How to handle insubordination after it happens

No matter how good a manager you are, and how carefully you adhere to guidelines and rules, you will still experience insubordination from time to time. Here’s how to deal with an insubordinate employee.

  1. Identify the behavior immediately. Ignoring insubordination results in more insubordination. Even if it’s mild, letting it go sets an example that your instructions are just suggestions, not rules. This does not mean you need to be a micro-managing control freak. You don’t have to give instructions for everything, and you don’t need to control every aspect of your employees’ days (and you should not try to control their days). When you’ve given explicit instructions, and an employee doesn’t follow it, point it out.
  2. Issue consequences. Naturally, this varies in the circumstances. It may be insubordination when an employee locks the door at 17:05 instead of 17:00, but it’s not terribly important. A quick reminder, “We need to lock up right at 17:00.” If the behavior continues, then issue a formal warning and follow your company’s disciplinary guidelines. If the behavior is egregious, immediate punishment is in order. For example, if an employee lies to a customer and tells them the opposite of what you said, a quick write up or suspension will be necessary.
  3. Document. While managers often don’t record small infractions and wait until they have serious rebellion before taking action, this sets you up for failure. Every termination needs a paperwork trail – and this will protect you in court as well. Document the behavior, ask witnesses for statements, and keep everything in the proper file. Consult your HR manager for guidance in all of this.
  4. Be fair. Managers are human and naturally prefer some employees over other employees. But, when it comes to insubordination, there needs to be a single standard. Before you discipline one of your less favored employees, flip it to test it. Would you consider this insubordination if your favored employee did it? This is essential to keep employee morale high and build employee confidence. A fair manager is a good one.

When dealing with insubordination, keep in mind that this is common around the globe, but that doesn’t make it okay. Make sure you’re not micromanaging or mistreating employees. Setting boundaries, following up promptly, and correcting problems at the moment, can reduce your incidences of egregious lousy behavior.