Chronic lateness vs. occasional lateness

Friend on Facebook posted a link to this article, in which we are all done with humoring people who cannot be bothered to show up on time:

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.

I’m one of those people who are compulsively punctual, often erring on the side of early, and I try to plan around other people’s lateness, but it would be better if more people simply gave a shit about showing up on time.

Before we start splitting hairs over the reasons why people show up late, I think it’s valuable to distinguish between chronic lateness and occasional lateness. Everyone is late occasionally. Mass transit can be delayed, you have to wait for the babysitter to show up before you can leave, family members can be unpredictable: these are all things that can happen, and these are all complications that explain occasional lateness.

If you are habitually in the position of showing up well after the agreed-upon time, you need to do something differently.

I once had a co-worker (very briefly) who was late to work more often than not, and we’re talking about some pretty impressive tardiness. The workday started at 8, and she kept on coming in at 9, 9:30, one time it was 11, and this was for a dispatch job. It’s the type of work that isn’t getting done unless you’re at your post. It can’t be made up later. You have that kind of job, and you’re not showing up on time, that causes problems for co-workers and clients. But she always had some excuse! A different story every time. Seems nothing was ever going right in this young woman’s life.

She was a pain in the ass in other ways, and oddly enough, she quit in a tearful huff before she could be fired. It would’ve been callous to reprimand her for one instance of being late to work because of some unforeseeable complication with her home life, but if this shit keeps happening? After a certain point, the employer needs workers who can get the job done.

So, then, on my friend’s Facebook post, the comment box immediately started filling up with excuses about disabilities and mental illness and neurodivergence causing chronic tardiness and we really need to understand and be accommodating to people have these struggles, and…

However, we also heard from people whose mental illness, disabilities, and economic marginalizations which make them especially sensitive to having their time disrespected. Someone with chronic pain manages to get out of bed and show up to the venue at the right time? It’s uncool to keep them waiting. Someone with chronic anxiety has to sit around and wonder when you’ll show up? That’s not okay. Single mother has to arrange childcare, and you want to keep her out later than the appointed time? No, that’s not happening.

If you are habitually late, you need to do something differently.

When we complain about people who are always running late, we’re overwhelmingly not talking about those with impaired mobility, who take longer to get from one place to another. We’re mostly talking about people who have no such excuse. Even so? If your disability means you take longer to get to places, you can plan accordingly.

With conditions like ADHD, that mess with people’s ability to keep track of time…yeah, I see your struggles, and you can learn how to work around these difficulties. If you get to a certain stage of life and notice that you’re showing up late more often than not and your friends are always annoyed at your keeping them waiting, then you need to be aware of your limitations and learn to plan accordingly.

If you are habitually late, you need to do something differently.

Before anyone brings up cultural differences: no. If you move to a country where people expect you to show up at the appointed time, they may understand that you do things differently where you come from, but that doesn’t change that your lateness is a problem.

We can talk about accommodations and accessibility, but for the topic of showing respect for other people’s time, the reality is if you’re disabled or otherwise disadvantaged, you’re still responsible for your actions. If you have to put more work into showing up on time than most people do, then you still do the work. If you don’t do the work, then you will eventually stop getting invitations.

One thought on “Chronic lateness vs. occasional lateness

  1. This is a major irritant for me! Chronic lateness is so bloody rude and disrespectful. If people can’t be arsed to ever show up on time, then frankly, I can’t be arsed to keep waiting for them.

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