Insubordination at Work 2023: Perils and Tips

Insubordination is a term used to describe an employee who intentionally refuses to obey their employer’s lawful and reasonable orders. Insubordination is becoming a growing concern for employers as it can undermine a supervisor’s level of respect and ability to manage.

Employers often take disciplinary actions when insubordination occurs, including termination, which can have severe consequences for the employee.

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The Definition of Insubordination

Insubordination in the workplace is a form of misconduct where an employee intentionally disobeys or shows disrespect towards his or her superior. It is a violation of an employer’s lawful and reasonable orders, which can include not following instructions, refusing to carry out assigned tasks, or using rude or derogatory language when addressing superiors.

Insubordination can undermine the authority of a supervisor and cause friction in the workplace. Examples of insubordinate behavior include refusing to follow safety protocols, ignoring direct orders, and speaking disrespectfully to a supervisor.

Examples of Insubordination

Insubordination in the workplace can come in various forms. The following examples of insubordination illustrate behavior that constitutes insubordination:

  • Refusal to obey commands of a supervisor
  • Consistently leaving work early or coming in late despite agreed-upon working hours and shifts
  • Disrespect shown to higher-ups in the form of vulgar or mocking language
  • Verbalizing annoyance or feeling “put out” when asked to complete tasks or assignments by superiors

Insubordination undermines a supervisor’s respect and management abilities, and thus may lead to disciplinary action or even termination.


What is Considered Insubordination at Work?

Insubordination in the workplace is a serious offense that refers to an employee’s intentional and disrespectful refusal to follow lawful and reasonable orders from their employer or supervisor. Such actions can harm the supervisor’s authority, create a poor work environment, and cause conflict in the workplace.

Examples of insubordination include disobeying direct orders, speaking disrespectfully or using vulgar language towards a supervisor or manager, consistently arriving late or leaving early without permission, or voicing annoyance or frustration with assigned tasks or duties. Any form of insubordination should be addressed promptly and can result in disciplinary action or even termination.

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When to Detect Insubordination

It is important for employers to know when insubordination is occurring in the workplace to address it before it becomes a bigger problem. Insubordination can be detected when an employee intentionally refuses to follow a lawful and reasonable order given by their supervisor.

It can also manifest as disrespectful language or behavior towards a manager or owner of a business.

Employers should also be mindful of certain behaviors exhibited by employees that could be considered insubordination. This can include consistently leaving work early or coming in late, despite agreeing to specific work hours and shifts.

Verbalizing annoyance or frustration when asked to complete tasks or assignments can also be a sign of insubordination.

It is important for employers to address insubordination as soon as possible to maintain a respectful and professional work environment. This can include disciplinary action or termination, depending on the severity of the behavior.

The Perils of Insubordination

Insubordination in the workplace can have serious consequences. It can disrupt the workplace culture, weaken employee morale, and even lead to legal action and termination.

When an employee intentionally refuses to obey an employer’s lawful and reasonable orders, it can undermine their supervisor’s respect and ability to manage. This can lead to a lack of trust in the workplace and weaken the department as a whole.

Employees who are insubordinate may refuse to follow commands from a supervisor or use disrespectful language towards those in higher positions. This kind of behavior can create a toxic work environment for everyone involved, affecting not just the insubordinate employee but also their colleagues.

In cases where insubordination is severe, it may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination. It is essential for both employees and employers to understand the negative impact of insubordination and its consequences to maintain a healthy and productive workplace culture.

Communication is Key

Effective communication is crucial in the workplace, especially when dealing with insubordination. Employees who refuse to follow orders or display disrespectful behavior towards their superiors often do so due to a lack of clear communication.

Employers who set clear expectations and communicate those expectations to their employees tend to experience fewer insubordination issues. Regular communication can prevent misunderstandings and help management address any potential issues before they escalate.

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Moreover, open communication can significantly improve collaboration between people within the same organization. If you work in a managerial role, communicating openly with team members and anyone else involved in your projects can lead to better efficiency.

Encouraging a culture of open communication where employees can express their views and concerns can help prevent insubordination issues as well.

Finally, it’s essential to listen to employee feedback during conversations. Respect your employee’s opinions and include them in decision-making as well.

