Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Is There An Acceptable Excuse For Bad Work?

Unacceptable  Excuses

* “I know I said I’d remove your ruptured appendix today. But, with the holidays and taking some time off and things like that, I’ve been really, really busy. So, it looks like you’re going to need to give me a couple of weeks extension on that job. OK?” 

* “Herman felt really bad about not fixing your brakes, what with you having the accident and getting the broken neck and pelvis and all of that. Just between you and me, I think he’s having some problems at home right now, so you know how that goes.”

* “Yeah, I know you were overcharged $32.75 on your groceries. But, I think you’re overlooking all the times you’ve been charged the right amount.”

* “I know, I know, Mildred shouldn’t have gotten so busy that she forgot to issue your paycheck again this week. But, she said you really frowned at her when you asked her about it. So, it sounds like no one is blameless in this situation.”

Don’t you get tired of hearing excuses for
late work, bad work and no work? 

You don’t want to hear excuses when it comes to being a customer, client or patient.You sure don’t want to be blamed for problems! What you want is the work you paid for, done in a respectful way. That is what everyone wants, whether they are an internal or external customer. Some ways to ensure it:

*Don’t even consider the option of not doing work well and on time. If you are a manager, never let employees think it will be OK to do substandard work or to miss deadlines. If training is needed, work loads adjusted, time managed better or resources provided, that’s something you should work with employees about. But, the final work product should be done correctly by someone.

*Don’t let there be problems with your work. If you see problems developing, do something to fix them well before the deadline. Learn the knowledge and skills needed to do your job right, on time and in a way that builds good relationships with others.

*If you are responsible for the work of others, have an attitude of expectation that work will be done right.You can do that in a pleasant, professional and friendly way. Isn’t that what we think of leaders doing?

*Question a bit, to find out exactly what prevented work from being done correctly and on time. Don’t accept vague, non-specific excuses without finding out the facts. Then, work with the employee to develop the solution for next time and ensure it is implemented.

*Investigate when you are told that some other person or group caused the delay or the mistakes. Find out for sure what happened. If there were problems caused by others, do something to keep your employees from having to deal with that again–or help them learn to work through it.  However, don’t let them develop the habit of blaming, to get off the hook themselves.

*Don’t lower standards of performance and behavior. Do not, in the name of being understanding, allow poor work or late work to be acceptable, just so long as the employee has a reason or an excuse.  That’s not being unreasonably harsh. It’s what you’d want at the factory that made your car, the pharmacy where you get your prescription, the person who provides care for your children or the restaurant that prepares your food.

Make excellent work and effective communications the norm–not a surprise. Make excuses an unacceptable alternative for yourself and others.

“Oftentimes excusing of a fault
Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse.”
Shakespeare, in King John.

January 19th, 2011 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 11 comments


  1. Thank you, thank you! We have to talk about this regularly, to remind people that everyone has things that can cause them some “heartburn” now and then, but good work is expected from our department all the time. Try telling a victim that we didn’t collect evidence correctly because we were tired!

    Comment by P.A.H. | January 19, 2011

  2. I’ll add an excuse to this list, “We’re short-handed right now.” If you don’t have the people to do the work, don’t tell me you can do it on time. Tell me right up front the time you can get it done and let me decide if it’s OK. But don’t shine me on, then not come through.

    Comment by sailor2 | January 19, 2011

  3. I agree with you 100%. BUT, sometimes we get loaded down with work and the only way to get it done is to stay overtime, which won’t be approved. In other words, my boss (a nice guy) is the hero who volunteers to do things, but me and my guys are the ones who have to deliver. So, my advice would be to know when people have too much to do for the time available. When that happens, don’t agree to do a rush job just to look good.

    Comment by wiseacre | January 19, 2011

  4. Tina says: Thanks to all of you for your comments. I’ve sent a note by email to each of you.

    Wiseacre, I can see why you’d be frustrated and I agree that an effective supervisor or manager should know the workload and what is equitable and possible. Thanks for the thought.

    Sailor2, that was a great addition to the list!

    P.A.H. You gave me a perfect example of an unacceptable excuse!

    Comment by TLR | January 19, 2011

  5. Hi Tina! I enjoy your site. I thought you might like one more example of an excuse/reason for not doing work.This is the one I was given for why someone hadn’t even started on something that was due already (and keep in mind, it’s part of her regular work and she isn’t overloaded with work.) “I’ve had a lot of demands on my time and I had to set some boundaries.”

    The people who sit near her were like, WHAT? She said it like that was that and I should just wait until she got ready to do it. Fortunately I remembered the rules about not committing murder at work. 🙂

    Actually, you would have been proud of the way I handled it. I talked to her about why she felt she had to set boundaries and reminded her of work requirements. I wasn’t too sweet about it but I kept my calm. She did the work then and it was done right in ten minutes. I think she’s read one too many self-help books!!

