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How hard is it to come to work on time?

Published:Sunday | November 10, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Francis Wade, Sunday Business COLUMNIST

How hard is it, really, to show for work on time? Earlier this year, after leading a series of workshops, I came to a startling conclusion: There are many Jamaican workers who don't know how to come to work on time.

It might sound ludicrous but let's examine the evidence.

Early in my career, I worked at a government agency in which employees would sign in to a book each morning. Amazingly, at 8:30 a.m., nothing short of a miracle would occur: according to the official record, 100 people would arrive at 8:30 a.m. on the dot. Obviously, there was nothing supernatural taking place. People were simply lying, or stretching the temporal truth.

One poor guy I knew, a newbie like myself, made the mistake of 'arriving' at 8:31 one morning, dutifully writing the correct time in the book. I remember the look of disgust on the face of the staff remember who arrived shortly afterwards, watching as she changed his entry to read "8:30 a.m." before adding her own.

The other 98 who arrived afterwards appreciated the gesture, I'm sure, but the 'correction' did nothing to encourage employees to arrive on time for work.

Perhaps the word 'encourage' is the wrong one to use, because we don't really try to do that with each other.

In an article I wrote for The Gleaner on July 15, 2012, I described our systematic and pervasive use of blighs, which aren't the same as encouragement. Giving a bligh is our way of letting each other off the hook - a cultural agreement to turn a blind eye.

In fact, what we actually do is shield each other from real consequences. No one ever corrected the sign-in book falsehoods while I worked at the company, even though it was obvious that it was filled with bogus information.

Most of us 'don't go there' when it comes to challenging colleagues to deal with uncomfortable truths, such as an inability to be on time. We fear what will happen if we bring up the topic in an unskilful way and, to tell the truth, there is some evidence that we have cause for concern.

Ultimately, however, shielding the truth from each other keeps us blind to the true costs and causes of inefficiency. Perhaps it's easier to do so if we correct our mistaken thinking about this problem.

When as Jamaicans we hear stories about Japanese trains leaving precisely at 4:12 p.m. every day we laugh. It could never happen here. The difference, we are convinced, lies in intangibles like character, motivation, culture, history, and even race.

We are just plain wrong on this count, as Jamaicans who migrate as well as several researchers will tell you. We are fully capable of being on time, but we need to get away from the explanations related to character, motivation, etc, if we hope to have a prayer.


Instead, we need to embrace the idea that time management is a skill comprising habits, practices and rituals that can be taught, coached and therefore learned.

Here's some local evidence. One of my clients asked me to study a particular individual in the firm who was always on time. I was surprised when we were done. Some of the practices she used were creative and innovative. For example, she never set a target to be on time, but always to be 5-10 minutes early.

On another assignment in a separate company, I had a training group describe the process they followed to be on time. I was shocked again. I understood instantly why the company had a problem with lateness. Its employees didn't know how to be on time each day. Their practices were simply unsuitable for the typical Kingston morning.

They simply hadn't either discovered or been taught the right methods.

Don't get me wrong - it's not as if these principles exist in a book or on a web page. They are unique to our circumstances in Jamaica and must be modified by the individual to suit their peculiar circumstances: distance, traffic patterns, seasonal rains, children in school, etc.

Unfortunately, those who regularly come to work on time are often of little help. The on-time worker we studied had never, ever been asked how she does it, and it took a patient, skilled inquiry to uncover what her neuromuscular memory knew but her brain had never put into words.

Our GDP hasn't grown by one per cent per year since ... well, it's been a long time. A worker who arrives one per cent late each day is only tardy by 4.8 minutes. It makes me wonder, could we collectively impact our nation's economy by simply being on time?

Francis Wade is president of Framework Consulting and author of 'Bill's Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure'. Email