I'm curious as to what others' perceptions are around what constitutes insubordinate behaviours? 

I'm not talking about blatant insubordination, but rather a more subtle form.  The subordinate in question has disagreed with my decisions and challenged me in public forums; deemed it appropriate to install a fridge and coffee maker in her office without asking and has indicated on numerous occasions that it's better to ask forgiveness than permission.

Reporting and documentation from this individual, who also supervises, is nonexistent, despite many repeated requests.  Repeatedly this individual books vacation time without clearing it in advance or providing sufficient notice - often just a few days prior to taking it.  The most recent event was the booking of a month's vacation during a time when this individual was fully aware that our team would be in the middle of a major project.  I was, however, given notice on this occasion.  Typically we do not allow vacation of that duration.

She is a key resource and critical to the launch of this new product, however, has assured me that she can work remotely should the situation warrant it.

I have recently provided feedback on some of the behaviours - most notably those that occur in our team and public forums and have indicated that this not acceptable.  That was when I was given notification about the planned vacation.  My response was to ask her to reschedule at a slightly different timeframe to ensure she was onsite during the product launch.  The result, after giving a period of several weeks to get back to me, was that no, she had not even checked into it.

While this behaviour is, without question, extremely irritating and in some cases quite unprofessional, do forum readers feel this constitutes insubordination? 

bug_girl's picture

In my case, there was a distinct difference between behaviors that related to the job, and personal quirks/choices that just made the rest of us frustrated. 

Refusing to answer a direct question about what the person had done--that's clearly insubordination. (Which was one of the things that happened to me.)

Putting a fridge in your office...that could be seen as making yourself at home for peak work efficiency.

Sounds like time some analysis of your communication styles--and I will defer to others here who have a better mastery of that.  You clearly have some observable behaviors to work with, but be careful of attributing motivation to them without knowing for sure.

One thing that helped for me is to follow up *in writing* with things you discuss--so, confirming your expectation that your person be on site during the launch.  And that here are the consequences for not being on site.....

This also builds documentation for later, should you need it.



jhack's picture

Are you using feedback in the MT model?   Are you familiar with the MT "basics?"  ( ) These are really the foundation for dealing with situations like this.  "Feedback" can take many forms, some are much more effective than others.  

Rather than focusing on the issue of "insubordination," you should focus on the specific behaviors which are either ineffective or eroding effectiveness in the team.  You can't fix it all at once.  As bug_girl suggests, you should document both what this direct has done (behavior, not attitude) and what you have done to help her be more effective.  

The "Basics" are not a quick solution, but over time, they are incredibly powerful.  

John Hack

sklosky's picture

Yes.  I believe that in each of the cases you mentioned, there were clearly established orders and she knowingly disregarded them.


The real question seems to be -- what are you going to do about it?  Fire her?  That seems a bit harsh.  Not that I haven't seen people let go over smaller things.  Firing her seems to be the "nuclear" option.  I recommend MT basics per previous posts.  Are you doing one on ones?

ken_wills's picture

 Get through this launch, but then figure out ways to get "key" contributions from others in the shop.  This way, you give yourself more options.  And when people realize they're replaceable,  they have a way of falling into line.

nejve351's picture

Thanks to you all for your great advice.  Yes, I've been following MT practices (still practising mind you :), doing O3s and have some fairly detailed documentation.  We do have additional resources, but my team is comprised of people with specialized skill sets, and in times of budget cuts redundancy is a thing of the past.  So this person's skills are not easily duplicated - they're very technical and one of my staff members who has the talent, doesn't have the training (yet).

An update to the story...end of the week, I met with two of the team members, including my troublesome direct, to scope out resources on the project.  The second team member present advised that she too was taking a vacation - and would be gone for just under a month.  As she works 1/2 time and had booked it before she was assigned to the project, it wasn't as big a deal.  BUT, I later learned that not one, and not two, but all THREE project team members have also 'booked' vacation at the same time.  The last (who wasn't at the meeting) is a direct report of my troublesome staffer who had approved it and didn't bother mentioning it at our meeting.  I learned of the last planned absence by independently checking her calendar.

The part-time staff member who was at the meeting offered to work overtime to ensure we could keep the project on track.  D'ya think they're trying to manipulate me?

I think SKLOSKY summed it up succinctly - What AM I going to do about it?  While the nuclear approach is very appealing, it isn't realistic :)

Needless to say, I am extremely frustrated and upset that these seasoned staff members are, in effect, pushing me to have to use a heavy hand.  Particularly when two of them were very well aware, for at least the past six months, that this project was coming.  It's no surprise.  While I've repeatedly asked my troublesome one to consider making a change, she refuses.  I sincerely want to be reasonable and respectful of their vacation plans, but this just isn't a reasonable situation.


rwwh's picture
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I am wondering whether there are real negative consequences of the out-of-line behavior. Many organizations enforce rules "because these are the rules" without ever asking whether they actually make sense any more.

Remember: the other way will often work just fine. The only things that really count are results. As long as the employee produces results, you should work together with your empoyee rather than trying to enforce your role power.

If the only real consequence in the feedback is "that makes me feel mad/envious", think about the umbrella story.

My suggestion? Make appointments (MT goals) about the work output. And for office rules that make sense, state why they were  invented: "As much as I appreciate your craving for coke, you can not have a fridge in your cubicle. The fire brigade will fine the company for every appliance that is not registered with our building maintenance people, and each appliance must satisfy extra strong safety regulations."

Then again: "It is better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission" is a motto I promote in my team. Maybe I am the wrong person to answer your question ;-)



gradschoolmarkter's picture

I always thought that the rule was to get vacation time approved BEFORE booking it--lest you risk being denied the time off. It's a much less drastic option than the nuclear one. And if she made the mistake of approving her direct's vacation during the same time she was out, then it looks like the natural consequence is for her to work (remotely, if necessary).

Miroslav's picture

You can split her behaviour in parts (events) and address each one separately. I strongly support the idea of having each verbal conversation followed by an e-mail summarising what is expected of her and the consequences if she does not follow the suggestions.

For example, the vacation she booked was not following your recommendations or the company practise. I would explain that next time you will be forced to cancel it and you should really do it. If you let her book against the rules several times, the expectation is that she, and to make it worse - everyone else, can get away with it. You should think about the example each precedent sets.

You should not do many things at the same time as this may be viewed as acts of war. She will start being protective, which will increase the tension between both of you. You want to solve the issue, not split the team in supporters of two camps, right?

If you are her direct, talk to HR and see what needs to be done when a booked vacation is an issue and needs to be canceled. Make sure you follow your company rules so the problem does not escalate in something more than just personnel issue.

sklosky's picture

I think RWWH is on the right track.  But I have a slightly different spin.


My thoughts about your options:


1.  Sometimes the other way is just fine.  Let her roll the dice and see how the product rollout goes while she's on leave.  If it goes ok, no harm no foul.  If it fails, have her office packed and waiting in a box on the curb when she returns.


2. Cancel her vacation.


I think the biggest factor to weigh is the impact of product launch failure.


Best of luck.  I wouldn't want to be in your shoes right now.

Miroslav's picture

I agree with Sklosky that your actions should depend on the outcome of the launch. And still - up to a point. The packing is a consequence of her behaviour and you may want to improve it for the future if you see a potential for her to stay.