Late People Make Co-Workers Crazy

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Seemingly normal office workers are driven mad by colleagues who habitually arrive a few minutes behind schedule, says Jared Sandberd, author of the Wall Street Journal's column Cubicle Culture.

ALISON STEWART, host:

So maybe, Rachel, I don't know, maybe this is why we got this e-mail from Luke at 4:15…

LUKE BURBANK, host:

Yeah, you set me up…

STEWART: …because maybe he overslept last night.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Way to bring this together, Stewart.

STEWART: Luke sent this e-mail to all of us at 4:15 a.m. this morning, Eastern Time.

(Reading) I think my power went out because all the clocks in my place are messed up and my alarm, which I set last night, was mysteriously off this morning…

MARTIN: Totally right.

…suffice it to say, I just got up and will be running a bit behind. Please start the meeting without me if necessary.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

STEWART: Luke…

BURBANK: You know, by the way, I got here at 5 o'clock even so. And what I learned in that is I can get up at 4:15 to get here at five o'clock.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Well, you're not being alone at being a wee bit late. There's a host of late Lucys out there reeking havoc on office dynamics. Okay, not only are they late, they can make a seemingly normal coworker turn into a full-on crazy person. This professional peccadillo is examined closely in today's Wall Street Journal. A friend of the BPP, the author of the column "Cubicle Culture," Jared Sandberg has a piece today, which is titled "I'm Not Really Late. I'm Just Indulging in Magical Thinking." Hi, Jared.

Mr. JARED SANDBERG (Columnist, The Wall Street Journal): Good morning folks.

STEWART: Let's be clear about whom we're talking. You lay out there types of habitual latecomers. Can you give me three examples?

Mr. SANDBERG: Well, there are people who - the magical-thinking part of this - let's start with that - is when, 12 years ago, you made a commute to work in record time, and it was seven minutes. But ever since then, it's averaged 25 minutes. And so, unfortunately, you still think of that seven minutes as your benchmark. So you're usually(ph) late on a daily basis. That becomes one of the sort of the common problems, and helps explain what I find the most sort of battling of all late people and that is the punctually late. They're late by the same interval every day. So if…

BURBANK: That would be me.

Mr. SANDBERG: …they'll tell you they'll be there at seven o'clock, they will always be there at 7:36. And so those are just the kind of late, you know, issues and some of the reasons that we - people are often late.

STEWART: What about the late person who may be doing it on purpose on some level as a power play?

Mr. SANDBERG: Yeah, that - you know, I was surprised that it wasn't terribly hard to find examples of that, One corporate lawyer I spoke to which show up at one of his client's offices for a big meeting among accountants, investment bankers, other lawyers, and the guy would brag to him - the executive who was hosting the meeting would brag to him beforehand just how much it was keeping - it was costing to keep all these, you know, highly paid people cool their heels in the other - in the conference room. As he noted, it was really perverse sort of enjoyment in both the money spent and keeping them wait.

But there are other people who, you know, admit that there's a little bit of a rush being late. It sort of gets them on their toes, gets them on their heels. And so, as one author told me that, you know, when she has to be somewhere and should be on her way to a big meeting with colleagues, she finds herself having to fix a fingernail or something else just to keep her a little bit late. And she admits that it makes her feel a little more important than people because they're all waiting for me. You know, the interesting part of this, by the way, is late people even hate other late people.

STEWART: That is my favorite part of your story.

Mr. SANDBERG: And that is largely because late people are very accustomed to having the meeting start almost immediately. And to hold them up and make them wait for other late people drives them nuts.

STEWART: Talking about driving people nuts, that's another element of this. I am someone who gets - I get a little crazy by late people. I, personally - this is, you know, and some people in your article felt the same way that it's arrogant to be late. Like, why is your time - why is my time less important than your time? Does it do any good to get mad at late people? Will it change their behavior?

Mr. SANDBERG: Well, I think that's a great point. You know, it just seems to me from having talked to a lot of people that it's easier to - and this the real sort of anger behind lateness - it's easier for late people to make other people late than it is for punctual people to make people early. Although, you know, people have been sending me e-mails since last night and talking about how, you know, they would give people five minutes to show up or they would leave, and, you know, that that sort of helps.

But, you know, I found - a former investment banker, who was in Latin America, where there's a little loosey-goosiness with scheduled times. And she really would try these different techniques, like, she would say - she would set false early deadlines and she would claim that certain people wanted work product from her staffers, you know, higher executives. She would invoke the name of higher executives. And these tactics - to try to get people to turn work in on time or early - became transparent overtime, and late people just, you know, engaging in their magical thinking as they did, saw right through this.

STEWART: Well, they're late. They're not stupid.

Mr. SANBERG: Right. Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: We're talking to Jared Sandberg who writes the Cubicle Culture column from the Wall Street Journal. We're discussing people who are late in the office and what they do to the office dynamic. On a more serious note, does tardiness cost a business?

Mr. SANDBERG: You know, it's interesting, in Peru earlier this year, where they're really struggling with sort of national lateness, the president unveiled…

BURBANK: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, they did a thing where they set - they rang bells and they - the whole country set their watches at the same time.

Mr. SANDBERG: Precisely, Luke. And, unfortunately, you know, the Associated Press reported that the invitation that the news agency received for that big ceremony - that synchronization of all the clocks - arrived a couple of hours after the ceremony was over.

STEWART: Of course, it did. Finally, you know, you really researched this piece we've been kind of joking about. But you talked to authors and different people who dealt with the psychology of people being late. Is there one reason why people are late? And is there anything we can do about these people?

Mr. SANDBERG: Well, you know, for a couple of decades, people researched and focused on anxiety and avoidance, that the theory was that if you're late, you don't really want to show up. And anyone can easily imagine that if you're going through a weekly staff meeting, you know, there - you would want to avoid it. The problem with that is that late people are also late to very highly anticipated events that they enjoy. So it's not about avoidance and anxiety.

So it really turns out that it's a much broader thing. It's like, as one expert pointed out to me, it's like a fever, you know, there are a million different causes of a fever. And sometimes people are just overscheduled, and sometimes people just blow, you know, underestimate the time that it will take to get to somewhere. There are always a million reasons, and so to attack - there are probably a million different solutions for that as well.

STEWART: It's a great read in today's "Cubicle Culture" column from the Wall Street Journal. Jared Sandberg, thanks for being with us again.

Mr. SANDBERG: My pleasure.

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