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Insubordinate person that works for you (me)

I have a person that works for me that is continuously causing problems in the company. Talking about everyone (badmouthing) people in the company and constantly whispering how someone else is not doing their job. He is always complaining to me about others etc. and his work is not getting done, but it’s always because of someone else. One bad apple can upset the mood and attitude of the entire team. What to do?


Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

Two options leading to same result:

1. Talk to him/her about their behavior and how it must stop. Point out how their work is not getting done, but everyone else's is completed. Document the conversation and provide it to the employee and have them sign a receipt that they received the notice. Give them a time limit in which they must improve or they will be on a probationary period, etc.

In other words, try to salvage the employee. Positive effects are that other employees see you making the effort. Negative effects is it is felt your being to lenient.

2. Depending on your State, how much you value the employee and any other documentation, is it worth it to have them employed? Effects are reverse of the first option.

(Performance Improvement Consultant and ERP Strategist) |

Prepare some questions for the person to answer, focusing on letting them explain/justify their behavior. Get them to talk first and see what you unearth. Ask follow up questions as to why they adopted the approach they did, and what they think about the impact it may have on co-workers. Interpret the answers and the body language of your employee.

Then consider what to do, including whether to end the meeting and reflecting overnight on what you learned before you decide.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

You potentially have two issues - a problem in your business that this person is talking about; and/or a “Water Cooler” talker. If your issue is solely #2, I agree with Wayne’s approach, i.e. counsel and document; warn and document; terminate and document.

But the best, non-threatening way to gather information to see if you have an issue in your business, is to field a quick employee survey. Ask people about their impressions regarding how the organization values their contribution; who is doing a great job and should be recognized; and what could be done to improve their productivity. You may wish to ask additional questions about the group processes.

If you have a problem in your business, you will see it quickly. If the individual is very disruptive, you will receive the feedback, required for the counsel to warn to terminate process.

Always start by gathering information. Employee matters should never be addressed quickly, as the liability to the organization is much too high, if an error is made.

James Scott
Title: Consulting CFO
Company: Early Growth Financial Services
LinkedIn Profile
(Consulting CFO, Early Growth Financial Services) |

2 warnings and termination if the bad behavior continues. Get rid of bad apples, intriguers, prima donnas and drama kings/queens faster than folks who can't perform.

Thomas Aiken
Title: Managing Partner
Company: Cedarwood Partners LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Managing Partner, Cedarwood Partners LLC) |

Time to move on! Obviously the employee is not happy there anyway and life is too short. Ideally, the employee agrees he/she is not happy there and you can help them move on perhaps with a week or two severance pay in return for a release. Someone like this can significantly impact the rest of the employees and their performance, so don't wait.

Carla Gordon
Title: Accountant
Company: Govt
(Accountant, Govt) |

I would agree with James above. These types usually don't change. I also noticed you're the president of the company. If they are acting this way around you, can you imagine how awful it is for lower level managers or co workers to have this person around?

(Associate) |

I learned that when you play the 20 question game, you can find answers. I would have a discussion regarding the work not being done, and have the employee explain in detail why the other's non-performance is keeping them from completing tasks. Have them give facts, not opinions, and then brainstorm ways to get the job done regardless. It seems to me that if you dig deep enough, you'll help the employee see that they are the real problem and you're not fooled by them.

Dan Ginn
Title: Human Resources Manager
Company: Italfoods, Inc.
LinkedIn Profile
(Human Resources Manager, Italfoods, Inc.) |

In addition to the short term solutions described by many, I would try to build a culture in which employees demonstrate respect for the organization, supervisors, employees, team, and ideas.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

I agree with the counseling approach and that if there any breakdowns in work streams they should be identified and addressed.

Unfortunately, attitude is the most difficult thing to adjust. If this is the underlying issue, I'm with James Scott.

(Controller) |

With this type of personality - I think it is easy to say, let's get rid of them since that seems to solve the one problem. Typically however, individuals who speak up have a reason. Why not take the approach of asking them what they would change to make things better. Why not charge him with setting one new process in place to correct one breakdown in the company that he is seeing. Put his expertise to the test. 1) he will be successful in plugging the process leaks or 2) he will come to the realization that until he is immediately involved with the individuals he finds incompetent, perhaps he is being short sighted and there is more to their lack of work completion then he thinks..
People who speak their mind and speak of improvement often do this because they care about efficiency and improving broken processes. While I agree, there is a difference between gossip and improvement suggestions, I recommending putting this individual to the test and giving them a process to correct. See what they are really made of and if they are genuine or not.

