You’ve felt the tension in a meeting when someone joins late, and even though it may have caused you stress, they didn’t seem to mind a bit! It turns out that punctuality behaviors and expectations are not universal.
Punctuality is generally assumed to demonstrate respect and create positive results in most business environments. Whether you are on time depends on three subconscious questions: Is the event dependent upon me? Are there rules of etiquette that dictate my arrival? What is my objective in attending, and how much time do I need to accomplish it? This complex consideration of role, etiquette, and objectives is constantly at play as you check the time. How you answer those questions may be a product of your personality.
Researchers have found that three of the Big Five personality traits - conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism - predict punctual behaviors (Back et al., 2006). Those rated high in conscientiousness are most concerned with all aspects of punctuality. In contrast, those high in agreeableness and neuroticism are most concerned with being early (perhaps due to concerns about how others may perceive them).
While how you feel about punctuality may be a function of your personality, how you behave may be more about your role, the expectations of others, and cultural norms. For example, if you are the meeting organizer, arriving early is essential to ensure that you have enough time to prepare the space. As an attendee, arriving on time demonstrates respect and commitment. If you’re simply an observer, you may be free to come and go so long as you minimize disruptions to others.
Punctuality produces predictability, improving performance; therefore, having positive norms around punctuality will benefit the entire organization. As a business leader, you have the power to set and enforce the norms of your organization. If you value punctuality, communicate your expectations clearly, reinforce them, and lead by example by being punctual.
If you want to improve punctuality within your organization, consider making incremental changes such as inviting to meetings only those who will receive value and can contribute to the meeting objectives. Next, be consistent with start times, avoid rehashing discussions for late arrivals, and give equal importance to punctuality at the beginning and end of events. Starting on time is often valued higher than ending on time, though both are equally important.
Demonstrating respect through punctuality can help you build stronger relationships and create a more productive and positive work environment. Regardless of how you show up outside of work, consider adopting the mindset of French author Alexandre Dumas who said, "In business, I believe punctuality is a virtue."
Back, M. D., Schmukle, S. C., & Egloff, B. (2006). Who is late and who is early? Big Five personality factors and punctuality in attending psychological experiments. Journal of Research in Personality, 40(5), 841-848. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0092656605001017