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Insubordinate Employee: How to Handle

Boss firing bad employee

Dealing with insubordinate employees has been one of the most challenging aspects of my management career. As a manager, it’s crucial to establish clear expectations from the beginning and address any insubordinate behavior immediately. However, termination should always be a last resort. Looking back, I regret some of my terminations, but there were cases where the employee left me no choice. These included theft, physical altercations, intentional damage to equipment, and excessive absenteeism.

On the other hand, I’ve seen HR managers go to ridiculous lengths to keep a bad employee from being terminated. In these cases, employees displayed insubordinate behavior such as a failure to follow instructions, disrespectful behavior, or outright defiance. Therefore, it’s essential to balance addressing the behavior and exploring the root cause before termination.

Establish Clear Expectations

Based on my experiences, establishing clear expectations is critical in dealing with insubordinate behavior. From the start, employees understand what is expected of them by communicating job responsibilities, company policies, and behavior expectations in writing. Regularly reviewing these expectations and providing feedback on how the employee meets them can also help prevent insubordinate behavior.

Address the Behavior Directly

Addressing insubordinate behavior directly and immediately is also crucial. This means having a one-on-one conversation with the employee, being specific about the behavior, and providing examples of how it violates established expectations. In addition, I encourage employees to ask questions and provide their perspectives to ensure a collaborative approach to resolving the issue.

Explore the Root Cause

Exploring the root cause of insubordinate behavior is another crucial step. This could be related to an employee’s personal problem, stress, or dissatisfaction with their job. Finally, working with the employee to find a solution, such as providing additional support or resources, adjusting job responsibilities, or even moving the employee to a different team or department, is essential.

Set Consequences and Follow Through

Setting consequences and following through is also essential. For example, suppose an employee continues to display insubordinate behavior despite efforts to address it. In that case, consequences may need to be escalated. This could include a formal warning, suspension, or termination. Whatever the result, it’s essential to be clear and follow through consistently.


In conclusion, handling insubordination is a difficult task for any manager. Establishing clear expectations, addressing behavior directly, exploring the root cause, and setting consequences can help avoid termination. However, if termination becomes necessary, it’s essential to have a plan in place. Managers can maintain a positive and productive workplace for their team by handling insubordination effectively.

Suggested reading: 7 Warning Signs of a Toxic Employee