Insubordination: What you need to know

Memory Nguwi / Posted On: 5 May 2022 / Updated On: 29 September 2022 / Organisational Development / 298

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Insubordination: What you need to know



What is insubordination?

Insubordination is a form of disobedience committed by employees who deliberately act against the wishes of their supervisor. It can take many forms, from the mild to the severe, but it is almost always a breach of an employee's job responsibilities and duties. In many cases, insubordination results from an employee being overworked, underappreciated, or simply have had enough. However, in other cases, insubordination results from a willful act committed either as a form of protest or as a means of communicating a different message to the person in charge. It can result in disciplinary action, including termination. But insubordination is often a symptom of a deeper problem, such as a conflict with a supervisor or a lack of feedback.



Insubordination is a failure to obey or follow the orders of those who are in a position of power. When you tell someone to do something, you are using the power that you have over them. This power can be used in a variety of ways, including to force someone to do what you want or to get them to stop what they are doing. It ranges from the relatively mild to the extremely serious, depending on the context and the person's relationship to the person giving the order.


Insubordination is a common cause of failure in the military. It comes in many forms: failing to follow orders, disobeying orders, refusing to perform duties, etc. If a soldier doesn't follow orders, they risk being disciplined, resulting in a reduction in rank, a reduction in pay, and even a court-martial. If a commanding officer sees their soldiers regularly failing to follow orders, they may become disheartened and lose motivation.

 

Forms of insubordination

In the workplace, insubordination can take many forms. It can range from the relatively innocent, such as asserting one's right to have a different opinion and expressing that opinion to a supervisor, to the extremely serious, such as refusing to perform work-related duties that have been ordered or going against a direct order from a supervisor. In both cases, the key to establishing insubordination is whether or not the employee was acting in opposition to the wishes of their supervisor. In the first case, an employee may have a legitimate right to express their opinion even if it is contrary to the wishes of their supervisor.

 

The degree to which an employee is insubordinate in the workplace depends on the context. For example, an employee who expresses a different opinion to their supervisor about how to carry out a specific task is likely to be considered insubordinate only if their supervisor does not like the opinion. However, an employee who actively resists an order from their supervisor is almost certainly committing insubordination. In both cases, the key is to determine whether or not the employee was acting in opposition to the wishes of their supervisor.

 

Many examples of insubordination in the workplace can be categorized into three main groups: passive, active, and indirect. Passive insubordination occurs when an employee fails to carry out an order that a supervisor has given. It can also occur when an employee does not carry out an order that has not been given by a supervisor. Active insubordination occurs when an employee takes action in opposition to the wishes of their supervisor.

 

When determining whether or not insubordination has occurred, it is often useful to look at typical examples of insubordination in the workplace. One of the most common examples of insubordination in the workplace is asserting one's right to have a different opinion and expressing that opinion to one's supervisor. In most cases, this is considered harmless banter between a supervisor and an employee. However, if an employee's different opinion is consistently expressed to their supervisor without any attempt at constructive dialogue, it is likely that insubordination has occurred.

 

Another common form of insubordination in the workplace is failing to carry out an order that has been given by a supervisor. In most cases, an employee who fails to carry out an order that has been given by a supervisor is committing insubordination only if the order is reasonably foreseeable and is not explicitly prohibited by law. For example, an employee who is instructed to complete a specific task at a specific time is generally insubordinate if they fail to carry out the order. However, an employee who is told by a supervisor to complete a specific task but who is not aware that the order is reasonably foreseeable and is not explicitly prohibited by law is unlikely to be insubordinate.

 

In many cases, employees who are being insubordinate will make no attempt to disguise the fact that they are doing so. They will actively defy their supervisor's orders and express their disagreement with the orders without having any attempt at deception. In many cases, an employee will simply state that they do not agree with the order without any further explanation. If an employee is being insubordinate in this manner, there is little that an employer can do other than to address the insubordination and attempt to constructively discuss the issue with the employee.

 

Consequences of insubordination

One of the most common consequences of insubordination in the workplace is termination. In most cases, an employee who is being insubordinate will be terminated if their insubordination is sufficiently severe. However, if an employee is insubordinate only in a moderate amount of severity, they will likely only be subject to a reprimand in most cases. An employer may also choose to issue an oral warning instead of termination in some cases.

 

On the other hand, if an employee is being insubordinate in a manner that is not likely to be reasonably foreseeable or is not explicitly prohibited by law, an employer may be able to discipline the employee for their insubordination. An employer may discipline an employee for insubordination by taking one or more of the following actions: warning the employee, issuing a verbal or written reprimand to the employee, docking the employee's pay, and docking the employee's overtime pay, suspending the employee, and firing the employee. It is worth noting that an employer may not discipline an employee for insubordination unless the insubordination was willful.

 

The most significant consequence of insubordination in the workplace is that it is likely to result in an employer taking action against the employee. In most cases, an employer will take action against an employee who is being insubordinate by suspending them without pay or firing them. An employee who is being insubordinate may also face criminal charges, particularly if their insubordination is willful. While being fired or suspended without pay is a serious consequence, it is often not a sufficient deterrent for employees who are unwilling to follow orders.

 

Handling insubordination constructively

There are a number of different ways that an employer can attempt to constructively discuss an employee's insubordination. One of the most common approaches that an employer will take is to provide the employee with a list of specific behaviors that are expected of them in the workplace and to discuss with the employee their failure to adhere to these expectations. In many cases, an employer will also provide the employee with a list of behaviors that are not acceptable in the workplace and to discuss with the employee their failure to adhere to these expectations. This approach has the benefit of providing the employer with the opportunity to constructively discuss the issue with the employee in a non-confrontational manner and to provide the employee with the opportunity to understand the expectations that are



One of the primary goals of any insubordination intervention is to prevent the employee from engaging in further insubordination. In most cases, the most effective way to prevent further insubordination is for the employer to take immediate action against the insubordination. This action will serve as a strong deterrent and demonstrate to the employee that their actions will be closely monitored in the future. In some cases, however, it may be necessary for the employer to constructively discuss the issue with the employee in order to prevent further insubordination.

 

Many managers feel that the most effective way to deal with insubordination in the workplace is to intervene before the insubordination becomes severe. In many cases, a manager can successfully intervene in insubordination by stating that their intentions are to constructively discuss the issue with the employee who is being insubordinate. If the employee who is being insubordinate is willing to listen and is not insubordinate at the moment, the manager can often diffuse the situation without taking any further action. If the employee who is being insubordinate is not willing to listen, the manager can often contain the situation by taking an action, such as issuing a warning or reprimand, which is likely to be sufficient to prevent further insubordination.

 

In many cases, the most effective way for a manager to deal with insubordination in the workplace is to take immediate action against the insubordination. This action will serve as a strong deterrent and demonstrate to the employee that their actions will be closely monitored in the future. In some cases, however, it may be necessary for the manager to constructively discuss the issue with the employee in order to prevent further insubordination. This approach will provide the manager with the opportunity to express their concerns regarding insubordination in a non-confrontational manner and will allow the employee to understand that their actions are being closely monitored in the future.

 

 

Memory Nguwi is an Occupational Psychologist, Data Scientist, Speaker, & Managing Consultant- Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm.Email:[email protected] or visit our websites https://www.thehumancapitalhub.com/ and  www.ipcconsultants.com


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