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How to Handle an Insubordinate Employee Who Apologizes

by Lisa McQuerrey

Insubordinate employees can negatively affect the workplace. This negativity can spread to other colleagues as well as to management, and, left unaddressed, runs the risk of driving away good staffers. While management intervention can reduce the negative impact of insubordinate employees, contrite and apologetic staffers can sometimes help repair the damage they've done, provided their poor behavior is not repeated.

Identify Insubordination

Insubordinate employees must be called out on their behavior as soon as it surfaces. Signs of insubordination include failure to follow management directives, jeopardizing team projects through non-participation, holding up projects or refusing to contribute at appropriate levels, or otherwise failing to follow prescribed job parameters. An employee who exhibits these behaviors must be counseled by a manager.

Address Insubordination

Hold a private conversation with an insubordinate employee and calmly outline the unacceptable behaviors. Reference corporate policy that dictates acceptable performance levels and give the staffer a chance to respond. If the employee apologizes for her behavior and gives you an assurance that a similar pattern will not emerge in the future, take the employee at her word. Request that she issue apologies to colleagues and other staffers who were affected by her attitude or her actions.

Document Behaviors

Even if an employee apologizes, the incident and your conversation regarding the problem should still be documented. Write a brief summary of the incident, outline your conversation, explain the disciplinary action taken if a similar incident arises in the future, and ask the employee to review your notes and sign off on the document. Put the paperwork in the employee’s file and reference it if a similar issue arises in the future.

Track Ongoing Behavior Patterns

Even if an insubordinate employee is apologetic to you and colleagues, that doesn't erase past behavior or create a pass for future unprofessionalism. If insubordination arises again, repeat the counseling steps and revisit disciplinary terms outlined in your original conversation. Even if an employee continues to issue apologies, or claims the behavior will not resurface, you should still follow through and take whatever disciplinary action is appropriate. Some insubordinate employees will attempt to manipulate you through the guise of remorse.

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