Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Cost of Being Late

I have observed in an organization where I frequently give training that 25% of the people in the course are on time regularly. The rest of the people come later, and usually by 15 minutes after the start time of the course, everyone is there and we can begin.

In this organization, meetings are the main space for collaborative work, and people can have up to 4 or more meetings a day.

In this case, for the 25% of the people who are on time to meetings (which start 15 minutes late), they lose 1 hour a day of waiting around for people to arrive and for their meetings to start.

If your staff is 200 people, then 50 people are losing 1 hour a day to late starts. If 50 person hours of work per day is being lost, that makes 250 hours a week lost in waiting for meetings to start due to late arrivals.

250 hours a week is effectively 6 staff members whose complete time is being spent sub-optimally, they could go home and get paid to do nothing.

That's 1000 hours/month, or 12000 hours per year, which is 250 work weeks, or over 6 person years of work lost to an organization every calendar year from people who are 15 minutes late for meetings...


Mehrdad said...

This is funny - and reminds me of my time studying in Frankfurt and Kiel, Germany, where this was/is a common and accepted behavior. There is even a special term for it: Akademisches Viertel. Apparently, this dates back to when the ringing of the church bell informed students to go to their class. So when you heard the bell, you had 15 minutes to get to the lecture. I do recall that university schedules in Germany had special notations for having to arrive on time sharp: s.t. (sine tempore, "without time") identified lectures which started on time (or so the lecturers belived). :-)

Andrea Athanas said...

The situation you describe is common...even accepted/expected in many organisations and parts of the world...but to frame the 15 minutes as lost is perhaps a mistake. I have a tendancy to be on time to meetings, and I have a plan for what to do with those 15 mintues if the occasion arises. If there are people invited to the meeting who I need to talk to about other work, I use the 15 minutes to have those conversations. If there aren't, I take some of my paper stack into the meeting to dig through it while I'm waiting. Or I use the time to organise the rest of my day (writing to-do lists).

PennyWalker said...

As a facilitator, one of the things I try to get a feel for early on is that people assume about meeting start times (and end times). I routinely build in 'arrivals' into my meeting plans, and have a task for people to do if they do arrive before the others. Agendas circulated in advance may have include something like this: "Coffee available from 9.15, meeting to start promptly at 9.30".

It's interesting to reframe this: who is wasting time - the people who arrive later or those who arrive earlier?

And of course Andrea's reframe of whether the time is wasted or not is a useful reminder!

The crucial thing is to be realistic about how much can be accomplished in a meeting of a certain length, once you know what the organisational meaning of a 9.30 start is.

Gillian Martin Mehers said...

Nice discussion! It is interesting, Mehrdad, to understand more of the origin of the famous academic 15 minutes (so in that case I guess people who respond to the bell are not technically "late").

Andrea, that is a great reframe from the point of view of the participants (if all those early participants are like you :-) and as long as they aren't irritated by having that 15 minutes of open space while they watch their colleagues hustling in. I guess you could assume also that the people who are early are very efficient and productive people who get lots done in their work hours, so the extra time might be a welcome break (that would be nice anyways).

And, Penny, if the facilitator/trainer/meeting host builds that in (if they can) then it can help the meeting end on time (although I guess you will get less things done with less time available). I find that a hard one as starting late can set the tone or example for late returns from lunch/coffee/etc. but starting on time with only 25% of the group is equally challenging.

I just liked the math in this example, little things when extrapolated can make very big things!!