Better late than never does not apply in the working world

Since elementary school, our elders have tried to instill in us the value of punctuality. Although unpacking your backpack and starting your in-class assignment before the first bell rang was rarely rewarded, showing up late was all-too-frequently grounds for disciplinary measures: a proverbial slap on the wrist, a dreaded “tardy” marring your otherwise perfect attendance record or, God forbid, a detention.

But as we’ve gotten older, the emphasis on punctuality has gradually lessened. Walking into a lecture 15 minutes late with perfectly coiffed hair and a Starbucks caramel macchiato says you certainly weren’t doing everything in your power to show up on time.

The professor, assuming he notices at all, may pause for effect and give you the stink eye before continuing with his spiel. And the student walks away sans penalization — what, then, is the incentive to actually show up on time?

Although my 9-year-old sister works herself into a frenzy over the prospect of being late to school, my middle-aged co-workers hardly bat an eyelash at arriving at the law firm half-past 10 a.m.

One repeat tardy offender was a 40-something attorney and mother of three rambunctious boys under the age of 10. Naturally, one is obligated to cut her some slack for managing to balance a demanding law career with a hectic home life.

Even so, some mistakes are unforgivable — like her tendency to saunter into the office whenever she felt so inclined. Beyond just being late, she would often show up with her wet hair tied back in a Flashdance-era scrunchie, knee-length bike shorts, a sweat-wicking tank and hot-pink water shoes.

Operating under the assumption that she had just returned from a grueling pre-work workout (boogie boarding, perhaps?), she could have, at the very least, changed into her business attire before coming into the office.

She must have been aware of the lack of professionalism both her tardiness and attire suggested because she asked me to check the surrounding hallways for the presence of co-workers or clients. After assuring her that the coast was clear, she was able to come out of her office without worrying about the possibility of blinding passers-by with an ensemble that one fellow attorney described as being “morally offensive.”

Other times she would come in late, but slightly more prepared, with wet hair, no makeup and her standard business attire. She must have already been running late and didn’t want to waste the extra 15 minutes drying and styling her hair when she could just as easily primp at the office.

Although I was never guilty of such grave offenses, such as getting ready for work at work after the workday had already begun, I will admit to being several minutes late on a near-daily basis.

Every week I would promise myself I’d show up on time by leaving my house five minutes prior to my usual departure time. But every week, I’d show up later and later, and, before I knew it, two minutes turned into 10 or 12.

Sometimes I hit the snooze button one too many times and was forced to get ready in a hurry. Other times, I would take my sweet time perfecting my hair or changing outfits three (okay, six) times until I was halfway pleased with my appearance.

In those cases, I’d have to feign the panic that often accompanies showing up late. Several paces before entering the double glass doors that led to the lobby, I’d pick up the pace and start panting to induce some brow sweat, thus giving off the impression I had at least tried to make it to work on time.

All non-attorney employees were paid an hourly wage contingent on clocking in at the beginning of the workday and out at the end. In spite of my chronic tardiness, I was never reprimanded. Human Resources had a clear record of the very minute I stepped on and off the premises each day, and, still, they said nothing.

The punishment, though, was the shame of being late almost every day and having to walk past the offices and cubicles of my fellow employees.

Despite how strictly or loosely they are enforced, traditional offices have hours of operation. Excluding extenuating circumstances, the expectation is that all employees will show up on time and leave when the five o’clock whistle sounds.

Although you may not be fired for your unwillingness to get out of bed just a little earlier or forgo your early morning workout, your superiors will take notice. And when the next promotion opportunity arises, your punctuality demerits may actually, dare I say it, matter.

Not being on time indicates a lack of reliability and a generally indifferent attitude, which the management does not look upon favorably. And even if the higher-ups opt to turn the other cheek, your co-workers will begrudge you the extra sleep and extra shot mocha latte you got while they slaved away at their desks.

In the case of early bird vs. late to work, it is the judgment of this column that you should be sentenced to a life term as the office disgrace should you show up fashionably late rather than right on time.

Kelsey Borresen is a junior majoring in print journalism. Her column, “Laugh-Idavit,” runs Mondays.