When an employee turns up late for a week say once in a week and they blame the traffic, you could understand and warn them not to be late again because it's bad for business. However when an employee is late almost every day and doesn't have a good reason for being late that's an entirely different matter . . .

There's but one complication though. This employee is kind of irreplaceable. And he knows it. Finding a replacement would take months maybe and there's no guarantee the customers would like him and as it's a service-oriented business it could be bad for business.

What are some ways such an employee can be motivated to show up for work early since firing him isn't an option that can be considered?


If he's not making up the time and coming in under hours, you have every right to be annoyed and take a hardline. If he's making up the time or is always working extra time anyway, its worth trying to work with him. Your options are limited though, because he's essential and you can't risk making him quit.

The first thing I'd ask is, is it essential that he shows up early, or is there any way to build a little flexibility into his schedule? As long as he makes up the time he loses does it actually affect your business e.g. he's being late for client meetings? If it doesn't matter, I wouldn't shunt his start time, as I worked with someone who was always fifteen minutes late in. When their start time was moved to allow for this, you guessed it, they were then fifteen minutes late for their new start time. Just check his login time and let him know you expect him to leave late at the end of the day.

If he's late for client meetings, that's another problem. You could try telling him the meeting starts fifteen minutes before it does, just to make sure he gets there on time.

The other thing to do is start looking for someone to work alongside him and replace him if necessary. A single critical employee is a really high risk. What would you do if he had an accident or left? At least while he's in the role, even if he's regularly late, you have cover so you can plan ahead.


But here is a question: is he really needed at his office? Can't he work at home? Because if he could do the same job but at his home, it would save you money and a lot of nerves.



You could start leaving magazines out on how to hire and outsource difficult jobs that they will see in the unacceptably late hour of their arrival.

That, or you could play this song at the office all day while exploring your options to figure out how to get someone else that will do the job and be on time for it:

(female bosses and business owners will love this one, especially if there's a company car or other assets and perks involved)



You should have a long talk with them and make sure they understand the implications of what they are doing and consequences for showing up late. They need to take it as seriously as you take your business, for if they don't, the job will become available.

They may think that they are replaceable, and they may have skills that prevent other people from doing their job unless it takes 2, 3, or even 4 people to fill it...but I have seen those positions be filled just that way, albeit not nearly as well, but still functionally, by people willing to get extra pay to do their share of the late person's work, or be on a rotating schedule to get the expertise needed from each available employee who (for specific positions or times) are able to do that part of their work to a degree.

I've also seen it outsourced to dozens to try and fill the shoes of the one person who knows they are of value with mixed success. If you do plan to outsource, definitely make sure that it can be done and done well. You have a stronger arrangement with a greater degree of flexibility of whom you outsource it to is still local, even if they are not one of the many employees tasked with picking up the slack for them.

It may be fun to go about it like Beyonce would, but it wouldn't be the best choice for your business.

I would try to salvage the professional relationship first and provide some means or incentive for them to reasonably make an effort to always be there on time just as everyone else is supposed to be. If that does not work, even after a conversation, then I would go the route of looking to fill the position through alternative or distributed means outlined above.



I have several employees under me who have issues with attendance and tardiness. One is always absent every Monday for health reasons. For motivating, I usually invite them for a one-on-one lunch meeting outside the office. It is like a bonding session where we talk of personal matters and no office matters. It is like a subtle approach of sending him some hints. And since there is no direct talk of the issue, no offense can be felt on his side. My usual style of poking is to talk about another employee with the same issue of being late or absent. And although it doesn't usually work but it's worth trying because sometimes it works.


I don't believe NO one is indispensable. However, I do believe that as a business owner you can come to that conclusion that a staff is irreplaceable. Yes, there is a big cost to letting go of a supposedly 'essential' employee. But is it really worth the headache? Tolerating someone exhibiting a behavior that is bad for business sets a bad example to others. What can be done in the meantime is to have a talk with the problematic employee. Be upfront about your displeasure with the tardiness. Know the reason behind it. Is it a salary issue? Someone who comes in late has a reason. The tardiness is just a manifestation of a bigger problem. You can't motivate a person without addressing the problem at its root.
I'll go with the suggestion of getting another person to work alongside the late employee. At some point, the late employee maybe ready to quit and is just waiting for a window of opportunity elsewhere. What then? Clearly, you need this employee. So you've got to figure out what the person wants.
Lastly, what does your company policy say about punctuality?
I warn them first. If they continue to be late, I look for new employees. Once I have new employees, I will fire the late arriving employees without giving them second warning. Why should I take chance with people who are not sincere and who do not follow the guidelines.


I don't think anyone is completely irreplacable. If it will take months then start looking for a replacement as soon as possible while you put up with the employee for a month more. If they really are that special then maybe you could try and work around their habits since sometimes people perform better under their own circumstances anyway, and if they really have a special talent that deserves it then maybe it's worth taking into consideration. I have worked as a graphic designer and sometimes there isn't work for me to do at the office as I just need to complete projects instead of actually being present, so I did get frustrated when I had to come into work just to hang around sometimes, though I didn't take advantage of it myself and instead just followed the rules and quit when I got tired of it.


You might have employees that you would struggle to manage without, but nobody is irreplaceable in my opinion.

Once an employee gets the impression that they are, that's when they start taking liberties like having time off or turning up late as they think they can get away with anything.

As a business owner I like to think I'm pretty laid back and fair, but I'm not going to be walked all over. I praise the employees as and when they deserve it, but at the same time even my most important employees aren't given the impression they're irreplaceable.


