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Career Advice

What To Say When You're Running Late For Work

By Krisha Maclang on October 20, 2015

Late for work again? Chances are you wouldn’t be reading this article if you weren’t in danger of being late. Unfortunately, being on time is something that is taken as more of a suggestion than a requirement in the Philippines. Between constant traffic jams, inclement weather, and the ever unreliable “Filipino Time”, we have all come to accept that tardiness is a common occurrence even in professional settings.

While we do discourage you from making it a habit to be late to meetings, events, or even the start of your work day, we do recognize that tardiness can sometimes be unavoidable. How you handle your tardiness and recover from it speaks volumes about you as a professional. Being late and brushing it off with a hurried “Ay, sorry!” is hardly acceptable and can make you lose your credibility.

Here’s how you can recover from being late like a consummate professional:

Your boss

If there’s one person you wouldn’t want to disappoint with your tardiness, it’s your boss. It should go without saying that your boss expects the best from you, and that includes your punctuality. Your boss wants to know if he or she can rely on you to do the job well and on time.

What to say: Text or call your boss if you won’t make it to your meeting or event on time. Make sure to be polite and express your apologies, but don’t overdo it either (or you’ll sound insincere). Give your boss the option to call you in case you need to be reached so they know that you’re not leaving them hanging . You can text/call something like:

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How to recover: Being late to an important meeting or event when your boss is counting on you might cast you in a bad light. As soon as you arrive, make sure to enter the room inconspicuously so you won’t draw more attention to yourself for being late. Say a quick apology to your boss and do your best to get up to speed with what has happened during the meeting/event without disrupting the proceedings. Make it a point to be as mentally present and participative as you normally would be if you were there for the entire duration of the meeting/event.

Your team

As the supervisor, your team looks up to you to set an example of how they’re supposed to act and what kind of employee they should strive to be. Yes, they know you’re not perfect, but they are also observing how you recover from a slip-up. It can be tempting to dismiss your tardiness because they’re your subordinates, and you think you’re not accountable to them. However, this might set the precedent to your team that it’s perfectly alright to be late because “okay lang yan, lagi rin namang late si bossing eh.”

What to say: Give your team advanced warning if you think you won’t be able to make it to your meeting or event on time. Your team might not feel comfortable knowing that they have to lead things on their own without their leader so a heads up will give them time to prepare. Assign someone to take the lead while you aren’t there and let them know they can reach you should they need your help. Call or text them to say:


How to recover: Your team will be understandably rattled if a big project starts off without their boss, but you’ve trained them so you know they can handle themselves. Make sure to apologize for arriving late and let your team brief you on any updates you need to know when you arrive. Thank them for holding down the fort while you were away and assume the team’s leadership once you’ve caught up with the updates.

Your clients or other external parties

If your job requires working with clients, then you probably know that clients can be exacting and often expect more from you than your boss would. They are paying your company after all and want to know that they are getting the best possible service. Remember that you carry your company’s name so any bad behavior you regularly exhibit will reflect poorly on their brand. “That account manager is always late” might become “XYZ company doesn’t respect our time”.

What to say: Depending on your client, your tardiness might set the tone for the rest of the meeting. Some clients are understanding and will be patient with you while others will be irritated when they find out you’re running late. You might be tempted to appease your clients by saying that you are “just five minutes away” when you aren’t. This will obviously annoy them even more if they realize you’re lying. If you think you’re going to be extremely late (maybe 30 minutes delay or more), give them the option to reschedule so that their schedules aren’t ruined be your delay. Call or text to say:

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How to recover: If you’re pushing through with the scheduled meeting, apologize as soon as you arrive and briefly explain your reason for being late. Don’t overdo it because your client will want to use the remaining time left for your planned agenda, not your tardiness. Being late might throw you off or leave you frazzled but don’t give in to that. Appear at ease, don’t dwell on your mistake, and proceed with the meeting as planned.

If your client wants to reschedule the meeting, give them a quick phone call (if you only texted previously) to apologize for the schedule changes and thank them for being understanding. When the next meeting comes around, be extra early and extra prepared for your meeting.

In the professional world, being late to an appointment could be one of the simplest ways for a colleague to view you negatively. You may be deemed disrespectful, inconsiderate, and rude. But as long as you do your best to handle the situation gracefully and do your job well in spite of your slip up, you will be able to recover. Just make sure you’re not late the next time around!