The most polite way to say that you are going to be late for work

I remember during my first year of work I got really hammered at a company party during the weekday. Everyone was clearly wasted, especially me. I think at some point I ordered 4 pints of beer and poured them all over one of my colleagues. She wasn’t happy. I probably offended a lot of people that night.

The next morning I rolled out of bed feeling rightfully puky. My liver was screaming at me — why, why did you this to me? I didn’t have a good answer and wallowed in disgust.

I reached over for my phone and texted my boss.

Hey I feel like shit, drank too much. Will come in to work later. -M

Within about 20 seconds I received a message back.

Get your ass to work. Now.

And just like that, a fire was lit under my ass and I hopped up with a renewed sense of energy. The rest of the day was dreadful and I took a nap during lunch. Pretty sure I got nothing done the whole day.

So, that’s exactly how you don’t do it.

After learning from that lesson, and many, many more, here are some tips both from the employee side and as a former manager.

Do it as soon as you can. Don’t wait 5 minutes before you’re supposed to be somewhere to tell them you are going to be late. This comes down to planning and common courtesy. If I have a scheduled meeting in 2 hours but am currently in a meeting that seems to be going on a bit long, or has the potential to run late, I will at minimum text or email the person saying “hey tied up in a meeting, possible that I will be running 5–10 minutes late.”

Call, don’t text. By calling in to your manager it adds an extra sense of importance. You’re acknowledging that it’s important enough to warrant a call and that you take it seriously. Even though the content of what you say will be the same, I find a call more powerful. When I used to manage a team of 4 I always felt like they cared more if they bothered to call. Maybe it’s just me.

Keep it simple. There’s no need to get into the extraneous details of everything that caused you to be late, because people don’t really care. It just sounds like you are making excuses. ‘I was getting ready for work and then my hair curler burned my finger. So I had to keep it under cool water for a few minutes, but it still really hurt and I didn’t have any burn cream so I need to stop by CVS to get some and then drop my kid off to school but then forgot my phone so had to turn around and get that and it put me back like 20 minutes.”Really, that’s a bit too much. Keep it short and sweet. ‘Hey Bob, I’m sorry but I had a bit of an emergency this morning so will be running 20 minutes late. Please get the meeting started without me and I’ll be there before 9am.”

Consider rescheduling. If you are running more than 15 minutes late for a meeting then I would propose rescheduling. If your meeting is only 1 hour long then that might not give you enough time to cover everything you needed to. Rather than rush through it and add to an already stressful day, consider rescheduling the whole thing to a later time when you have enough time to sit down for the full allotted time.

Good luck and don’t forget to set at least three alarms.

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Japan-based writer, consultant and entrepreneur.

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