What Is Insubordination In The Workplace – How To Stop It

Written By Shahzaib Arshad

Insubordination in the workplace can have different definitions depending upon its severity.

Some insubordinate actions are severe and need a rapid reaction.

Insubordination is an employee intentionally refusing to obey the orders of the employer. It undermines the supervisor’s respect and ability to manage.

What Is Insubordination In The Workplace – Insubordinate Behavior Examples

No matter what insubordination nature happens, one needs to deal with it immediately. Because it’s unusual to unfollow the rules.

Although, any variation from the manager’s orders is insubordination. But there should be a willful component to it.

So it’s challenging to differentiate between common mistakes and insubordinate behaviors.

Here are some employee behaviors that got classified as insubordinate.

1. Physical Or Mental Threatening:

Your workplace should adopt a zero-tolerance policy against harassment or intimidation. Workplaces need to be safer, and securer places for people to work.

If a person harasses his coworkers or manager, he needs to get investigated.

Insubordination Is To Harass Or Threat The Manager
Physical Or Mental Threatening

You should enlist the protocols for dealing with harassment in the employee handbook.

If harassment occurs, you should investigate. Also, determine if any further action is in need and act accordingly.

2. A Severe Clash:

Differences in opinions are an ordinary matter. And it’s common for a subordinate to disagree with the boss.

But if he confronts his boss in front of the rest of the team, that’s probably insubordination.

If an employee questions the manager’s authority in front of the team, their morale goes down.

If there are any concerns, these should get addressed behind closed doors. Slandering others, spreading rumors against coworkers are also confrontational actions.

So you can document this behavior in employees’ files for taking further action.

3. Belittling Behavior:

It isn’t common to use abusive language in the office. However, if foul language is the regular part of the office “shop talk,” it’s not a call for action.

But if foul language is being used in an abusive way, then it’s insubordination.

Using Abuse Or Fowl Language Is Also Insubordination
Belittling Behavior

Take proper action but take the heat of the moment into account. If it was for one time, you should document this behavior.

If it continues to happen, it becomes the grounds for potential insubordination.

Some Subtle Examples Of Insubordination

Insubordination doesn’t always require a swift response. Here are three other subtler examples of insubordination that cause similar problems.

1. Slight Sabotage:

The employee refuses to carry out the assigned task. Instead of loudly objecting, he put efforts that lead the project towards failure.

2. Doing The Opposite:

Your employees might start doing the exact opposite of your instructions.

It is the most apparent type of insubordination. But still, most of the managers fail to notice it.

3. Avoiding Behavior:

In avoiding behavior, the employee says Yes to your instructions at your face. But later on, he adopts the avoiding approach.

And he won’t do anything to complete the task at hand. Yet, it’s different from the situation where the employee doesn’t have the resources to do the job.

It’s a situation where he could have done the job but chooses not to do so.

Ways To Deal With Insubordination In The Workplace – 3 Prevention Tips

Many employees would never want to become insubordinate and toxic in their workplace. But some legitimate clashes of values, ideas, and personalities can occur.

It makes the employee-employer relationship complicated, and it can’t go any further.

And it’s easier to prevent insubordination than to manage its aftermath.

So you can put critical actions in practice to stop insubordination from happening.

1. Set Transparent Boundaries To Prevent Insubordination In The Workplace:

Setting clear boundaries will make your employers know that you have certain limits.

Insubordination In The Workplace Needs To Get Dealt With Defined Boundaries
Set Transparent Boundaries To Prevent Insubordination In The Workplace

It also helps people to know what they need to do.

So it lessens the chances of clashes, and conflict won’t occur frequently.

2. Give An Ear To The Employees:

Insubordination results from a state of disagreement where none knows the right action.

Having an open relationship with your employees will help you a lot. So listen to what they say and develop potential solutions to their problems.

Listen To Employees To Know The Reason Behind Insubordination
Give An Ear To The Employees

It’s an excellent way to prevent insubordination in the workplace.

