What’s the real story behind employee excuses?

Employees are quick with an excuse when they’ve missed a deadline, and they might even believe it’s a good excuse. Many times, though, the delay could have been avoided. Here’s what you can do about three of the most common excuses you’ll hear.

Everyone makes excuses. We get behind, life gets in the way, whatever. We all come up with reasons we couldn’t deliver on time for tasks that were assigned to us. But sometimes those delays do cause problems with the small businesses we are trying to successfully run and make profitable. Sometimes those employees have reached a point where they are making far too many excuses and probably not helping your organization any more. At least they aren’t helping it as much as they may be hurting it. When you reach that point, you may need to take some action.

So, let’s look at some excuses that just point to bad business. It could be that they are legitimate excuses….in which case you may need to examine your own methods of task assignment, communication, and overall dissemination of information. What I’m saying is…perhaps you’re the problem, not them. And that happens, too, and needs to also be corrected. Let’s look at a few that could spell problems for your shop and probably need to be addressed quickly in some way.

I didn’t understand the assignment

Ok, if this is a real problem, then it needs to be addressed and it starts with you if you are the assigner. If you’re not properly stating a purpose, possibly a method, and the desired result, then you may not be giving the right “vision” to the employee. Remember, they aren’t you, they don’t have the same stake in the outcome that you do and you need to make them take ownership. I liken this to my kids leaving lights on or not keeping their bathrooms clean. I tell them…manage their area of the house like they own it – like the money to keep it up is coming from their pocket.

But another issue here is that their lack of understanding created a delay. That shouldn’t happen. So the next thing to address is the fact that an issue like this must be brought to your attention right away, not a week later when a deadline has been missed. They need to understand the importance of acting proactively to gain understanding…and that goes back to the whole concept of task ownership.

The deadline wasn’t possible

Again, good excuse, bad timing. It’s ok if someone on your staff can’t meet a deadline. It happens all the time. But you need to know that beforehand – while the task is in progress and there is still time to re-assign, add someone else to the task or take some other type of corrective action in order to lessen the impact on the project or business as a whole. Being told AFTER the deadline that they couldn’t meet the deadline or that it was an unreasonable deadline is unacceptable and that is behavior that has to be retrained. You need to hear that before it is too late, not after the fact.

I wasn’t getting cooperation

So, basically they are pushing the blame off on some other entity that was supposed to help or be some sort of resource for them on completing the task. Perhaps it was a coworker who didn’t understand what was assigned or trying to be accomplished or wasn’t aware of the importance. Or possibly it was a vendor who wasn’t getting back to them fast enough with a contract or a delivery. Either way, again this is a retraining issue where your staff needs to understand that they must raise a flag BEFORE failure, not after. You know the old adage, “Do it and ask for forgiveness later.” Here they just didn’t do it and they are asking for forgiveness later. Unacceptable. You’re there to help, to knock down roadblocks. If they aren’t bringing issues like this to your attention before it’s too late, then you need to take action with them and make them aware of that.

RELATED: The 8 Most Common Myths About Teamwork


Excuses are ok, but when it pertains to business and profitability and possibly affects our own clients, then the issue needs to be raised – whenever possible – before it’s a big missed deadline issue. You need to know about it when you can still possibly do something about it. You must train your staff on that type of responsibility and information flow.

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