Why We Need to Pick Productivity Over Punctuality

Another morning, another train missed. I wish I could kill punctuality. That’s what I told myself when I missed the first local on my way to work. But by the time I’d missed the third train of the morning – the 9.26 am local – I knew I was screwed. You see, when you’re someone who works in Mumbai, the city’s network of local trains and the crowd inside them dictate the kind of work day you’re about to have. And it was clear that I was going to have a work day that’d make me want to give up on life, pack up my belongings, and move to the hills. For there was no way in hell that I’d reach my office before 10.30 am, the time when the brows of my boss begin arching to form a perfect frown.

The chief tenet of professionalism hinges on an employee’s punctuality, especially his/her ability to reach office on time. And unfortunately, in an Indian office your dedication is determined by what time you get to work. Which means, that you get labelled a “bad employee” for reaching work at 11 am instead of 10.30 am, but not if you’re one of those people who reaches work at 9.30 am and yet does not meet deadlines. The employee of every year is the guy who is the first one to enter office.

If there was an Indian version of How To Get Away With Murder, I’m pretty sure the answer would involve reaching work before 10 am. But if you, like me, are a chronic latecomer, you are branded a slacker. You are then at the receiving end of a tirade of dirty looks that you’ll be bestowed from almost everyone who has reached office before you. Coming up with the most creative or productive ideas will prove to be futile as your day will be accompanied by guilt, especially as you go out of your way to avoid making eye contact with your boss. And when it’s time to call it a day, you’ll realise you’ve secretly won the “Most Unproductive Employee of the Day” award. All of this could have been avoided if everyone didn’t make such a big deal about getting to work at exactly 10.30 am.

Simply put, nothing good really comes from punctuality. Maybe this is why Clark Kent was an average employee. I mean, being Superman must have been difficult enough, and then there was the added pressure of reaching work on time.

So here’s what I want to know: Why is punctuality the gold standard for professionalism and not productivity? Please don’t give me the same old “early bird gets the worm” crap. Because I’m certain I can get the worm even if I wake up at noon and finish my work on time. And that’s exactly what so many workplaces continue to ignore. Instead, they’re under the impression that employees will magically be bestowed with discipline only if they reach work at a certain time. In the process of prioritising punctuality, they end up completely overlooking productivity. Come to think of it, arriving on time may have even made sense back in the day, when a nine-to-five job was the standard. When you had no laptops, and worked on huge machines that you could not carry home. When you were not expected to respond to emails while commuting, when office correspondence was not carried on over WhatsApp.

I think it’s time we pay attention to author Evelyn Waugh, who said, “Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.”

But in 2018, when most of us multitask by the minute, are available 24/7, why is getting first to work still the pinnacle of achievement? Often obsessing over being punctual takes away from what really matters – excelling at work. Hard work and punctuality are exclusive to each other and the former does not necessarily happen because of the latter. There’s enough research out there that points out that if you are spending more than eight hours at work you are not productive. In fact during an eight-hour workday, the average employee works for about three hours – two hours and 53 minutes, to be more precise.

So does it really matter if you come in at 10.30 am or noon?

Over the years, we’ve been acquainted with Shakespeare saying, “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” But I think it’s time we pay attention to author Evelyn Waugh, who said, “Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.”

Kadambari Srivastava

This article was first published in Arre