Despite benefits, lateness is fundamentally disrespectful

Erinn Beth Langille

Lateness can plague universities, with tardy students disrupting classes and missing deadlines for assignments. It isn’t just students that suffer, but professors, classmates and the wallet too.

If students show up on time, they get the benefit of the full class time in which to learn and discuss material. The disruption caused by students straggling in doesn’t only hurt them, but often, missing the first 10 minutes forces the professor to stop the class and repeat what has already been discussed, slowing the fellow on-time students as well. This can cause animosity and resentment between students if it happens a lot, further eroding the classroom dynamic.

Tardiness is especially destructive in the context of group work, when a team member’s late contributions stall the work of the other team members. It lowers group morale and can affect overall grades.

There is a financial cost to tardiness as well. It’s estimated that the U.S. loses $90 billion a year as a result of people running late. Even for students, the costs creep up. Often, running late means paying extra for services: having someone copy or bind documents for you instead of doing it yourself, getting parking tickets from rushing to school and parking close but illegally, or even buying quick to-go meals when you could make the food at home.

Rushing the printing of documents without doing the time-consuming tasks like second reads or even spell-checking can cost marks. The panicked rush and resulting lateness is often a result of underestimating how long an assignment or research may take. Research has shown that people, on average, underestimate how long a task will take to complete by nearly 40 percent.  Once you underestimate a task by that much, it can snowball, affecting all the other tasks in a day.

Of course, there are absolutely understandable reasons why a student may be late — traffic accidents, child care, health concerns, emergencies — as well as some benefits.

A 2001 study by by Jeff Conte, associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University, discovered that there’s also a personality type that’s more likely to be late. While achievement-oriented Type A individuals are more likely to be punctual, Type B individuals, who are more laid-back, tend to run late. Type B individuals, however, tend to be more optimistic, so engrossed in what they are doing as to forget time. These individuals can perform higher on tasks requiring innovation or thinking outside the box.

A later 2003 study by Conte found that those who preferred multi-tasking were more often late to their job. Multi-taskers tend to be more creative and less worried about results. This can free them in the production of their work, as they are less prone to stress.

The positives of being tardy mostly privilege the person who is late. That errant individual doesn’t break a sweat, or stress about time, strolling in at a moment that is convenient for them. Being punctual is more respectful of others’ time. Promptness helps in the greater good of the classroom, by allowing the professor to finish the lesson and students to learn the full volume of work to be covered, promoting equality in group work and keeping up morale.