Was that insubordination, or wasn’t it?
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Was that insubordination, or wasn’t it?

Can you tell when an employee is being insubordinate? Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s less so.

What’s insubordination and what’s not may differ depending on local customs, company policy, and circumstances. But it’s useful to think about common denominators.

Here are some actions that may qualify as insubordination:

Disobeying reasonable instructions.

      The emphasis is on “reasonable.” Ordering an employee to inventory 1,500 items half an hour before quitting time may not qualify.

Disputing with a supervisor. A calm, reasoned argument by an employee probably wouldn’t reach the level of a dispute. But a raised voice along with vehement or rude gestures might.

End-running a supervisor. Bypassing a supervisor’s authority would include e-mails or phone calls to the supervisor’s boss, where the supervisor isn’t copied in or otherwise notified.

Ridiculing the employer. Wry workplace humor isn’t insubordinate, but sarcastic comparing of the company to Nazi Germany and the supervisor to Hitler might be.

Refusing to work required hours. A schedule may be negotiable up to a point, but employees aren’t within their rights to decline to show up.

This list isn’t a comprehensive one. But it’s a good starting point, especially for newly promoted or newly hired managers.

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