Explore the Causes Behind Insubordination

Most managers agree that employee insubordination should never be tolerated, but a smart leader doesn’t react without first looking at the reasons behind the negative behavior. Here are three major causes of insubordination:

  • Stress. Whether it’s job related or personal, an overload of stress can cause even the most level-headed person to snap. If you suspect that stress is the cause of insubordinate behavior, talk to the employee to find out what’s going on and what you can do about it. The person probably knows what he or she is doing and will appreciate any assistance you can offer.
  • Rebellion. Employees who feel they’re being treated unfairly may respond with insubordinate tactics—talking back, refusing reasonable directions from supervisors, or slowing their efforts. Usually these employees have chosen not to go through the proper channels for addressing the problem. The relationship may be worth saving. Find out how they see the situation, decide how accurate their perceptions are, and then remind them of the appropriate course of action.
  • Power. If you’ve eliminated stress and rebellion from the possibilities, chances are the root cause is a desire for power. The employee may be testing your limits, seeing how much he or she can get away with. If the person doesn’t respond to discipline, you’re probably best off terminating him or her (after talking with an attorney or your HR officer).

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