The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


I learned a lesson from dad when I was young. He considered being punctual a basic act of courtesy.

In dad’s words, “If you make an appointment with someone not only do you expect him to be there at the arranged time but he expects the same of you. By being punctual you show your respect – that you value the time this person is taking in meeting with you.”

If I didn’t believe what I heard from my father I found that his statement echoed with those who employed our temps. One of the greatest compliments a client could pay would be to say, “Sheila is doing very well – and she shows up early for work every day. Thanks for sending her.”

On the other hand, no matter how well an employee performed his or her job – if they were late for work – that was the first thing about which the client would comment. “Would you mind talking with Emily? Her work is great but she’s always ten or fifteen minutes late. It sets a bad example for our other employees.”

So I would take Emily aside and repeat this conversation to her. Most of the time the employee would get the point and correct the problem. But sometimes, even after my little pep talk, I had the feeling that I had been speaking to a wall. That particular Emily just didn’t get it. One young lady said, “I’m only ten or fifteen minutes late every day. That’s not really late. A half hour is late.”

Being the persistent person that I am I refused to throw in the towel. I believe that people learn more easily through analogy and I would try approaching the subject again in a slightly different manner.

Emily, let’s assume that you just got your paycheck and you went to cash it at your bank before you start work. Your bank is supposed to open at 8:30 a.m. – but when you get there the doors are closed. The bank guard doesn’t get around to unlocking the front door until 8:45. How would you feel about that?”

Ninety percent of my employees on hearing this got the message. The remaining ten percent went on to find work at other temp agencies. They had not met the standards I set for myself and my employees – and I didn’t want to hear these complaints from our clients. Late-comers reflected poorly on my firm and all those temps who were doing the right thing.

The reason this came to mind was that I heard a comment the other day that one of my neighbors made. She had gone to a laboratory to have a medical test performed and had scheduled an appointment for 10:00 a.m. She arrived twenty minutes early to make sure she had time to complete the necessary paperwork but was not taken in to begin her test until a few minutes before noon. To me that’s totally unacceptable. (She wasn’t thrilled about it either).

When I first moved here I asked someone to recommend a dentist. A neighbor gave a glowing recommendation for a dentist who was less than a ten minute drive from the house. So far so good. So I called and made an appointment for a regular exam and a cleaning.

As usual, I arrived fifteen minutes early for the appointment. An hour after the time I was scheduled, I was ushered into the dentist’s chair. When my new dentist entered the room, I mentioned that I had waited for an hour after the time my appointment was scheduled. Was this normal for her practice? She said, “Oh, we had an emergency today.”

Okay, I’ll take your statement at face value,” I said. “But I just want to let you know, I arrive at my appointments early out of respect for your time and your schedule – and I do expect the same courtesy in return. Is that fair?”

Six months later I had my second appointment with this dentist. The same thing happened. “We had an emergency.” To this I responded, “You know, this is the second time this happened – out of only two visits. If you had an emergency – why didn’t your receptionist call and let me know that so that instead of sitting in your waiting room for an hour I could have done something productive at home?”

She shrugged that off.

I am nothing short of long-suffering so I booked a third appointment. And the same thing happened for the third time.

When I was finally called for my appointment I made the statement in the waiting room filled with patients, “I’m sorry – I want a dentist who respects my time – and your practice has kept me waiting for an hour on each of my three appointments. You don’t meet my expectations of being treated in either a professional or courteous manner – and that leads me to wonder about the quality of work your office performs. I’ll take my x-rays and find someone else in whom I have more confidence.”

One of the patients in the waiting room applauded.

It took me two years (and three more dentists) before I found one who does respect my time and sees me when we have scheduled my appointments. But I did find one and I plan on sticking with him.

I can only conclude from this that “Scheduling” and “Time Management” must be electives at our dental colleges which are overlooked by many of their students.

I’m quite sure that their curricula do not include courses on punctuality.





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