Text posted Thursday, July 26, 2012
“For people who are supposed to be in a hurry all the time, Gen Yers sure take their time getting to work. They are the worst offenders bar none when it comes to tardiness,” said a manager in a medical laboratory. She continued, “They take their time getting through their work too. Deadlines mean little to them. They just say, ‘Oh, yeah, sorry it’s late.’ I say, ‘That’s not okay,’ and they say, ‘Yeah, I’m really sorry.’ Then it’s late the next time too. Most of them do a great job. They’re just always late doing it.”
Tardiness, whether it is coming late to work or missing deadlines, is one of managers’ top complaints about Gen Yers and especially Gen Zers. And while managers often attribute Gen Yers’ and Zers’ tardiness to a blasé attitude and a lack of care, consideration, or diligence, our research shows that tardiness in new young workers is almost always due to a lack of good planning. When it comes to planning time, there is really no better tool than a good old-fashioned schedule. Once again, you have to teach them the basics.
Here’s why. On one hand, what Gen Yers and Zers really want, when it comes to time management, is greater freedom. On the other hand, they grew up as the most overscheduled generation in history, so they actually like schedules. The problem is that Gen Yers and Zers are used to schedules customized to their particular life circumstances, needs, and wants. One young person told me, “I’ve been working here for four months, and their early morning schedule is hard for me. I’m used to staying up all night writing papers and studying for exams. If you had to skip a class or show up to class late because you’ve been up all night studying, nobody was going to chew your head off. If you needed an extension on a paper, you could get one. Once I had an exam rescheduled because I wasn’t ready.”
Ultimately young people want more flexibility about when they work, more control over their time while they are working, and more free time outside work. Thus, in order to get what they want, they need a lot of help getting lots of work done very well, very fast while they are at work. The trick to doing that is teaching them how to use a schedule to better plan their hours, minutes, and seconds around their priorities—inside and outside work.
A smart retail manager told me this story about using schedules to help young workers get to work on time: “When I have people who are chronically late, I’ve learned that usually they need help being on time. I just had this experience with a young employee, Paul. Paul was always on time for the evening shift but always late for the morning shift. At first I thought he was trying to get me to give him the late shift every week. But when I talked to him, I found out that he had never really tuned in to the fact that it took him longer to get ready for and to get to work in the morning than in the afternoon. I mean, he knew it in the back of his head, but he had never really taken it into account.”
The retail manager continued, “I had to help Paul learn how to be on time. So I took out a piece of paper and we wrote a schedule, working backward from 8:00 a.m.: ‘Walk in the front door at work at 7:55 a.m. Leave Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot by 7:35 a.m. Pull in to Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot by 7:25 a.m. Leave home by 7:10 a.m. Get back from walking dog by 7:00 a.m.’” Is it appropriate to help an employee plan out details as personal as what time he will walk his dog?
No matter how rigorously employees schedule their work time, if they can’t manage their nonwork time, they often come late to work, leave early, call in sick, spend work time doing nonwork activities, and so on. I asked the retail manager how this approach worked with Paul. “I was afraid he would be insulted, but the look on his face was pure gratitude. He was saying, ‘That really helps me, that really helps me.’ Not only has he been chronically on time ever since we did the schedule, but now he counts out everything backward in his day planner. I offered to get him a PDA as a reward for doing so great, but he said ‘no thanks.’ He is attached to that little day planner. Those are habits that really stuck for him.” Hooray for Paul! Hooray for this manager!!