Sometimes, being late is understandable, when your train breaks down or there’s a road closure, etc. Habitual tardiness, on the other hand, shouldn’t go ignored, as it is disruptive and interferes with the rest of the company. While there hasn’t been much research specifically into worker tardiness, some of the behaviour change research may prove to be helpful towards understanding how to gently improve worker tardiness.
As we all know, humans are highly sociable. What we may not know is that humans are very susceptible to social norms. Therefore, research shows that a normative appeal can be very effective in prompting behaviour change. However, it must be noted that people tend to do what is socially approved as well as what is popular, therefore employers should avoid sending normatively muddled messages such as “many workers turn up late, and that interferes with company operations”, as it sends a subtle message that while tardiness is supposed to be bad, it’s widespread.
Studies have also shown that getting people to make a commitment is effective towards behaviour change. This could take the form of employers signing a declaration with specific commitments and beliefs, such as “I believe that disrupting company operations is bad” and “I will not be late”. The cognitive dissonance theory states that there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency between their attitudes and behaviours, and when there is an inconsistency, something must change to eliminate the dissonance, prompting behaviour change.
Another way of prompting behaviour change is feedback. Research suggests that people desire personalised feedback about individual performance, but feedback that compares performance to that of others is not recommended. Studies have also shown that commitment and feedback appear to be the most effective in prompting long-term sustained changes.
One thing to note is most of the research conducted on behaviour change has not identified ‘threats’ as a good intervention tool. So no matter how infuriating late employees may be, it’s best to first understand why they’re late, and then implement measures to help them prevent that kind of behaviour in the future.