A Short Guide to Dealing With Insubordinate Employees

Late Employees

The sign of a true leader is patience. Whether your business has 3, 30 or 300 employees, the one thing that keeps it running like a well-oiled machine is employees who follow your directives.

Confused as to what we are talking about?


You face insubordination when you start delegating tasks. The good news is that with the help of an HR coach, you can deal with this easily in a calm and collected manner.

What Is Insubordination?

Insubordination in the workplace has different meanings. For example, a manager reprimanding an employee for coming late and the said employee repeating the same behaviour tomorrow, and an employee arguing with the boss.

The simple, straightforward definition of insubordination is ― defiance of authority. Defiance does not sit well with the culture of many workplaces, as managers sometimes don’t expect employees to adhere to executive directions to the dot. Often, organisers give employees leeway because managers recognise that the key to increasing efficiency is letting them work at their own pace rather than pushing tasks on them.

So, what is insubordination then?

Generally speaking, the following three steps describe how authority is defied, which is unacceptable behaviour in the workplace:

  1. The employer gives a directive or an order
  2. The employee acknowledges the directive, understands it completely, and knows what needs to be done
  3. The employee refuses the order and does not carry out the task

From gossiping to insolence and bullying, all these are problematic behaviours but do not come under insubordination. Here’s an example that will help you understand this:

A meeting has been scheduled in the conference room, and all team leaders are asked to attend. The employees are told by the manager that the boss is planning a new project and wants ideas to see who can handle the extra work. Everyone is given 20 minutes to brainstorm, and the meeting begins. Mark, who has been trying to grab the next promotion, thinks his idea will be chosen for sure. When he pitches his idea, the boss doesn’t like it. Mark tries to explain why the idea will work, but the boss disagrees. Mark starts an argument, and even when the manager says that his idea doesn’t support the project’s bottom line, he keeps talking.

This is what insubordination looks like. If this was not an open meeting, perhaps Mark’s behaviour would have been chalked as enthusiasm. However, defying the higher-ups and questioning their authority and knowledge can lead to low morale.

Insubordination Interventions

A business’s setup is built on two things: Managers issuing orders and employees carrying out instructions and working hard to not get fired. However, sometimes, clashes of personalities, ideas, beliefs, and values make the relationship difficult.

Preventing Insubordination

● Set Clear Boundaries

Let the employees know what their limits are. This will prevent conflicts from rising frequently.

● Listen to What Your Employees Are Saying

Disagreements between employer and employee happen when they are not on the same page. Listen to the concerns your employees have and provide a solution. If you are giving a set of instructions, explain your reasoning behind it.

● Send an Official Emailing Detailing Ethical Standards and Laws

An employee might feel they were not treated properly. If the grounds for their dismissal were not sound, they can sue the company. To prevent any liabilities or cases where employees threaten you and your business, you need to establish laws to protect yourself. It is recommended to consult the best employment law firm New York City who could help you deal with this. They can guide you on what to do and how to prevent issues from getting worse.

Handling Insubordination

Once you have identified the behaviour, come up with a well-thought-out plan so you can give instructions and remind the employee they are stepping out of line; this is something you can learn from an HR coach. Make sure to get their behaviour monitored so that you can justify your actions.

● Issue Consequences

An employee does something that goes against the company policy; you give them a quick reminder not to repeat.

If the behaviour continues, you give them a formal warning.

If the employee still does not listen, a suspension or formal write-up would be appropriate. We all know what comes next: failure to listen must lead to termination!

● Document Behaviour

To save face, an employee might lie or throw a colleague under the bus. To prevent dolling out punishments to the wrong employees, instruct your manager to record everything. This brings us to our last point:

● Be Fair

Being objective can be a little difficult when you are making business decisions. However, when it comes to employees, you need to be fair and firm. Employees shouldn’t feel that they were treated differently due to their position; this can cause anarchy! So, make sure that you state each one of their infractions and then explain what action you are taking.

Just because you are the boss does not mean that you don’t have to justify your actions. An employee will appreciate your direct behaviour more if you give them the “what and whys.”

Read Also: Why You Need to Offer More Benefits to Your Employees Right Now

A Short Guide to Dealing With Insubordinate Employees

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