The value of punctuality in business environments

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Time is an interesting concept. Some cultures put a high priority on time while others take more of a lax attitude towards the clock. 

When working in the business environment it is important to understand the value of punctuality based on cultural perspectives.

Punctuality is very important in cultures such as the U.S., U.K. and some other Northern European countries. This belief, known as a monochronic time philosophy, maintains practices that revolve around and are dictated by the time indicated on the clock.

Understanding monochronic time

In monochronic values punctuality is considered an important practice and those who do not respect these beliefs are bound to have troubles doing business.

For instance, in cultures that operate on a monochronic time philosophy, when appointments are scheduled, this means that people are expected to be met on time and lateness is not tolerated very well. Employers expect employees to be ready to work at that time, especially ones paid on an hourly basis.

When an appointment is set for a specific time, those involved in the meeting or conference are expected to be prompt, or even a little early. Not 15 or 30 minutes late, but on time.

There is much less flexibility in time when doing business or having an appointment with a company that abides by the clock. Punctuality is critical to success.

Value of punctuality

In cultures that operate accordingly with the time on the clock it is important to be prompt. Not respecting designated times set for meetings, appointments, conferences and other business deadlines is perceived as unprofessional, and often incompetent.

There are other negative assumptions made with lateness in companies who hold stock in punctuality. For instance lateness is also viewed as unprincipled behavior and disrespectful, and a lack of punctuality is often viewed as a lack of ability to practice good time management.

These perceptions do not bode well for impressions. Those who plan their days with respect the clock may perceive a habitual tardy person as incompetent. They may also wonder whether or not this lateness is an indicator of capability of a job or ability to follow through on a deal, leading to failure in sealing a deal or having a success transaction.

While this may not be necessarily true, in monochronic societies this is likely to be the perception because lateness is generally not well accepted.

Lateness etiquette

In the business environment it is understood that sometimes things happen and an occasional lateness may arise, but routine lateness is bound to cause problems in businesses that view punctuality as important.

An occasional lateness can be offset by practicing good etiquette, meaning a phone call or other relayed message is in order to explain the tardiness, but habitual lateness will likely lead to a negative perception.

Monochronic vs. polychronic time

Not all societies operate on monochronic time principles, as some do operate on what's known as polychronic time, which holds the philosophy that time is more fluid. Other cultures, such as many Asian, Arabic and South American nations put less emphasis on time

In the polychronic school of thought, there is a high degree of flexibility and these cultures don't think twice about the clock. For instance 3 p.m. may mean 3:15 p.m. or just sometime in the afternoon.

When companies who work in accordance with different time perspectives try to do business together, it is important to take time principles and punctuality into consideration when working on dealings.

If you do business with those who put a high value on time, it is worthy to abide by monochronic practices if you want to have successful business dealings. In a culture where time is of the essence, ignoring the clock can lead to failed business deals.

Whichever the belief, in any kind of business environment, it is important to give attention to and place effort in a company's (and culture's) time philosophy when it comes to the meaning of punctuality.


This video shares a great example of how time is perceived differently.


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