Do’s and don’ts for managing the insubordinate employee

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR

Insubordinate employees are a poison in the workplace.

That was bold, and I’m sorry, but it’s true.

Employees with putrid attitudes who won’t and don’t follow instructions are a real drag on workplace productivity, because even if they’re kind of, sort of doing their jobs, the effort required to manage them relative to their output is a sorry bargain.

Naturally I wouldn’t offer an opinion without having personal experience. And from personal experience, I can tell you that when you address that insubordinate employee once and for all, you’ll like coming to work a lot better again.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for when you’re ready to take the plunge.

Do’s and Don’ts for Managing the Insubordinate Employee

  • Don’t take it personally. The employee’s bad behavior is about him, not you. Taking it personally will just make you angry and more frustrated, which will aggravate the situation.
  • Don’t lose your cool. No matter what the employee does or doesn’t do, don’t lose your temper. Assume that she will use any missteps you make to advance her cause.
  • Do try and discover the root of the problem. Getting to the root may not resolve the problem, but it may help you evaluate whether a problem can be resolved. In my case, one of the drivers behind my employee’s insubordinate behavior was her resentment of the work quality standards I’d set and was determined to enforce. When I realized this, I knew that she and I were truly at an impasse.
  • Do provide as much support as possible. Yes, you read that correctly. Before initiating anything as drastic as termination, consider what other support you could provide that might turns things around, such as counseling or coaching.
  • Do be honest. If the employee is successfully on track to fire himself, tell him, in no uncertain terms. Perhaps a sincere heart-to-heart will provoke an attitude adjustment.
  • Don’t stop doing your job. Insubordinate employees can be so unpleasant to be around, it’s tempting to just leave them alone so they can do whatever they like as long as they do it away from you. But you’re the manager, and your job is to manage—not scamper in fear. Face that nasty employee head on (professionally and courteously of course), and don’t allow her to prevent you from doing your best.
  • Do remember to document everything. You’ve heard the cliche—if it isn’t in writing it didn’t happen. If you aren’t already, get into the habit of documenting each and every disciplinary action you’ve taken with this employee, including verbal actions.
  • Do consult with HR. Your HR professional can be a real help during this time, even if it’s just to provide you a safe place to vent.
  • Do know that this too shall pass. Once you decide to address this employee’s behavior, you’ll begin a process that will either result in sustained improvement or termination. Either way, your problem will be solved.

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Add yours
  1. 1

    I have several employees who are insubordinate. They raise their voices to me, blurt out their dissatisfaction to a rule, etc. One particular employee is the shop steward and the ring leader who recently told a customer, I can’t talk to you that long my supervisor said it impedes your work! !!. I am younger than most of my employees and think that might be part of the problem. Any suggestions on how to get these employees to respect me?.
    Sandy R.

  2. 2
    ed baxter

    Solicit advice from these employees from time to time…i know it’s more ego stroking however elders always desire to be sought out for their wisdom…this will turn the tables as what they suggest they must also adhere too

  3. 3

    Hey Sandy, make an example of the ring leader–put them on a week suspension without pay the second they do this to you again. The crew will become frazzled in their search for a new leader and you can divide and conquer them. If when the ringleader returns, he starts up again, just remind him that these suspensions can keep going and become permanent. Never take abuse from an employee that you’d not take from another human walking on the street. And it goes 2-ways too–don’t dish it out either.

  4. 4

    Hi Sandy I know how you feel. I have an employee who has been institutionalised AND happens to be the ring leader. This one was supportive until they felt I had criticised their work. Now this person has turned on me and I’m throne being bullied and harassed by employees and I have to put up with it otherwise I am perceived to be ineffective as a boss. Furthermore taking any of these employees in or to task sees them immediately disrupt a work performance process because they go straight to their union and seek stess leave workers compensation.

  5. 5

    I have an employee we shall call Mike. Usually, Mike is a good and obedient employee, but he is taller than me and has well-developed muscles, so he feels that he can choose whether or not to follow orders.

  6. 6

    I am a supervisor in another department and have a employee in a different department lead by someone else. He has a superiority complex he is very rude and never talks to other employees with respect, more of a demanding tone then a teamwork tone. I am a very direct person and am not afraid to take this challenge head on but I feel if would be a losing effort. His supervisor believes in protecting his employee so there is no help there. The paper trail will not work as I have been told by my boss it’s not my responsibility to write him up. So how does a leader deal with this?

  7. 7

    Insubordination should not be tolrated. This has to addressed well at first instance otherwise this will spoil entire team culture. As this will give boost to other nasty team member to follow. Action has to be taken very strongly always at first instance only so that this should not be repeated. Don’t have fear of short term loss because of termination of empl. or somthing else. as a leader you need to set the example and such thing should not be avoided at any cost.

  8. 8

    I have an older employee who I will call “Joe” is still in his 90 evaluation period. His supervisor is a much younger person who we will call “Bill”. Joe is a bit defiant and not willing to follow instruction from Bill. In turn, Bill gets frustrated with Joe and it makes the situation worse. My project supervisor has talked with both. For Joe: he needs to listen to the instructions from Joe as he is the supervisor. For Bill: He has to speak to him in more respectful tone as he sets the example. I have also spoken to Bill regarding how to handle this person.
    The problem: Each time Joe is addressed by the supervisor and he doesn’t like what he says, he threatens to take them to court because he is being discriminated due to his race. Although this is absolutely not the case. We have a diverse ethnic group of employees and in no way is our company discriminatory toward any race. But with that said, my employers (not having much experience dealing with this type of issue), don’t want to rock the boat and have to deal with legal issues from Joe. Bill has documented all of the instances where he had problems with Joe and I have documented our conversations as well. I am confident that we are in our legal rights to terminate his position. What are your thoughts?

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