This will create a culture of mutual respect and lead to a happier and more productive workforce, resulting in fewer instances of insubordination.

Tips for Dealing with Insubordination

Dealing with insubordination in the workplace can be challenging for managers and team leaders. It undermines the respect for authority and leads to a lack of trust among employees.

Here are some tips for effectively handling insubordination:

1. Address the Behavior Immediately

It’s crucial to address the behavior as soon as it arises. Communicate with the employee to try and understand why they are being insubordinate.

Validate their feelings and explain the impact their behavior has on the company and team morale. Make it clear that insubordination is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

2. Document the Behavior

It’s essential to document the insubordinate behavior. Keep a record of the specific behavior, and note any conversations or warnings given to the employee.

This documentation will help support your case if disciplinary action needs to be taken in the future.

3. Follow Up with Employees

After addressing the insubordination and documenting the behavior, it’s crucial to follow up with the employee. Reiterate the consequences of future insubordinate behavior, and make it clear what expectations are moving forward.

Provide constructive feedback and ensure that the employee understands the impact their behavior has on the team and company.

4. Consult with HR and Legal Teams

Consult with your HR and legal teams when dealing with insubordination. They can provide guidance and support in responding to different types of insubordinate behavior, and ensure that any disciplinary action taken complies with company policy and employment law.

5. Foster Open Communication

Open communication between managers and team members can significantly improve collaboration and prevent insubordination. As a manager, communicate openly with your team members and involve them in decision-making processes wherever possible.

This approach can lead to better efficiency, increased engagement, and ultimately, better teamwork.

Remember, insubordinate behavior can negatively impact team morale and undermine authority. It’s essential to handle it effectively to maintain a productive work environment.

Best Practices for Avoiding Insubordination

Insubordination is a serious issue that can wreak havoc on a company’s productivity and morale. As a manager or supervisor, it’s crucial to establish clear expectations and boundaries from the outset, so employees know what’s expected of them.

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Here are some best practices for avoiding insubordination in the workplace.

Set Clear Expectations

Employees are more likely to respect authority when they understand your expectations from the beginning. Provide clear job descriptions and performance goals so employees know what is expected of them.

If an employee’s performance falls short or they refuse to comply with a reasonable request, you can point back to these expectations to explain your actions.

Establish Effective Communication

Many times, insubordination arises from a lack of communication. Provide regular performance feedback and make yourself available for questions or concerns.

Employees who feel heard and respected are less likely to become insubordinate. Establishing a communication channel between management and employees can also help to alleviate frustrations before they turn into insubordination.

Coach and Counsel Employees

Sometimes insubordination is the result of a lack of training or guidance. Managers can provide guidance on how to improve performance or take corrective action when necessary.

Coaching and counseling employees can help them to understand how their behavior affects the team, and can prevent future insubordination.

Lead by Example

Employees learn from their managers, so it’s important to set the standard for behavior in the workplace. If managers are consistent in modeling a respectful and professional demeanor, employees are more likely to follow suit.

Provide Adequate Resources

Employees who feel unprepared or unsupported are more likely to become insubordinate. Providing the necessary resources and training can help to prevent misunderstandings and improve employee performance.

Take Swift Action

When insubordination does occur, it’s important to take swift action to prevent it from escalating. Address the issue with the employee in a calm and professional manner.

Document the occurrence and establish a plan for how to handle similar issues in the future. If necessary, disciplinary action should be taken to show that insubordination will not be tolerated.

Remember, prevention is the best strategy for avoiding insubordination in the workplace. By setting clear expectations, improving communication, and dealing with issues swiftly, managers can keep their teams focused and productive, while avoiding disruptive behavior.


Insubordination in the workplace is a serious issue that can cause a strain on employee relations and overall teamwork. It is important for managers and employers to set clear boundaries and communicate effectively with their employees to prevent insubordination from occurring.

Addressing insubordination quickly and efficiently is also essential, as it can lead to negative consequences such as low morale, distrust, and a weakened department.


Lora Turner

Lora Turner is an Experienced HR professional worked with the large organizations and holding 15 years of experience dealing with employee benefits. She holds expertise in simplifying the leave for the employee benefits. Contact us at: [email protected]