Shanghai - 'Late for work' coupons have become a popular prize in the annual lucky draws of many Chinese companies, which allow employees to be late for work for a specified number of days within a certain period, Chinese media reported.

The general manager of a logistics company said he thought up the idea last year and was glad many employers across China had picked it up, to the delight of their staff.

'Late for work' coupons are particularly welcomed by those employees finding it hard to reach office punctually, as they could help cut down punishments or reprimands from bosses.

Architect Yue Xiao, who was awarded a 'late for work' coupon recently, could now expect to receive no penalty should she find herself showing up late for work one day.

Never mind that her permit could be used only once this whole year. The employee of Guangdong Jiangong Design, who is not wont to be late for work, needs it only for an emergency.

'The coupon is a creative invention, and it's a smart way to remind employees not to be late,' said the 27-year-old.

Mr Tan Guoliang, the general manager of Shanghai-based Galax Logistics, said he hit upon the idea early last year as he was trying to come up with something special for his company's annual lucky draw.

He was then reviewing the attendance sheet of his 30 employees, which revealed that monetary fines for coming to work late did not help correct the tendency.

So he asked himself: Why not turn punishment into an incentive?

One of Mr Tan's employees, who gave her surname as Xu, got a number of such coupons in last year's draw, and she said they helped her a lot.

Ms Xu has to spend an hour travelling from an outlying district to central Shanghai every day, and the journey could take longer on rainy days.

'With the 'unpunctual' coupons, I feel much better,' said Ms Xu. 'It provides a great psychological relief to me.'

The coupon could indeed relieve the rushed life young urbanites have to endure, especially in big Chinese cities troubled by heavy traffic.

According to a survey, Beijing residents spend an average of 52 minutes travelling between home and workplace, the longest in any Chinese city.

Guangzhou ranked second with 48 minutes, followed by Shanghai at 47.

But the coupon is not always without restrictions.

Guangdong Jiangong Design allows coupon holders to be only 20 minutes late, according to its human resources manager. And the coupon is not transferrable.

The company gave only three such coupons at a lucky draw on Jan 13.

Meanwhile, the coupon has spawned many alternatives across the country, such as 'leave office early' coupon, 'free ride by boss' coupon and 'extra vacation' coupon, reported the Chinese media.