Understanding and Managing Insubordination in the Workplace

Insubordination is different from normal anger and regular conflict. Learn how to identify it and tips for dealing with it in the workplace.

Insubordination is different from normal anger and regular conflict. Learn how to identify it and tips for dealing with it in the workplace.

By Tim Dimoff

As a small business you often have to deal with employee issues. There is always the potential for conflict in the workplace, but employers who understand that employees have distinct personalities as well as unique working and communication skills are better equipped to deal with them. Knowing how to manage any conflict and understanding when conflict actually turns into insubordination is crucial to maintaining a productive and peaceful workplace.

Knowing how to handle an insubordinate employee and the situations that may arise is an important management skill. Most insubordination stems from anger. And if the anger is not dealt with in a timely and proper manner, it can grow and spread throughout your workplace. This means your workplace can become toxic and eventually may impact your bottom line. Morale will be affected, and it may open up the for potential legal issues.

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First, let’s define insubordination. While there is always anger or disagreements in any workplace setting, insubordination is different from normal anger or regular conflict in the workplace in that it can manifest into disobedience or disrespect. Usually, the employee is disobeying reasonable requests and rules and this can result in disciplinary action. You should have the definition and punishments clearly stated in your organization’s employee handbook.  There are many types of insubordination including:

  • Refusing to obey a direct order or assignment.
  • Deliberately doing something other than what was assigned.
  • Deliberately causing workplace disruptions.
  • Undermining a team assignment or a team leader.
  • Intentionally disrespecting or disobeying management or authority.

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There are suitable ways to deal with and to prevent employee insubordination including:

  • Don’t take it personally. Take a breath. It most likely has nothing to do with you personally.
  • Get to know your employees. Take time to know and understand their personalities.
  • Provide honest feedback. Let them know how they are doing and discuss any areas where they can improve their performance.
  • Be a good communicator and an inclusive leader. Keep them informed and encouraged.
  • Know their goals. Offer development programs and opportunities when available.
  • Trust Your Employees.  Employees sense when they are not trusted and this can turn into anger. Work on your relationships with them.
  • Document all instances of any insubordinate behavior.
  • Deal with any insubordinate issues in a timely manner.
  • Maintain and respect their privacy.

Being proactive versus reactive when it comes to your employees, having the right training and resources, and investing in your company morale will help your employees thrive and your business grow.

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at


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