17.11.2023 - News

How do Brits feel about lateness?

There’s always one friend who is guaranteed to be late. No matter how much notice you give them or how many times you remind them, you’ll still get the ‘on my way’ text two hours before they actually show up. If you’re not familiar with this person, it might be you.

Brits have a reputation for taking punctuality seriously — many online etiquette guides even warn tourists that people in the UK are very strict about lateness. However, does this view still stand or have Brits become more relaxed about tardiness?

We decided to conduct a brand-new survey to find out how Brits view lateness today and if attitudes have changed. This blog post will also identify how many people struggle with being on time, the top lateness causes, and how to improve time management.

How punctual are Brits?

In our survey, nearly two-thirds of Brits claimed they’re rarely or never late, and a fifth said they were only sometimes behind schedule. Our research also found that people aged 65 and above were least likely to be late, while more millennials said they were always late.

When we asked how respondents felt when they were late, nearly half said it caused them stress. We found that despite more millennials claiming to be always late, this generation also felt more stressed, embarrassed or self-conscious about it. Whereas people aged 45-54 were the least bothered about being tardy.

Is lateness unforgivable or an innocent mistake?

Although many people claimed they were never late, most respondents were laid-back about other people’s lateness. In the survey, 42% said they don’t mind if people are tardy, whereas 35% admitted it annoys them but don’t hold it against the person.

This more relaxed view might be a result of lateness becoming less strict in many professional environments with flexitime. This work style allows employees to choose when they start and finish within a set timeframe instead of having to show up at a specific time.

However, a fifth of respondents said being late was rude and disrespectful. We found that Gen Xers were the most understanding about lateness, with nearly half of this age group not minding. This generation was also more likely to view people being late as amusing, whereas Boomers and those older were the least forgiving.

What are the most common reasons for lateness?

Even when people intend to be on time, lateness is occasionally unavoidable. Most respondents (60%) said if they were late, it was usually by no more than 10 minutes, while another 14% said they would usually be late by up to half an hour, and a small number of respondents said they were often more than an hour late. So, what are the top reasons people are late?


More than a third of respondents said traffic jams were the biggest reason for their lateness, with this cause being the most likely among people aged between 45 and 64.

A 2022 study revealed that the average Brit spends the equivalent of one year of their adult life stuck in traffic. Another report found that 56% of people had used traffic as an excuse for being late to the office, which their employer believed.

Although you can’t always avoid or predict traffic congestion, if you repeatedly find certain times or areas especially busy, allow for a longer journey to get there on time. As you’re getting ready, you can also look on Google Maps to see the predicted travel time and identify any existing gridlock.

Personal reasons and family emergencies

When asked what the most common cause for their lateness was, nearly 15% of respondents cited a loved one (family, friends, housemates, pets, etc) needing them. While this reason can vary, lateness related to family emergencies is, of course, unavoidable. The only thing you can do in that situation is to inform whoever you are late to meet.

However, if the situation is a non-emergency and your lateness is avoidable, consider whether you need to be there or if it’s something you can pass on to somebody else. Setting boundaries with loved ones is crucial for prioritising your time for what serves you the most.

Purposeful lateness

A small percentage of respondents said they were mostly late because they didn’t want to be the person waiting or because they liked to make an entrance.

This type of behaviour can cause friction if people are constantly waiting for you, especially if it’s for longer than 10 minutes. Your friends and family might be more forgiving, but purposefully being late to important meetings and appointments could have consequences.

Being late without a valid reason could create a reputation as unreliable, irresponsible and selfish. You may also find that invitations slow down as people become tired of working around your lateness.

While nobody likes to wait, there are ways you can prepare for this situation other than making others wait. For example, stay entertained and productive during dead time by carrying a book, laptop or similar.

However, being late to avoid waiting could be a sign of social anxiety if you’re worried being alone could make you feel embarrassed or judged. For advice on treating anxiety disorders, contact a medical professional.

Poor time management

One in seven Brits admitted that struggling to manage and track their time was the biggest cause of their lateness, with more millennials finding this difficult than other generations.

The concept of ‘time blindness’ became a trending topic after a TikToker went viral for saying companies should accommodate the issue. Described as ‘a difficulty with the perception of time’, time blindness isn’t an official medical condition, but several medical professionals have said it’s a legitimate experience. Time blindness can apparently be a symptom of ADHD and other conditions, so it’s important to see a medical expert if you struggle with it.

While everyone can experience lateness occasionally, time blindness is when you’re constantly late despite how hard you try. You may always over or underestimate your time, have no sense of how much time has passed, act impulsively, procrastinate and struggle to work between different tasks.

Tips for efficient time management

People who struggle with chronic lateness can try a variety of tactics to build better time management habits.

Over-estimate how much time you need

Our research found that nearly half of Brits find over-estimating how long they need to get ready is the most effective at keeping them on time.

If your current timeframe is letting you down, consider dedicating more time to getting ready. You might have tracked the specific duration you need for each task, but if you haven’t left any wiggle room for anything to go wrong, you’ll likely be late. Instead, add a window of at least 15 minutes.

Wear a watch

A simple but effective tactic to avoid lateness is wearing a watch, which can make it easier to monitor the time. While it’s an obvious solution, not everyone opts for this option and instead relies on digital timekeeping.

Psychologist Ari Tuckman told USA Today that an analogue watch or clock is more tangible as seeing the minute and hour hands move can provide a better sense of time and be more helpful to those who struggle with time blindness.

While it’s easy to check your phone for the time, smart devices are extremely distracting and could worsen your tardiness. It was also previously reported that a quarter of respondents said they are likely to be ‘much later’ than a decade prior because of how easy phones make it to let friends know you’re running late.

Online apps

If you prefer using your phone to track the time, installing time-tracking apps can help you do it more efficiently. Using these platforms, you can set timers, create schedules, and identify your biggest online distractions. They can also provide a better insight into your current time management so that you can build better habits. Additionally, you can enable a focus mode on most phones to temporarily disable distracting apps.

Trick yourself into being on time

If you’re constantly late, try giving yourself fake deadlines. For example, if you often run half an hour behind, aim to get to your scheduled events half an hour earlier than agreed. So, if you’re late for your target time, you’ll likely be on track for the actual deadline. To take this further, set your clock a touch earlier to trick yourself into being ready earlier.

Set alarms and timers

It’s easy for time to run away from you when you’re getting ready or if you’re quickly distracted. Setting alarms to remind you of the time can help keep you on track. These alarms could be for when you need to start getting ready, another for when you should be half-done, then a ten-minute warning alarm for when you need to leave and finally, one for when you need to be out the door.

If you often get absorbed into time-sucking tasks, try setting timers or alarms to remind you when to end your downtime and move on to your obligations.

Our research has revealed that most Brits feel more relaxed about people being late, although they wouldn’t dream of it themselves. Millennials also seem less concerned about lateness, but the Boomer generations and above still have higher standards for tardiness.