However, if you think that you are on the right side, then explain its reason. So your employers can understand you.

3. Hold Onto To The Laws And Ethics Tightly:

In the above examples, the employees thought that employers weren’t following safety guidelines.

Insubordination In The Workplace
Hold Onto To The Laws And Ethics Tightly

Employers say there was much more than employees objecting to the safety guidelines.

However, if the employer focused on these guidelines, the employee wouldn’t be rebellious.

4 Steps For Handling Insubordination After It Happens

Being a good manager and following guidelines won’t stop insubordination from occurring. It can happen even if you do your best to prevent it.

Here are few steps you can take to deal with insubordinate employees.

1. What Is Insubordination In The Workplace – Spot The Bad Behavior:

You need to identify the insubordinate behavior at once. Because ignoring insubordination will result in more insubordination.

So don’t let it go, even if it’s mild. If you do so, your instructions will get considered as mere suggestions.

Of course! You don’t need to be a freak who micromanages everything.

Recognize The Insubordinate Behavior And Deal With It
What Is Insubordination In The Workplace – Spot The Bad Behavior

But there’s no need to give instructions for everything. Also, you don’t need to control smaller aspects of your employees’ days.

After you give instructions, see if an employee doesn’t follow, then you should point it out.

2. Warn Them Of Consequences:

The consequences you give out can be varying depending on the circumstances.

For instance, an employer locks the door 3 or 4 minutes later than the usual time. A subtle reminder would be enough for him.

However, if the behavior continues, a warning from the company’s guidelines is the need now.

Show By Punishment That Insubordination Is Not Tolerable
Warn Them Of Consequences

Immediate punishment is a good solution to deal with intense behavior.

For instance, if an employee lies to you and does the exact opposite of your instructions. Then a suspension letter would be the right thing.

3. Take Notes Of Whatever Bad Happens:

Most of the managers don’t feel the need to record small incidents. But they should do this to act with a rebellion.

Also, termination requires a paper trail of the rebellion. If you do proper documentation, it can protect you in court in case of a conflict.

Keep Documentation To Avoid Any Inconvenience
Take Notes Of Whatever Bad Happens

No matter how mild the behavior of an insubordinate is, you should document it.

Statements from witnesses would be helpful. Keep all these documents in proper files and in a protected space.

4. What Is Insubordination In The Workplace – Always Play A Fair Game:

You need to stay fair while dealing with insubordination in the workplace. Usually, managers adopt this approach to prefer some employees over other employees.

Be Fair And Never Involve Favoritism
What Is Insubordination In The Workplace – Always Play A Fair Game

Insubordination needs to get dealt with a single standard across the company.

Before disciplining a less favored employee, you should flip it to test it!

It’s necessary to build employee motivation and keep their morale high. It’s good to be fair!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Get Fired For Insubordination?

Most of the companies have a progressive discipline plan, but dismissal is important. If there's abusive behavior involved in an incident, the employer can end the contract.

How Do You Prove Insubordination?

Proving insubordination requires three things. The supervisor made a request. The employee received and understood the appeal. The employee then refuses to comply with the order through action.

How Do You Discipline An Employee For Insubordination?

Discipline an employee and don't take it personally or don't lose your control. Identify the root cause of the problem. Be honest and provide as much support as you can to the respective employee. Document everything and consult with HR.

Is Yelling At Supervisor Insubordination?

If an employee yells at his manager, he is showing a sign of insubordination. Although an employee yelling at the supervisor is a hard thing to deal with. It shows a lack of respect for leadership.


Insubordination is hard to avoid. However, you can take preventive measures to stop this behavior as much as possible.

If you set up clear boundaries, listen to your employees when they disagree. These are some good steps to deal with insubordination.

But if it’s too late to prevent, there’s a need for adequate action. You need to identify the behavior, issue consequences, document the incidents.

Most important of all, be fair!

Feel free to share your experience in the comment section below.

Last Updated on 3 years by Assma Riaz

Shahzaib Arshad
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