Brushing teeth in the bathroom, and still not on time

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Q:  Most of the employees in my office are returning to at least a hybrid schedule.  I supervise a small team, and we very laid back in the office.  Sometimes too laid back in my opinion.  There is a lot of chatter, planning social events, talk about upcoming travel and in some cases, just wasting time.  We have a few employees who are struggling to arrive to work at a reasonable hour, which is the most glaring problem.  They talk about problems finding a parking spot, delays with the T, their roommates taking showers before them, etc.  I hear even complaints about the line at the Starbucks in our building.  I have started addressing some of these behaviors in a very gentle way.  It is hard to find replacements for employees who leave, so I am trying to address the concerns, but also be (very!) reasonable.  Fast forward to meeting fourth quarter goals, I have been asking employees to arrive by 9am, when our “old” start time (pre-pandemic) was 8:30am.  What has happened is that employees do most of their personal grooming, after they arrive at the office.  Employees are brushing their teeth, curling their hair, washing their face in our lavatories.  What happens is that they walk into the building at 8:30am, but most don’t arrive into our office suite to work until 9am!  I feel like I have just traded one problem for another!  Another concern is that we are hiring for two more people.  I don’t want these newbies to learn these habits.  What do you recommend? 


A: It sounds like you are building a team of professionals, with a few hiccups along the way.  Informal and laid back does not have to translate to unprofessional.  Our company’s office, is not the same as our home.  Since many are working a hybrid schedule or returning to the office, after working from home for several years, the lines have become blurred.  What I recommend is having an informal discussion about “ground rules.”  Discussing what is acceptable and what is not.  It is easier to set ground rules in advance.  It is also sometimes helpful to give examples of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.  You can also explain that you know many have returned to the office a few days per week, so it may take time to adjust morning schedules, to arrive ready to work by 9am.  You can add that this is a request going forward, but you understand that there will be occasional slow trains, or the mornings where there is no hot water for a morning shower.  However, this should not be the norm, it should be the exception.  If your employees brushed their teeth and washed their face in the company rest room, and then sat at their desk ready to work by 9am, you probably would not care where they brushed their teeth.

It may be worth addressing your team as a group and encouraging an open discussion about what is acceptable and what is not.  A text from a child’s school to pick up the child because of a fever is reasonable.  Downpours, steady snow, or an auto accident all may slow travel, and those are probably reasonable excuses on some days.  Someone who repeatedly shares that the line at a coffee shop is too long, is more problematic.

I would also explain to your team that they will be serving as role models as others are hired.  This is probably quite true and they will understand that they “set the standard” for workplace behaviors and performance.  One suggestion is to send the message “that you all will help me set the stage for our newbies,” so they understand that they can influence how your team works.

If the behavior continues, I think you may need to address the “biggest offender” one-on-one.  I would describe your concerns, ask for the employee to be ready to work by 9am, and then explain that they will be a role model for others, especially the new employees when they are hired.  Hopefully this remedies the concern.  If the lateness continues, you will have to take a firmer approach.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.