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How To Be Late To Work (And Not Look Like A Complete D*ck)

It’s Monday morning. Your alarm didn’t go off. The car wouldn’t start. Now you’re stuck in traffic so gridlocked it’s like the scene in a disaster film when an entire town tries to evacuate before catastrophe strikes.


At least that’s what you’ll tell your boss. In reality, you’re a little hungover, you hit the snooze button twice, and you stopped for a coffee even though the queue took up most of the shop.

By the time you’re finally in the office, your excuse is so practised you sound like you’re reciting lines for the aforementioned disaster flick. Except you don’t have The Rock to back you up and save the day. Instead it’s just you, with apologies, alibis, and obvious lies dribbling out of your mouth, fooling no one. You’re a dick and everyone knows it.

Sometimes lateness is intentional, other times it’s inevitable, but in either case there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle it. Peter Bregman, a CEO and author of Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want, discussed the art of the apology with Business Insider.

Most people apologise and offer an excuse, but Bregman says they’re missing an important piece of the puzzle. What you’re trying to convey is intention – ‘I’m sorry I’m late, I didn’t intend to be’ – but “the person who’s been waiting for you for twenty minutes isn’t experiencing your intention,” he explains. “They’re experiencing the impact of the result.”

A more effective approach is to acknowledge the impact you’ve had on the other person – because let’s face it, we’re all self-centered animals in the end. “‘Sorry for keeping you waiting’ is an apology to the impact versus, ‘Sorry I was held up; the train was late. I couldn’t help it,’ which is being sorry about the intention,” Bregman says. “It’s a subtle difference, but it makes all the difference for the person who’s sitting there.”

That’s not all you can do to recover when you drop the ball on punctuality. Keep reading for 5 more tips on how to be late to work and keep your integrity intact.

Call Ahead

If you know you’re running late, alert relevant people in advance. A courtesy call lets clients and colleagues adjust their schedules so your impact on their day is minimised. If it’s a meeting or an interview you’re late for, ask if it’s ok to continue or better to reschedule. It shows you respect their time (well, somewhat).

Don’t Be Disruptive

Your boss is already irritated that you couldn’t arrive on time – don’t make it worse by disturbing the entire office. Enter quietly, offer your apologies in private, then take your seat and get to work. If you have an informal workplace culture you may be able to inject humour or tell an anecdote about your tardiness, but keep it quick and then let everyone get back on track.

Skip The Soap Opera

The only thing worse than having to apologise for being late is overdoing your apology. Fess up, then shut up. Even if your reason is legitimate, long-winded excuses almost always sound irresponsible (or worse, fabricated). You undermine yourself by apologising ad nauseam.

Take Responsibility

It’s not anyone else’s job to catch you up on what you missed. Make it your responsibility to find out if anything important happened, but be conscious of the situation and courteous of other people’s time. Don’t break the concentration of someone who’s clearly in the zone and, if it’s a meeting, wait until it’s over to ask about any missed materials.

Get Down To Business

The best way to apologise for being late to work is to kick ass once you’re there. How you recover could end up making more of a statement than your lateness in the first place.




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