How To Deal With Insubordination Employee?

No employer wants to deal with an insubordinate employee.

But sometimes, you can’t avoid it and need to figure out how to handle this unpleasant situation.

Insubordination in the workplace is something that happens from time to time. There are some steps you can follow and resolve this situation efficiently.

How To Define Insubordination?

Insubordination at work is the deliberate refusal of an employee to comply with a valid and reasonable direction from an employer. The degree of respect for the employer and their management skills would be compromised by such a refusal, which frequently causes disciplinary action, including termination.

office workers

That type of employee behavior includes refusing to listen and doing tasks that are required for their position. He/she hurts productivity, ruins morale for an entire team, and slows down the flow of a business. It is a willful act of ignoring and refusing to follow the rules.

What Is Not Insubordination?

Of course, there is one big difference between insubordination and pushback. If an employee ignores instruction and does something else, that’s insubordination.

But if the employee contacts the manager and explains why they are not going to do this, why the manager’s instructions aren’t good, and if they try to suggest another solution, that is pushback.

Let’s see more situations when it isn’t about the protest. There is always a place for misunderstandings, so check out these two situations.

  1. If the employee didn’t understand orders and instructions well, and as result, he/she didn’t complete the task, that isn’t insubordination.
  2. If employees dispute the ethics or legality of a specific order issued by the employer.

Examples Of Insubordination

Recognizing the signs of employee insubordination will help you to act quickly and solve the problem before it becomes worse. That includes:

  • intimidation and harassment,
  • abusive language,
  • confrontation actions
  • and subtle insubordination (sabotage, failure to perform).

How To Handle Insubordination In The Workplace?

The key to this situation is – communication. But from the perspective of the manager, communication is sometimes difficult when it comes to insubordination. It is critical to deal with an insubordinate employee in the right way so there is a step-to-step guide on how to handle this situation.

  1. Determine the situation – Is it really about insubordination?  First, take time and look closer at the problem. Also, answer on these questions – Does the order put an employee in danger, is the order in violation of a law, and can some circumstances cause the employee punishment?
  2. conflict solving

  3. Check communication channels – Has the employee been trying to reach their manager and explain the situation? If he/she hasn’t, go to step 3.
  4. Look for the root cause – Employees usually aren’t insubordinate just because they have a bad day. Almost always, there is a root cause.
  5. Maintain Documentation  – Both manager and employee need to maintain documentation with instructions and orders. If the situation escalates, having the right documentation will be critical.
  6. COMMUNICATE – After these steps above, this is the most important part. Don’t assume or accuse your employee of insubordination before you are 100% sure. Sometimes, the insubordinate employee doesn’t even know if it is insubordinate. Before taking any dramatic actions, you should try to address the issue through conversation. Explain to the employee that his behavior and actions aren’t acceptable, discuss the root cause and offer the solution in a satisfactory way for both sides. Plus, keep communication in private as much as possible.


Along with all of these steps, the following tips may also help:

  • Set clear boundaries – Your employee should know where the boundaries are and respect them. Set them at the beginning of his employment.
  • Ensure compliance with company policy – It is important to act within the bounds of company policy.
  • Talk to the HR department – They are in charge of this kind of situation, to manage human resource issues (that including conflict).
  • Be fair – Managers are human and can make a mistake, make sure you’re not micromanaging or mistreating employees.
  • Be honest – Tell your employee if he/she is on track to fire himself.

angry employee

Is Termination Result For Insubordination?

Termination should be the last thing you want to do. But, it isn’t always a bad solution. Some employees aren’t cut out for certain kinds of workplaces. Termination is a better solution than allowing a single employee to ruin your business and team.

Don’ts For Handling The Insubordination

Some things are already mentioned in the section above, but let’s check them all here.

  • Don’t take it personally – Often, insubordination feels personal, but mostly, it isn’t. It’s about tasks that should be done. So, treat the situation as a non-personal issue. If you take this situation personally, it will make you more angry and frustrated. That will aggravate the situation.
  • Don’t assume – So, before jumping to a conclusion, take the time to find out the truth.
  • Don’t lose your temper – Try to stay calm, no matter what employees do or say.
  • Don’t ignore the root of the problem – If you find the root cause of insubordination, you might understand your employee’s behavior much better.
  • tired man

  • Don’t stop doing your job – Dealing with insubordinate employees can be demanding, but don’t forget, your job is to manage people, and this one shouldn’t ruin your business.
  • Don’t forget to document everything – Get into the habit of documenting everything. That includes both your and employees’ actions.

How To Prevent Insubordination?

Prevention is always better than cure. And that’s true. There are some things you can do to prevent this kind of behavior.


  • Connect more with your employees, they will appreciate you more if you talk with them.
  • Be more honest about everything – timelines, feedback, etc.
  • Listen to them. good communication will keep you informed about what happens.
  • Help them progress and support them. Last but not least – trust your employees.

There is one thing common to both frustrated workers and employers – distrust. People should feel respected and they won’t feel like this if they notice a suspicious tone in your voice and/or behavior.

Final Verdict

Dealing with an insubordinate employee isn’t a pleasant thing to do. But before any drastic actions, communicate with him/her and try to find out the root cause of the problem. Try to solve the issue in a satisfactory way for both sides.

Joana graduated in 2014. and has a master's degree in linguistics. The education makes her an expert in business communication while her 5-year work experience gives her expertise in business researches and writing. She has been working on several services as an editor and writer studying business cases and publishing results she has come to. She has established many collaborations with experts in human resources and management so she uses the knowledge of experts for writing the articles.