Robert Childers
Title: Executive Assistant
Company: P.A.C.E. Travel
(Executive Assistant, P.A.C.E. Travel) |

I would have to agree with what most of this contributor stated. I have found that there are always underlying issues when you have an employee such as this. If there is any value having the employee in your company, you need to explore the roots of the situation to gain more perspective of the entire work environment. It could be as simple as this employee does not possess the skills to communicate with his/her peers. It could go deeper than that. If you are a small to mid size company, I would have a meeting with every employee in that department/company. Give each employee an opportunity to talk about the work environment. Use these to formulate any new best practices that might make sense. Of course in larger companies, HR would need to assist the situation. In my last company, HR and I had to forge through about 4 months of interviews with employees. The result? A much better work environment but at the hands of two employees being excused from the company.
I also have to agree with the idea of giving this person some ownership in a project. This will give you the opportunity to evaluate them (laying out that expectation in the beginning) and the employee will gain a better understanding of his/her peers and the strengths they possess.
There are times to write up, process, and move them out but I am from the school that everyone can be developed and they deserve that chance. You or a personnel manager saw some promise in this employee when they were hired correct?

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

I generally agree with your post but knowing "how" to speak up is as important as having something to say. If it is in an insubordinate manner, it can't be given a pass.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

The method may be inappropriate, but are there any merits in the comments?

Gregg Kimmer
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Humana
(Director of Finance, Humana) |

Do you have HR at your company? Ask them to please do their job and get involved.

If you do not have a formal HR presence, have a written CAP (Corrective Action Plan) with the person with a 30 day duration.

Make very clear the objectives the person must meet in order for the CAP to go away.

If at the end of 30 days the person has not met those objectives, they are gone.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

A person working for you causes problems and complains about others? Is the person who works for you an executive? If the executive complains about problems in his own department instead of acting to solve the issues,then the executive is an incompetent! I would get rid of him/her. If he complains about another department, his/her own department cannot complete the work because of others out there, then, it could be a problem in your company that has to be addressed.

Lindsay Sarvadi
Title: Controller
Company: Evergreen Systems, Inc.
(Controller, Evergreen Systems, Inc.) |

I had a similar problem (though the insubordination was directed towards me - the manager) and I placed the employee on a Performance Improvement Plan with the help of my HR Department.

This gave the employee the opportunity to address the problems and improve their attitude & performance and enabled me to document the insubordination. I felt it gave me the opportunity to make sure I was doing everything I could as a manager to consider the employee's perspective because it opened a discussion (with a third party present) while it also reiterated that I was the manager and that insubordination would not be tolerated in any way.

I will point out that documentation is key. Someone who is agitated while employed can become a much larger problem when terminated (whether voluntarily or involuntarily). If you don't have an HR Department, I know there are many PIP templates available online.

John P. Hart
Title: Vice Pres - CFO
Company: Nova Pressroom Products, LLC
(Vice Pres - CFO, Nova Pressroom Products, LLC) |

No - no games! This is the type of person who would love to play the "20-question game." The more it becomes about them, the more they like it - positive or negative! I've found that the longer this festers it only makes the situation more miserable for all.

Solution: Small company - fire him now. Walk him to the door tomorrow morning with a separation check. Don't even wait 'till Friday. Bigger company - of course you'll have to get HR involved. But make the plan as separation goal oriented. Do not attempt to fix a personality. Can't be done.

Every time I've fired someone, I've always looked back and realized we should have done it sooner. And the other team members who interacted with this bad apple will be immensely relieved and will thank you for the termination. Morale will improve immediately. Spend time to find or groom the replacement, don't waste it on trying to improve this guy.

Annon/OP: You're the President, make a decision and act now. If you are right in the assessment of this person, your personal stock with the company's employees can only rise.

(CFO) |

Yes! Tough but fair is the way to go.

Some here have spoken of PIPs and CAPs. In my experience, those only create more problems because they drag the process out. (full disclosure here - I've been on both sides of a PIP in my career).

