Many high-achieving professionals habitually run late for everything. Why?
You've got to love Yahoo! boss Marissa Mayer for 'fessing up to the fact that she was two hours late for a business dinner with important advertisers, in Cannes, because she overslept.
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I have one colleague for whom 'late' has effectively become her nickname. Because she's important, no event ever kicks off till she's there.
First off: it means she's human. Second: she could easly have saved face by claiming to have been having an important, uninterruptable Skype call with (say) Apple's CEO, or Oprah, or whoever. Honesty, of course, is always the best policy - though tardiness excuses of 'the-dog-ate-my-homework' variety probably often prevail.
It does, meanwhile, raise the whole subject of lateness etiquette, in the workplace and business environment. It's just about acceptable to turn up late for a friend's BBQ, say - if you don't mind charred sausages (or possibly no sausages at all). But a business meeting, or for work...? Not in the US, anyway. A 2009 business survey revealed that 30 per cent of employers had fired staff on the grounds of chronic tardiness. This is probably trumped by Cara Delevingne, however, who - in a recent interview for Vogue, managed two naps. (She also claims 'chronic lateness', insisting she generally wakes up 10 minutes before she's meant to be anywhere. With supermodels and stars, normal rules do not, however, apply.)
At a higher level, though, lateness is still sometimes used as a power play. Journalists all have stories about being kept waiting for hours by interviewees. (My record: four hours, by a certain superannuated British former starlet-turned-national-treasure, who has a penchant for red lipstick and bouffy wigs. Answers on a postcard, please.)
I have one colleague for whom 'late' has effectively become her nickname, since she's invariably 20-25 minutes behind schedule. Because she's important, no event ever kicks off till she's there.
Collectively, we're all probably several stones heavier just because of the extra canapés consumed while hanging around waiting for her to grace us with her presence. (I adore her, nonetheless.)
It is, of course, discourteous to be late. Keep everyone waiting just 10 minutes at a board meeting with a 12-strong quorum, and you've stolen a total of two hours of people's time - which equates to quite a chunk of productivity. How much has that cost the business? (And has any business ever invoiced for that...? It's a thought.)
The etiquette of lateness
But I'll confess: other than for speaking engagements (when I am usually ridiculously early, to allow for train or other transport nightmares), I'm habitually five minutes late for everything, myself. Almost exactly five minutes. Every. Darned. Time. I'm even five minutes late for yoga, often - which if I didn't own the health centre (and thus have my own key, allowing me to sneak discreetly in at the back), would have had me thrown off the mat aeons ago.
And I just don't get why: I know exactly how long it takes to get there on foot - 20 minutes. And yet, and yet, there I am hunting for my keys at 7.45 am, which means I invariably arrive red-faced, panting, and definitely that bit further from nirvana than I need to be.
It's weird, because task-wise I'm pretty good at predicting how long something will take me to execute. It's as if somehow, through sheer will, I can expand time enroute - and will therefore not be late after all. I've asked around: it's a common phenomenon. Responsible, professional people who just can't manage to turn up on time. Just one more email to answer... Just one more call to make... Logically those tasks shouldn't be that seductive - but they seem to be.
So why are we (always) late?
According to Alfie Kohn, writing for Psychology Today, there are three explanations for chronic tardiness. "Maybe tardy arrivers enjoy the attention they get from making an entrance and breathelssly describing to the assembled group whatever delayed them on this occasion (which elicits sympathetic smiles and nods - at least from those who don't understand that something or other always seems to detain them).
"Or maybe they feel guilty for other reasons so that lateness gives them a chance to apologise and seek forgiveness.
Or maybe, such people are simply indifferent to the effects of making other people wait for them, a symptom of a more general egocentricity; they're caught up in their own needs and preferences and fail to take the perspective of others - a pre-requisite, perhaps, to making an effort to be on time." Gulp. I realy, really hope that last one isn't me, even if I am someone who's got a keyboard shortcut for 'there in 5' programmed into my iPhone. (Look it up, or ask at the Genius Bar; it's a godsend.)
Or maybe, in my case, it's because of something else entirely. I actually love being kept waiting. In a world of hurried schedules, go-go-go, back-to-back appointments, it's a welcome chance to sit and organise my diary, my entire handbag (in extremis) - or simply my thoughts. I know I have to try harder on the punctuality front, but basically I'm probably just hoping that everyone else likes being kept waiting as much as I do.
Frankly, I can't think of anything I'd like more than someone turning up two hours late. It'd be like the nicest gift I could be given: I could sit there reading my Kindle, feeling completely guilt-free. So Marissa Mayer: should we ever have a dinner date, feel free to oversleep for as long as you like.
You won't even have to apologise.
The Telegraph, London