is a Guide to timekeeping for managers?

Managers should handle timekeeping issues when an employee, for example, consistently arrives late, takes extended breaks, takes too many breaks, leaves work before the scheduled time, or routinely fails to show up on time for meetings or team briefings.

Managers are typically able to settle a problem early on by having an open dialogue with the employee. If an informal approach does not result in a sufficient improvement, formal disciplinary action may be required. When dealing with timekeeping concerns, managers should strive to be fair, unbiased, consistent, and reasonable.

Applicable legal jurisdictions
In which jurisdictions can this guide be used?
Great Britain & NI (United Kingdom), Worldwide

Guide to timekeeping for managers

The significance of acting quickly

Managers should always move quickly to address any instances of poor timekeeping. Failure to convey to employees that there is a timekeeping issue may encourage them to believe that poor punctuality is acceptable. This will make it much more difficult for managers to deal with the matter successfully in the future. The manager should also consider the impact of doing nothing on other team members' morale and motivation, as well as their reputation.

Possible causes of poor timekeeping

While bad timekeeping should always be addressed, managers should keep in mind that there are a variety of reasons why workers may fail to be on time for work. Some of these may be beyond their control.

Reasons for lateness that are within the employee's control

  • Not waking up on time.
  • Failing to adequately organise home and family concerns.
  • Relying on a bus or train that is frequently late.
  • General lack of awareness of time.
  • Failure to value effective timekeeping.

Reasons for lateness that may be attributed to job circumstances

  • Workplace bullying and the fear it causes, leading in anxiety and disturbed sleep patterns.
  • Overwork or stress, resulting in anxiety.
  • Disturbed sleep patterns.

The first question for a manager to evaluate is whether or not an employee's poor timekeeping is under his or her control. As a result, the management should investigate the core reason of the poor timekeeping and, if necessary, implement corrective actions. The manager should always give the employee the benefit of the doubt at first and not quickly conclude that his or her lateness is wrongdoing.

The manager must also assess if the employee's overall timekeeping falls below the standard expected by the organisation and the standard commonly reached by the workforce as a whole.

It would be unjust, for example, to initiate disciplinary action against a specific employee if other employees had similarly bad timekeeping. It may be as unjust to reprimand an employee for arriving late in the mornings if he or she consistently makes up the time later in the day without additional compensation, depending on the circumstances.

Approach in cases when lateness is caused by personal issues

If it is determined that an employee's repeated lateness is the result of, say, a family or health issue, the management should not tolerate the poor timekeeping forever. The boss, on the other hand, should show some pity and patience to the employee. The management must also examine the department's demands and the extent to which the employee's lateness is interfering with teamwork and/or team spirit.

While providing assistance, the manager should also make it obvious to the employee that being late on a regular basis is unacceptable and that some progress must be made. The manager should try to establish an agreement with the employee on how to best fix the situation, such as by defining objectives and timeframes for improved timekeeping.

The goal should be to establish a balance between the manager's requirement to get the department's job done consistently and effectively and his or her duty to help an employee who has a true family or health concern.

Managers should be aware that a health issue may qualify as a disability for the purposes of disability discrimination law, in which case the employer is required to offer reasonable accommodations. This might entail, for example, changing the working hours of the impaired employee.

Timekeeping policies and procedures

It is up to each organisation to determine its own timekeeping regulations and processes. Much will depend on the nature of the task, whether or not employees work in shifts, any unique safety issues, and the impact of lateness on departmental performance and morale.

Rules and procedures, as well as consequences for lateness, should be conveyed to all employees.


Over the coming weeks or months, maintain a close eye on the employee's timekeeping. The manager should take note of whether or not the employee arrives at work on time, or he or she may require the employee to report in to them or another senior person upon arrival each day. If the employer has a clock-card or swipe-card system in place, the manager may be able to utilise this technology to examine the employee's start timings.

Deductions from pay

If a company wants to run a system where lateness deductions are made from employees' pay, this arrangement must be agreed upon in writing in advance. This can be agreed upon with each employee as a part of his or her employment contract, as well as with representatives from trade unions.

Informal approach to tackling poor timekeeping

As a first step in addressing poor timekeeping, the manager should conduct an informal discussion with the employee to tell him or her of the issue.

The meeting's goals will be to ensure that the employee knows why his or her timekeeping is unsatisfactory, and to reach an agreement on how to guarantee that the lateness does not persist.

Regardless matter how informal the conversation was, the manager should establish a date to review the employee's timekeeping and retain a record of the meeting. The record should include the date and time of the meeting, a summary of what was discussed, and the fact that no official resolution was reached.

Having a conversation with the employee

Conducting a meeting with an employee to discuss poor timekeeping is not easy, and it is understandable that a manager would be concerned about such a discussion. If the meeting is to be successful, open, honest, and unambiguous communication will be required.

If the manager has seen a trend in the employee's lateness, such as regular lateness on Monday mornings, it is reasonable to inform the employee of this observation. This should be done factually and without accusation. The manager may, for example, say: 'I've noticed that eight of the ten instances of lateness in the previous two months have occurred on Monday mornings. What do you suppose is the cause of this?'

At the end of the discussion, the manager should ask the employee whether he or she believes that he or she was given a fair opportunity to explain the reasons for the poor timekeeping. If the response to either of these questions is 'no', the manager should ask the employee to explain why he or she believes this is the case, and take prompt corrective action before the meeting ends. If the response to any of the questions is 'yes', it should be documented. This is especially critical if there is a future need to transition to formal processes to deal with persistent poor timekeeping.

Formal approach

If one or two informal warnings have not resulted in a change in the employee's timekeeping, there is little need to continue with informal action; managers must take official disciplinary action.

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Guide to timekeeping for managers
guide to timekeeping for managers