How did it get to be ‘OK’ for people to be late for everything?

This post may offend some readers, recruiters or not. But only because it’s going to cut close to the bone for many.

And I don’t care if I sound old-fashioned, because actually it’s nothing to do with ‘fashion’ or ‘generation’. It’s got everything to do with basic good manners and respect for other people.

So here goes… How did it get to be “OK” for people to be late for everything?

Because as far as I am concerned, it’s not OK.

In recent years it seems that a meeting set to start at 9 am, for some people means in the general vicinity of any time which starts with the numeral ‘9’. Like 9.30 for example.

People drift in at 9.10 or 9.20, or even later. And they smile warmly at the waiting group, as they unwrap their bacon sandwich, apparently totally unconcerned that others have been there since five to nine, prepared and ready to start.

10 people kept waiting in a meeting for 20 minutes, while some selfish pratt who idles his way via the coffee shop, is actually 20 minutes times 10, which is 200 minutes wasted – while you keep us waiting because you did not catch the earlier bus. That is over 3 hours wasted. By you! How much has that cost the business? Shall I send you an invoice?

And an arrangement to meet someone for a business meeting at a coffee shop at 3 pm, more often than not means at 3.10 you get a text saying ‘I am five minutes away’ which inevitably means 10 minutes, and so you wait for 15 or 20 minutes, kicking your heels in frustration.

And often these ‘latecomers’ are people who have requested the meeting in the first place, are asking for your help, or are selling something. Fat chance mate!

And of course this has massive application to the recruitment industry, where lateness is both commonplace and hugely damaging to your personal and corporate brand.

And it’s not only business.

Why do people, invited for a dinner party at 7.30, think its cool to arrive at 8.30? It’s rude. It’s inconsiderate. And it’s selfish, as I witnessed in a coffee shop near my home one weekend. Three “ladies who lunch” (a species not confined to, but heavily represented on, the lower North Shore of Sydney) were chatting loudly at the table next to me. One inquired what time the ‘drinks do’ was that night. The reply for all the world to hear was ‘Oh 7.30, but we won’t get there till 9 because by then it will have warmed up and all the interesting people will have arrived’. Nice. Imagine if everyone took that view. Cocktail parties would start at 3 am eventually.

Or a dinner at a restaurant where I was meeting two other couples. My wife was away, so I was flying solo. I arrived at two minutes to eight for an eight o’clock booking. At 8.20, I was into my second glass of Pinot and at half-past I got a text saying ‘on the way’. We finally were all seated at 8.45. There were not even attempted excuses from either of the two couples, who seemed oblivious to the fact I might actually have got there at the agreed time. Meanwhile I had put a huge dent in the bottle of Pinot, and was ready to go home.

And it is not that we lead ‘busy lives’. That’s a given, we all do, and it’s a cop out to use that as an excuse. It’s simply that some people no longer even pretend that they think your time is as important as theirs. And technology makes it worse. It seems texting or emailing that you are late somehow means you are no longer late.


You are rude. And inconsiderate.

Me? Am I ever late? Sure, sometimes. That’s inevitable even with the best intentions. But I never plan to be late. I never ‘let time slide’ because my stuff is more important than yours.

I am not talking about the odd occasion of lateness. I am talking about people who are routinely late. In fact, never on time. You know who I am talking about!

And certainly I consider serial lateness a character flaw which I take into account when working out who to promote, who to hire and who to count amongst my real friends.

It’s that important.

This article was picked up by the Huffington Post and shared almost half a million times. It also got featured on the US Today Show on Television.

About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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179 Responses to How did it get to be ‘OK’ for people to be late for everything?

  1. Sundee Himburg June 22, 2014 at 6:41 am #

    Greg, and really all the punctual people out there, I willingly apologize for the tardy people.

    I know for myself, this is a huge issue. My friends and family call it “Sundee standard time” and I am the person that gets told different start times to events.

    I don’t know about the rest of my tardy brethren, but for me, it is not on purpose. There have been very significant things in my life that no matter how much I tried, I was still late for. I’ve left the house a half hour early for something and still managed to be 15 minutes late.

    I really don’t know what happens. The consequences are always to my detriment. I know how it is perceived professionally and personally – and all of that matters to me- and yet here we are.

    I will say that I often fall into the trap of being in the middle of one thing and wanting to see it through to the finish before moving on or to be unable to pass a situation that requires help or an answer. It is not that anyone one task or person is more important- more the fact that one is more immediate both in time and proximity.

    So don’t just be to harsh to judge us late comers as poor friends, colleagues or employees. Often we are the ones who will stay late and stick through and finish something because you or it is important- long after somebody who had to be somewhere has left.


  2. Debbie November 13, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

    I agree. People that are late are being very rude and selfish!

