5 examples of insubordination in the workplace (with tips)

Learn how to identify and manage insubordination in the workplace with practical examples and effective resolution strategies for maintaining harmony. Discover tips for addressing workplace disputes and fostering a productive environment.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Subordination may give rise to workplace disputes. This concept applies to any employee who intentionally overlooks or undermines his or her superiors and could be dealt with accordingly. Awareness of insubordination and its management is what leaders can use to maintain a friendly and productive work environment.

This article deals with workplace insubordination and provides approaches to settling disputes with colleagues as well as instances of the concept in practice.

What is the definition of the term “workplace insubordination”?

Insubordination is when a person willingly defies an authority figure. Employers, supervisors, and the organization’s owners are a few examples of these people at work. It would not be insubordination unless the employee desires to disobey the said person. The following are common components of insubordination:

  • An authoritative person gives a command either in writing or orally.
  • This is an appropriate and legal directive.
  • Admitting the order, the employee refuses to follow.

These elements help in assessing situations of insubordination. An employee does not disobey by refusing to perform a task from their management that is considered dangerous, immoral, or unethical. They may also deny performing a task that is not among their duties.

Once an employee takes an offer of a job from a company, they often consent to an agreement or expectation. Insubordination could also result from a breach of such regulations. Those who commit insubordination acts may receive warnings or even termination depending on the situation.

Workplace insubordination examples

Here are a few instances of how insubordination in the workplace could be encountered

  1. Unwilling to complete a project

As indicated earlier, the employee demonstrates insubordination by refusing to perform a task given to them by their employer which is in the scope of their work. Cleaning the tables of the coffee shop as part of the end-of-day tasks is one activity that could be included in the duties of a barista. It would be insubordination if an executive orders them to do it and they refuse or ignore the instruction.

However, depending on the situation, workers are still at liberty to refuse assignments. If the barista told the manager of the concerns associated with wiping the tables or gave a reason why they couldn’t do it on that day, they would be able to negotiate. Similarly, the barista is not insubordinate when asked by the management to carry out immoral or unlawful acts.

  1. Non-attendance at work

Terms are typically signed by employees upon commencement of work and may include a work schedule. Such rules state when an employee should come to work, for example, from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. One type of insubordination is when a person does not show up for work during the days or hours assigned to them.

  1. Absentee without notice and prior to planned

Workers also make a commitment to work the hours allotted to them during onboarding. Insubordination is the result of the violation of these regulations. It will amount to insubordination when a subordinate who is supposed to work till 3 p.m. chooses to leave by 1 p.m. without notice to the manager or approval.

If the boss told them they were not allowed to go, this worker would behave in a furious or disobedient way. Again, subordination will be avoided when the employees ask for permission or if the reason they provide for leaving is acceptable to the people above them.

  1. Disobeying the authorities

Insubordination is a major characteristic of workers who openly scorn their superiors in the place of work. An employee might cause arguments with their supervisors by shouting at them or using offensive language, for example. In the public, they can also openly denounce or argue against their activities or instructions, thus questioning the manager’s credibility.

Subtle manifestations of contempt, such as a rolling of the eyes by an employee when a superior gives instructions or announces something, are looked upon as insubordination in some workplace environments. In order to keep the employees within the set and acceptable actions, organizations develop a definition of insubordination.

  1. Subverting/Undermining organizational or team efforts

Sabotaging is a word that describes any time when someone does something to ruin or destroy anything. This would include problems, for example, with stopping the development of a certain project, consortium, or one group of employees at work. An employee may avoid completing his obligations related to a project, which can be sabotage or insubordination.

If one worker, for example, refuses to hand over the report by the due date, the team’s ability to deliver the final product to the client may be affected. This failure will spoil the bonding and image with the customer.

Similarly, they also execute tasks that their boss has specifically told them not to as it is detrimental to the team or project. Sabotage destroys the performance of the organization and can put into a bad light the management of the workers and possibly the whole organization.

Tips about handling work disputes

The approaches mentioned below will assist you in managing and resolving conflicts at the workplace.

  • Find inappropriate behaviors: Identification and treatment of major insubordinate behaviors in the workplace when they are noticed is crucial. In doing this you are defining what the expected behavior of colleagues or employees is.
  • Record events: Other than dealing with every single case of insolence or contradiction, you can also write down slight occurrences as they occur. Take some notes on the specifics of the events e.g. what took place, who took part, where, and at what point in time. In addition, other evidence could be statements of colleagues or any other employee who was there when the instances happened.
  • Remain composed: A relaxed atmosphere during the conflict settlement discussion may help everybody feel more comfortable. Listen to all sides of the disagreement first before responding or talking as this tends to defuse tension and put people at ease.
  • Remain impartial: Fairness is an important element in the dispute resolution process and requires assessing both sides but without laying blame. Mutual respect between people and dialogs is easier when all are heard.
  • Find areas where compromises can be made: Most often a peaceful resolution of disputes is based on concession from both sides to achieve fair outcomes. One way of knowing how things are likely to align is to inquire from every person what they would wish the outcome of such an engagement to look like. If not, you can begin suggesting ideas in which both sides can make a concession so as to arrive at the right solution.
  • Create an action plan: After the resolution of the conflict, you will develop a plan to help the parties in question maintain the right direction and proper relations.
  • When necessary, engage third parties: In some situations, you may find it advantageous to bring in someone else, such as a representative from the human resource department of your company. For example, they can act in the capacity of objective interveners and convene all of you in the conflict table in which you are involved with one of your colleagues.

Frequently Asked Questions

Insubordination: What are the consequences?

The seriousness of the offense, company policy, and relevant employment laws all affect the specific consequences of insubordination. A number of possible punishments are written or verbal warnings, demotion, suspension, reduction of privileges, termination of employment, or, in more extreme cases, legal proceedings.

Can a subordinate report an upper management for insubordination?

In particular conditions, a superior or a manager may be the object of an insubordination charge by a subordinate. In these situations, log the claim with evidential material following the company-approved grievance or complaint process.

Does insubordination become admissible under some circumstances?

It is critical to remember that disobedience is rarely a good allegation, although there are instances when employees might think that they can refuse or resist an order because of ethical considerations. Usually, it is more appropriate for an employee to discuss any concerns they may have about the instructions they have received with their supervisor, or to follow the proper escalation process, including human resources.

Have a quick question? We answered nearly 2000 FAQs.

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