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

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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 cliché—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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