12 Oct 2023

On the Dot

It is an indisputable fact that being unpunctual is bad manners because it discounts the value of other people’s time. By being late you are effectively forcing the people you are meeting to waste their time – hanging around waiting for someone is deeply frustrating. It is quite likely that being unpunctual has become more common since the advent of mobile phones as there is an assumption that a quick explanatory text and apology erases the offence. But this is not the case. If you are waiting for a late arrival, being informed about the delay is a minor mitigation, but it still means that you are left in limbo, with no recourse but to stay put.

Punctuality should be prioritised and observed both socially and professionally and being consistently unpunctual can have serious consequences. In offices this is perhaps the single issue that causes the most complaints, resentment and animosity. To be late for an interview, a meeting, a conference, a business lunch or just work, without having a good reason that has been communicated to the relevant parties, is universally considered to be bad manners. Being late is not a sign of importance or great industry. It is a sign of poor organisation, or thoughtlessness, or rudeness.

Apologies for Lateness

All instances of unpunctuality call for an apology, which should be accompanied by a very brief explanation of why you were late – transport, childcare, domestic emergency etc. Accompany the apology with some demonstration of concern for any impact your lateness may have had on your friends or colleagues.

If you are late for an appointment then the priority above all others is to use your mobile phone to get a message through to the person you are meeting (or the lead person, if you are meeting a group) to let them know that you are going to be late. If possible, you should speak to the person to whom this most matters and you should try and give a reasonable estimate of just how late you are going to be. It is polite to try and speak to the person concerned; if they are not picking up, then leave a text message, which should be clearly written and fully explanatory. If you are going to be very late, then you must consider whether to offer cancelling or postponing the appointment.

Inveterate Offenders

For many of us, being late is an occasional hazard, and it is due to factors beyond our control (traffic, train delays, other people). We make our excuses and, because we are known to be generally punctual, are quickly forgiven. But we all know, and are frustrated by, inveterate offenders who are invariably late.

There are many reasons for unpunctuality, but the most common can be summarised as follows:

•Adrenalin Junkies
These people love to live down to the wire. When they were students, they sat up all night finishing their essay, they inevitably are working on an all-important report or speech just minutes before it is due to be delivered. At some level, they feel they cannot function unless they are generating peril and crisis; being unpunctual is a way of creating jeopardy and they can’t stop themselves from doing so.

•Masters of Multitasking
These are people who pride themselves on their unrivalled ability to fit a superhuman amount into every day. They thrive on adding items to ever-growing “to do” lists, schedule tasks for every minute of the day and consistently miscalculate how long everything will take – inevitably they end up wasting other people’s time because they cannot manage their own.

These are people who live in a disordered state of absent-minded distraction. They are forgetful and easily side-tracked, liable to lose possessions, lock themselves out, forget where they have parked the car and so on. It is a miracle that they ever arrive anywhere.

These people are ambitious, assertive and competitive. They understand the value of time very clearly and regard making other people wait at their beck and call as a power play, which reinforces their status. People who wield their disregard for punctuality as a weapon have no desire to amend their ways; they are beyond redemption.

Being consistently late is a personality trait and can be deeply ingrained, making it difficult to transform yourself into a punctual person. But if you want to improve your timekeeping abilities, it is well worth looking at these three simple tips. It will pay dividends both professionally and socially.

•Create a time sheet
Take a handful of daily tasks (showering, eating your breakfast, walking the dog, walking to the bus stop etc etc). List them and write down your estimate of how long each takes. Then time yourself doing them and you may well find that you are habitual under-estimator. If you have a timing template in your head that is completely out of kilter with reality, you are quite likely to be repeatedly late for everything.

•Discard the idea of being “on time”
It would be wonderful if every journey ran like clockwork, buses and trains adhered strictly to a timetable, and traffic was utterly predictable, but we all know this isn’t the case. You may have an idea about how long a journey takes, for example 30 minutes, and therefore decide to leave the house at 8.30 for a 9.00am appointment. With no contingency built into your timings, you will find that you are often five or ten minutes late. It is common sense to always make a provision for unplanned events or circumstances in your timing estimates.

•Enjoy the wait
If you’re an anxious or driven person, you probably find the prospect of waiting 10 or 15 minutes when you arrive early at an appointment off-putting. Try and turn this time slot into an asset: give yourself time to check your emails, make a call that you’ve been deferring, play a word game on your phone, write a shopping list for later in the day. Rejoice in the little island of peace you have created and remind yourself that the person you are meeting will be pleased and gratified by your punctuality.


MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Get In Touch
Subscription Enquiries
+44 (0)330 3339699
General Enquiries
+44 (0)20 3950 5240
Join our weekly newsletter
Subscription Form
MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Designed by Anna Ocipinska. Developed by BuiltByGo. © 2022 Debrett’s. All Rights Reserved
My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.