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 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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  1. 7 Jayjay 26 May
    I am a teamleader and I have my own department to supervisor but another too in case the supervisor is absent. One of the employee is constantly away from his desk, disturbing my team, cherry picking, etc. I have addressed the problem and his attitude a while back but his TL is back from maternity leave so I stepped out and don't address to him or work with him but I do observe him still and I raised my worry about his attitude which can influence my team ; he is also very provocative as he knows I am watching him. He resigned and part of the reasons was that " I am watching him" ; my line manager told me to sit further but I am feeling like I am being accused of harassment or being punished. I am worried I could lose my job because of this one person.
  2. 6 Pete 22 Mar
    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?
  3. 5 Charles 24 Nov
    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.
  4. 4 Penny 24 Sep
    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. 3 Samir 14 Sep
    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.
  6. 2 ed baxter 03 Sep
    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
  7. 1 Sandy 28 Feb
    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.


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