Insubordination @ Work

Many of us lead initiatives, verticals and organizations where we deliver products or services as a team with inputs from a team comprising multiple skill sets. At times, some of us would have faced a situation where a person gets into the act of wilfully disobeying. This is what is technically called Insubordination.

Having defined Insubordination let us be clear that refusing to perform an action that is unethical or illegal is not insubordination; neither is refusing to perform an action that is not within the scope of authority of the person issuing the order or within the scope of work of the person asked to do the job.

Are you a timid business owner or Head of Department or Human Resource person?

Do you have trouble dealing with employee insubordination?

I believe the best way to handle this problem is to react immediately. Waiting makes matters worse. When other employees see a co-worker getting away with insubordinate behaviour, it encourages them to act the same way. For the cultured employees, an act of rudeness or insubordination makes a bad experience that they live with in silence. It does not take much time when this becomes part of organizational culture. What starts as a spark can become a wild-fire if not attended to immediately. But…

…one must confront the insubordinate worker using the policies or procedures in place. This implies that there has to be a Policy on Insubordination. This is different from Policy on Indiscipline. A systematic, unbiased approach is necessary. If one reacts instinctively to the employee in question, it can create chaos and bad will in the workplace. Not only is this uncomfortable, but you lose the opportunity to bring the errant employee back into the fold. Also you risk your reputation with the other workers and possibly within your own eyes. This will affect your ability to manage all employees in the long-term.

Having mentioned so, effectively dealing with insubordination in a professional manner is stressful for most managers. Employee insubordination clearly tells you that your worker does not respect you. This disrespect can occur in many different forms. For example, an employee may talk back to you during inappropriate times. Also, he or she may not listen to your directions or regularly "forget" what you told them to do. Even worse, this worker may ignore your previous attempts at discipline. Worst, he would refuse to do what is expected from him.

So you must deal with the problem employee immediately and professionally. How do you go about doing this? Here are the 4 time-tested steps to be followed in the order mentioned:

1. Have a Policy on Insubordination:
First review your current policies and procedures. If you are a small business owner and do not have such policies, now is the time to create them. Not only is it important to have a set of workplace rules, but every employee should be familiar with them. These rules can take the form of a handbook or just a simple posting or bulletin.

2. Understand the Big Picture:
The Policy of Insubordination should include review-meeting with the problem employee. Why is this important? Sometimes employees have troubles related to their life outside their work environment. Everyone has a story. If you take the time to sit the employee down, and draw them into a conversation that is not accusatory or confrontational, then they may explain what is going on with them outside work. If this is the case, nine times out of ten the employee will return to good behavior.

3. Record Wilful Acts of Misbehaviour / Disobedience:
Often it is difficult to fire an employee over a single incident of insubordination. You may have to meet regularly with this individual, set goals and resolve problems on an ongoing basis. Once the employee realizes you are checking the situation, their behaviour may improve. If not, you are already down the path of ending their employment. 

4. Enforce judiciously:

However if this tactic fails, then you must make full use of your policies and reprimand the employee. Your job, as business manager or owner, is to enforce the workplace rules. Start down the path towards termination.

Be aware that employee insubordination can severely damage your business. Employees that disrespect authority in the workplace can lose potential clients, anger current customers and business partners or endanger their co-workers. At the very least, it can lower overall productivity. Arm yourself with policies and existing rules and tackle the situation head-on. 

By doing this you may bring the errant employee back into the fold. And if the insubordinate worker elects to buck the system, you are better-off without him or her. This way of handling insubordinate workers will help preserve a more orderly workplace making it better for all of your employees.

3 Replies to “Insubordination @ Work”

  1. Under the Governement regulations, rules are in place how the act of insubordination must be handled. If not done as per that, there will be problem for the employer!

  2. I believe bosses needs to understand why an employee is insubordinate. Mostly bosses fails to recognize the same because of their self-ego. An insubordinate employee may actually have the potential to be a top performer in the company, however because of the supervisor or work environment or the work he is performing, he is behaving insubordinately. I believe that rather than been rebuked or showing the path to termination, the employee is needed to be understood and talked with.
    A policy on insuboridnation would seriously hamper the creativity and innovation in a workplace.

  3. HI Amit.. a good piece. My comments would like to point at some basic, inherent, human psychology. We, esp in India, do not want to document and keep things open. This is to avoid responsibility and open to contend and refute at a later point in time. Hence, a lot of processes are just on paper with enough loop holes to come out of it when required. Or, we follow practices without it being in black n white and name it "flexibility". As they say, "dynamic environment" !!

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