A few years ago I was working alongside a senior executive who had a passion for punctuality. Any time a discussion around values and workplace behaviour came up, being on time was discussed at length. I felt I always had an understanding of why being punctual was important, but in hindsight it was more of an assumption. I mean, I knew it was “polite” to be on time, but so what if we were a couple of minutes late to meetings. Was it really that big of a deal?

As part of my role with that business, it was a task of mine to relay values and expectations from our senior team to the greater team in a manner that inspired them to buy into the value or expectation. Simply saying “be on time” was about as inspiring and mind-blowing as “wear pants”.

I embraced Google to try to granularly understand why punctuality was important, why it mattered.

Being on time was continually referred to as being respectful and courteous. I understand what these terms mean but I also understand that these terms mean different things to different people – one party may see it as courteous to say hello to a fellow commuter on a bus or train, whilst the other party may think it courteous to keep their space and not bother other passengers. It’s hard to argue against either rationale. So to relay the message to our team that being on time was “courteous and respectful” wasn’t going to resonate the same in each individual.

I started to put a financial value on time to try and comprehend its value (because if there is one thing we certainly understand the value of as human beings, it’s dollars). I ran some hypotheticals in my head: when Christmas is over and my mother tells me she had a great time catching up, do I think she would have settled for a cash payment of $500 instead of seeing her kids and grandkids? That holiday we took through Asia, would it have been better to have saved the few thousand dollars and stayed at home? Spending time with my wife over a meal – should I have stayed at home with a toasted sandwich and kept the $90 in my pocket?

We obsess over money, which there is plenty of, but dramatically undervalue time, which is strictly limited.

Having given myself a nosebleed trying to reach the core of why punctuality is important, I was finally able to digest my senior colleague’s passion for being on time and posed this question to the greater team: would you prefer a 20% pay-rise for the same work, or would you prefer to a 20% reduction in how many hours you have to commit to us, for the same pay? In other words, I was asking them if they would prefer an additional $280 per week in their salary (based on an annual salary of $75k), or if they would prefer an extra day off each week to spend with family, or working on their garage band, or doing whatever they like. A few went for the cash, most went for the time.

Evidently, no one got either (and accordingly, the marketing guy’s popularity took a dive), but the value of time began to become a lot more conscious to our team. The cost of being late to appointments became a lot more tangible.

The point being that wasting money is an unpleasant, frustrating experience, even though we can acquire more of it. Wasting time is also an unpleasant, frustrating experience, made worse by the fact that it cannot be replenished. So when we choose to not be on time to a meeting or an appointment, we are not just affecting ourselves, but we are actively choosing to waste someone else’s time which is both disrespectful and uncourteous, but also downright offensive.