    • jacob Eagleshield February 20, 2015 at 11:20 am #

      There are always people so full of themselves that they think the world should stop and wait for them to catch up. What egos they must have!

  3. Rob June 9, 2015 at 8:36 am #

    I have to say you are off-base with your comments about your dentist. I’m a doctor, and I do everything in my power to stay on schedule. If you’re my first patient of the day or my first patient after lunch you’ll always be taken back on time. Every day though, every day, I have about 10-15% of my patients show up 10 – 15 minutes late for an exam. I am now off schedule. I take a lunch about 20% of the time, and instead use that time to get back on schedule. Here I am, not taking lunch to try and accommodate patients as do most of my colleagues, and you’re irritated with me that you have to wait. It’s your fellow public that puts us off schedule. With declining reimbursements from insurance plans, and increasing costs, I cannot afford to schedule fewer patients. I agree with most if not all of your article, but please understand that most medical professionals I know do everything in their power to be on schedule.

  4. Brian July 10, 2015 at 12:35 am #

    On time is 10 minutes early. Arriving at the designated time is late.

  5. Stuart March 18, 2016 at 7:11 pm #

    “apparently totally unconcerned that others have been there since five to nine, prepared and ready to start.”

    You don’t even know if these people will be coming so what’s the problem to start the meeting without them?

    I think it is more important to give respect to the people who do arrive on time.

  6. James April 11, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

    I am one of those chronically late people you’re happy to criticize.
    That’s right Greg, I’m late to almost everything, friends, family, work. The lot.

    But before you wave your condescending, sanctimonious, self-righteous finger and lecture me at the evils of tardiness, scratch the surface and take a look why.

    Most of the problem (for me at least) revolves around work – pure and simple.

    Let’s start with my bosses throughout my career. They have been for the most part utterly incompetent, narcissistic sociopaths. With their cavalier attitude that I can take on unlimited extra work, for no extra pay, and that my work and personal time is theirs for the taking (and some extra for good measure), an obscene portion of my work and personal time is spent KEPING THEM organized and punctual, at the expense of MY OWN punctuality.
    My running 10 minutes late, doing all the extra work I’m laden with, is the cost I am forced to pay to keep them from being hours late.

    Next comes the cohort of my co-workers, who’s lack of competency, enthusiasm and plain common-sense forces me to compensate with my own skills and time to keep the organization functioning smoothly. My workload has DOUBLED because projects are allocated to me – management know the job will get done, and done well – I am punished for being a competent worker who won’t do a second-rate job, and when you have one hour to do a two hour job, yes it affects my punctuality.

    The irony is that the incompetents (who are too stupid to realize how completely incompetent they are) out there can leave ON TIME to collect their precious little snowflakes from school or whatever they do enjoying their family life, while myself, a single middle-aged male, gets the dubious honor of staying behind to finish the work because they just can’t be bothered, or fix up their mistakes due to their blatant inadequacies.
    I can’t count how many times I’ve been told “You’re really good at this job – the boss says you can do this…” and “Oh, you can stay back and finish this job… you’re so lucky don’t have a family to rush home to…”
    Yeah, great – I’m late yet again!

    And thank you Greg; it was probably a flash recruiter like yourself that got the bozos hired which I’m force to work with.

    I get utterly depressed watching professional standards decline and knowing that in order to keep my job, I have to support a workforce that is becoming more useless – at my own expense.

    And before you start on how I should be saying no to the extra workload, so I can be super punctual; good luck mate when you’re on recurrent annual contracts, and trying to pay a mortgage. Good luck when your boss cant see beyond his own nose and see how useless some of his workers are.

    Do I like being late? No.

    But I have to – to support the lowest common denominator in the workforce.

    The next time you want to lay blame, take look closer at why some people with a solid work-ethic can’t be punctual, and you might find it’s not a flaw in their character at all – it’s everyone else’s.

    • Greg Savage April 11, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

      James, seriously, you write a rant that basically says.. you are late because… you are busy? You think you the only person on the globe with that challenge? And all your problems are because of your ” utterly incompetent, narcissistic sociopaths“. And then of course its the ” cohort of my co-workers, who’s lack of competency, enthusiasm and plain common-sense forces me to compensate with my own skills and time to keep the organization functioning smoothly” NEVER your fault is it James. Never. Narcissistic much? You are hilarious James, made my day

      • James April 12, 2016 at 6:23 pm #

        Didn’t say it was never my fault Greg; I said “Most of the problem (for me at least) revolves around work – pure and simple”.
        I know I’m not the only person busy human on the globe. I’m just fed up of being late due to selfish people making my life ridiculously busy and I have no doubt many of your readers will feel the same – just ask them!

        And I’m definitely not a narcissist (you completely misdiagnosed that one mate).

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