THE WORK PLACE: African Timing...or Just Tardiness

SHARE   |   Monday, 25 January 2016   |   By Isang Lekhutile

Have you ever arrived at a particular organisation or called their phones in the mornings and had to wait for assistance longer than foreseen, not because the person serving you is busy with something or someone else but because they are just running late? If you are in Botswana and have had the delight of visiting a service provider’s premises, chances are you have a story to tell. “It doesn’t matter, its only five minutes”, “besides, I leave late all the time”, “my boss cut my lunch short last week” or the most popular “ahh nna ke lapile (I am tired)”. Although unavoidable at times, how many of us find ourselves often in deep mental debates justifying our tardiness to the office?


If this was a classroom setting, I anticipate there would be great enthusiasm responding to the first question, but not so much with the second one. Contrary to popular belief, African Timing-Habitual Tardiness/Late Coming at the workplace is a disease that needs to be nipped in the bud as early as before it even starts. If you have been on its receiving end you know how annoying it can be but if you are a perpetuator, you understand how easily it becomes addictive and justifiable.  What is this “African Timing” I speak of? African Timing is the ability or rather lack of, to show up on set time. If we agree on 7 am, my African timing self will show up at any time after that which is set.

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Simple and insignificant as it may seem, tardiness affects the overall productivity of an organisation, which then means that, in the long run, impacts are felt on profit margins. The most obvious comes in where customers are dissatisfied by having to wait for service providers to show up at work. Unhappy customers will not recommend you to others, they will not return for your services and thus your business will not grow. Organisations have systems in place; where all employees work together towards common goals. So when certain employees are late, they may hold back other non-late employees’ work back. If John needs to sign off procurement forms for David for instance, but shows up late for work, David’s work is held back. This habit inevitably affects the morale of a team.

If a certain employee is forever showing up after everyone else - yet nothing is done to address it, others will start to question what is so special about that particular employee. If that employee, like John who signs off procurement forms continues, others will feel less and less inclined to hold up their end of the tasks as John slows them down. The problem with habitual tardiness is that it tends to spread across to other areas with other employees. There’ll be the early tea breaks, then the long lunches and before you know it, employees feel entitled to leave extra early because they came in on time. It is vicious cycle. Unsurprisingly, the quality of work by employees tends to deteriorate with the growing undesirable traits.

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To avoid this, organisations should have in place, a policy that specifically addresses the repercussions of habitual late coming. Employees must be made aware of this policy and all due requirements. There should also be a system that tracks the timeliness of employees; some organisations make use of a “clock in clock out” book at the reception area. Employees must be encouraged to effectively communicate in occurrences where they are late and it is out of their control. Management should also make sure it treats cases of habitual tardiness as seriously as possible.


We should all understand that when we sign contracts that stipulate; “7:30 am I will report for duty”- 7:30 am is when you report for duty – you are contractually obliged. Over and above all the technicalities however, late coming is disrespectful. When people avail their time to you, they are giving a part of themselves that they can never get back. No money can buy that and thus, you are disrespecting them by coming late. It is unfortunate that we find ourselves in an environment whereby “timeliness’ is so abstract. No harm in trying though! Let us all have an “on time” 2016!



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