    Comment by FB Friend | January 20, 2011

  6. “…no one is blameless in this situation.”

    ROTFL! I’ve heard that one in real life!

    Another one that confounds logic is – “We tried that once a few years ago and it didn’t work.” “Really? Why not?” “Don’t know. It just didn’t.”

    Comment by John Mollison | January 20, 2011

  7. I won’t say where I work, because we have some great people here who don’t deserve bad press. But, we have one or two people who should be fired for sheer laziness and unprofessionalism. Almost every week one of those people make serious mistakes that could cost people their lives, but the excuse they give is that they’re so overworked they just couldn’t concentrate.

    The truth is they were laughing and talking or taking a break when they were supposed to be paying attention. No one questions them, they just get sympathy and “poor baby” attitudes from higher-ups.

    In one case the person knew she was supposed to be doing something to help someone and joked about it and someone else did her work to keep us from looking bad. Our supervisor will see those people taking breaks during work hours and never asks why they aren’t at their stations. Or, she will walk by and see the person doing non-work things but only stop and socialize, which keeps the person from working even more!

    We went to our supervisor and her boss and documented every time there was a problem. She said everyone has a different fatigue factor and we are overworked so some people get tired. WE ARE NOT THAT OVERWORKED!

    Why should two or three people do bad work while ten other people do their work right but everyone is treated the same? Why should the people we are supposed to help have to suffer the consequences because of uncaring people who make excuses? Forgive the long comment, but I’m angry about this all the time because I see it day in and day out.

    Comment by Just me | January 21, 2011

  8. No one would make excuses if someone didn’t allow them to get by with it. When it works the first time, it’s easier to do the second time. I don’t blame people for trying to get out of trouble by making an excuse, I blame bosses for not knowing what is going on.

    Comment by J. W. | January 21, 2011

  9. Tina says: Thank you, as always, to those who comment.

    FB Friend: I’m so proud of you! You were able to get something positive accomplished without resorting to violence!

    John: I think some people are just “ag’iners” as we used to call them. “I’m ag’in anything that wasn’t my idea.” Thanks again for mentioning me to your network. I still love your work and your site!

    Just me: Thank you for writing. I’ve sent you an email with some ideas to consider. Tough situation!

    J.W.: Yes, supervisors need to know the truth about the workplace. I’m going to write an article next week about how to stop the excuse making habit and replace it with something better.

    Comment by TLR | January 21, 2011

  10. In most meetings where people are supposed to have done work and report on it,the same people make excuses every time.

    Here is one from a month ago, from someone who seems to be incapable of getting anything done on time….”My part of this is so important I wanted to get a feel for what everyone else was doing before I started.”

    Our director asked him what that meant in the real world and he said it meant he didn’t have the work done but was starting on it right away and would get it done soon.

    I don’t know what was said later but we got the email attachment from him the next day. The trouble is that he’ll just come up with something else the next time he hasn’t done something on time.

    Comment by Meeker | January 21, 2011

  11. I wish the manager and supervisors in our department could read this and take it to heart! They seem more concerned with appearances (that people clock in at 8 and leave at 5, that people act professional, etc) than they are with actual performance. One coworker (who handles payroll) makes mistakes all the time – she uses the wrong account, she pays people over 100%, she even paid one employee twice in one month. She does correct the mistakes when they are brought to her, but she doesn’t even seem to care that she makes these mistakes. If I were her, I would at least try to limit the mistakes, if only for the embarrassment factor. But nope, she doesn’t even bat an eye.

    On top of that, she is very close to her manager. Any mention of this coworker’s performance makes the manager super defensive.

    That coworker is not the only one who (in my opinion) doesn’t perform as well as they could. The manager is no better – she does some stuff well but on other stuff (like actually managing employees), she is just way off the mark. I think she lacks a certain self-awareness at her weaknesses.

    I guess the problem is in attitude. They are just there for the paycheck (even the manager). It’s not that I consider my job a “career” (I am, after all, just a paper-pusher). I could just skate by and do the bare minimum. So what if I make a mistake – it’s not rocket science, I can just fixed it after, right? But I feel that my job performance is a reflection of me – I don’t want people to think I’m stupid or lazy or incompetent.

    Anyway, in answer to the question “Is There An Acceptable Excuse For Bad Work? – it reminds me of what my ballet teacher used to tell us. The audience doesn’t care if your feet hurt, if you rehearsed for hours all day, if you have a cold. They paid $100 each for their tickets in the nose-bleed section and they are there to see you perform, so suck it up!

    Comment by Cassie | January 26, 2011

Leave a comment