You need to put firm boundaries in place and enforce them. Otherwise that employee and other employees will take advantage of you. I would also suggest you immediately hire or start training other employees to do that job. Although some professional jobs require special skills, many jobs can be learned by anyone. It is best to have yourself and all employees able to do all jobs in you business. That way you always have a replacement. What will you do if this employee quits? gets sick? dies? Life happens and you need to be prepared!

Keep us posted on the situation and how it all works out!


Before I used to work in 2 companies before my husband asked me to stop working. My employers even if you are an asset to the company if they are not satisfied anymore with your performance they can let you go and find replacement for you. From their own point of view there are still many who needs job and who had the skills and are qualified for any vacancy position that they might have. We also had trainees and contractual workers for most of the positions that is why if someone goes away they will just absorb the person who is suitable for the job. That is why if you are an employee just do your best in your work especially if the company you are working are treating well their workers.
First of all, I'm pretty sure any employee can be replaced. No matter how good he is at his job, if he's disrespectful or does not provide a good role model to others, he's simply not worth it. You are the boss and you are in charge. You can talk to him, confront him about the issue at hand and tell him that changes need to be made. He is an employee and has rights but so do you as the boss. Don't let him step over your authority.

I would suggest implementing some salary deductions for every tardy he acquires. I'm sure that can be a big motivation for him. From where I am, it's legal as well. Most companies deduct some amount to their employees' salary if they are frequently late or absent without notice. This can surely stop his unreasonable tardiness.

Another suggestion would be providing an incentive for people who show up for work earliest. This way, you can reward whoever complies with this and this can be motivation enough for the always late employee.

I hope this works for you! Good luck!



I could go ahead and tell you that having an employee that's irreplaceable is a very wrong business practice and that's something is failing in your system, but, usually, real life is a little more complicated than business text books so I could see you in a position where an employee, if not absolutely irreplaceable, certainly would be very hard to replace on a short term, so, I am going to give you some advice that I don't know if will be useful to you since you don't specify the nature of your business.

If your employee is somebody like a cashier or a salesman then he / she can't be late because your business suffers, if, on the other hand, your employee does something completely different where maybe a strict schedule is not required, consider working by objectives accomplished, not by actual working hours.

Remember, is YOUR business so you decide working hours, but you could handle this doing some damage control by simply not worrying much about the hours and more about what was actually accomplished on those hours. Meanwhile, you are working on replacing the person because this individual does not recognizes you as the person in charge anymore.

By the way, some people are always late yet accomplish much more than some individuals that simply go to work on time to sit there and waste time.
The way I see it, if an employee shows up late all the time, you should be able to suddenly schedule them later. Oh, you showed up at 5:30? Guess what, your schedule isn't til 6 now. Try not to get too bored while you wait for your shift to start. I get that there would be problems, but if it's chronic, I'd start messing with their head so hard...

jc banks

I agree there must be a reason they're late. My brother works at a place where they change his schedule around all the time sometimes it makes it hard for him to get enough sleep to get up and go to work as of yet he does not go in late but if you continually don't get enough sleep because the hours are weird this could be a problem that is caused by the person that hired you.
If they're invaluable and they're really good for your business you might want to work with them and change their hours so that you don't lose an employee that is good for your business because just because somebody else can do their job doesn't mean they will do it as well.
There's nothing wrong with compromise however you do not want to start a policy that lets other people choose their own schedule and less that's an available option for you but if somebody's doing a good job they should be rewarded and that means coming in on time because if they're that good they deserve a raise.


Well, I wasn't that bad. But, I was an "irreplaceable" employee. In fact, I was the rockstar programmer that you simply could not find a replacement for. I used to break quite a few office rules and had access to my CTO's penthouse and what not. Life was goooood. BUT, I used to give people a hard time. I used to go on longer vacations- paid ones. It got to the point where I would demand dumb stuff and one day I guess the CEO finally thought, "I need to find a replacement for this guy".

Long story short, they couldn't find a guy exactly like me, but they found a guy that was good enough. Of course, by the time they found this guy I was already leaving the company, looking to start my own business. So the substitute's timing couldn't have been better.

But, here's the thing- I was never irreplaceable. I just made it seem like I was. Does that make sense?
Anyways, here's how I would replace a guy who was a pain in the a**:

1. Bring in a novice- Maybe an intern or something. And ask your Mr. irreplaceable to prepare presentations or docs or whatever is needed to get this guy onboard. Explain it away as training or whatever.
2. Find the processes your irreplaceable guy has in place. Document them or get him to document them.
3. If its a contact based business, as in a brokerage firm or something, make sure he hands over client details. Again, tactfulness is better than straight talk because if the guy walks out with your client details and the clients only know him, you could lose business.
4. Bring in a new policy if its not already in place - have him sign no-compete agreements, NDAs, etc. All in the name of ISO process standards and what not. BTW, my last employer never did that, but I have a code stronger than Omerta. But, I know plenty of people who started companies with stolen secrets that no one could prove were stolen. So, NDAs and all are really really important.
5. Finally, after all that is done. Bring in a replacement. Tell your hero guy that he's going to get promoted or whatever and bring in the new guy. Ask your old guy to train the new guy. By this point, he will know you're trying to replace him. If not, then he wasn't really that smart. Once the training is done, you can tell the irreplaceable guy that he has been replaced. Best to do it in a very very public setting.
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