They are usually used as a management "protection document" to get rid of someone that it is felt needs to go. But, the real reason isn't covered by the PIP. They are frequently false and really just an attempt to cover a termination that is being made for other reasons. Or, being made just for the "I'm tired of this employee constantly spreading viscous gossip around and breaking up any semblance of teamwork in the department.) Thus, they are dishonest, legal cover one's behind documents. And, they are so badly handled that, if the employee has any semblance of grounds for a wrongful termination action, their attorneys are going to shred that PIP in a hear beat to prove it. They don't hold nearly the weight that many mangers and HR types seem to think they do.

Dragging out a termination is unfair to the employer, the employee that is being targeted and most importantly, to the other employees. Too often, it is very disruptive and allows the problem employee to spread ill will around the organization. And, since the troubled individual knows they are most likely on the way out, they can often justify theft or other forms of retribution. This is just bad all the way around.

Employment isn't a lifetime guarantee and too many of us think it somehow is. Look how often as employers or employees we question every move as to whether it is allowable under state and federal employment An honest day's pay for an honest day's work is still the fairest principle. If it isn't working out, we should all just move on to other opportunities.

“I'd never join a club that would allow a person like me to become a member.” - Woody Allen

(Agent) |

For people who find sport in tempting the boss with insubordination, sometimes it's just best to let them go rather than waste your time and deal with the stress of wondering where the lies are being spread that hurt your reputation and the company reputation. You can bet if they are mouthing off to the co workers they are doing the same with your clients. Take swift action.

(CEO) |

Well, it seems that every manager has a thorn in their side. This could be a sign of your poor leadership and management skills. Often when troubles arise like this there are definite issues that are yours to own. Do you have an open door policy? do you have grip sessions? do you use team building activities? Have you made recent cuts in salaries and or benefits or reduced hours? or promoted a pet employee? these are all area's that increase the disgruntled employee syndrome that can be resolved through your policy changes.

Another issue is the disgruntled employee. They may have other personal issues they have not shared most typically is financial as in living beyond their means in a salary package they may feel is not properly compensated. Agreeably they chose the job at what you initially offered so in part that is their problem but financial issues effect job performance so rather than let them spiral downward offer them financial assistance this does not have to be a raise but free counseling on the matter.

Finally you may just have a type of an employ that you did not catch their attitude issues during the hiring process. At the next possible chance have a sit down talk and performance review to address those issues, be specific, site proven examples, allow the employ to respond and defend their position if logical address the gripes that apply to you and address your gripes about them fairly and openly. Make a signed agreement for expected changes and give it a time table that is acceptable.

Ultimately it again all comes back to you and your job performance. If you terminate the person you could be looked at as a tyrant or a savoir in keeping the office at peace.

Good luck!

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

Might be. But in my experience, weak managers who do not address the trouble making drama queens and prima donnas, are not respected by other employees and the problem grows, spreads and festers. Good employees will jump ship. Maybe to the competition, while you pussyfoot around with an insubordinate trouble maker.

I've seen this too many times to any long embrace the idea that good management can fix a problem employee. And, insubordination is a sure sing of a problem employee.

All one has to do is work in a strong, union environment to see how bad this can become. Before you know it, the inmates are running the asylum.

ArLyne Diamond
Title: Owner - President
Company: Diamond Associates
LinkedIn Profile
(Owner - President, Diamond Associates) |

I think all the advise above is good .... I would ask you first to do a few things. One evaluate her potential worth against the cost to you of keeping her. sometimes it is really worthwhile to help an employee learn new behaviors. I've worked with some top notch technical people who were so obnoxious that the company was close to firing them. Over time, a fairly short period of time they were able to learn how ineffective their behaviors were at getting them what they wanted in life.

Counselors vary tremendously in competence level. Choose wisely.

I also agree that this person may have something important to say - although they might not be able to articulate it well. Within the counseling sessions, the counselor might be able to help this person learn how to communicate more effectively.

If, on the other hand, this person is more trouble than she is worth, you might be forced to start the process of termination - from counseling to sanctions to suspension to ultimately termination if the required changes do not occur.

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |


Talking to another person who is not part of the organizations management team tasked with making employment decisions about the problems with this employee will open you up to serious legal liabilities. Don't even go there.

Ernie Humphrey CTP
Title: VP, Thought Leadership
Company: Stampli
LinkedIn Profile
(VP, Thought Leadership, Stampli) |

This is a very intriguing and compelling discussion. I have been counseled (and counseled others ) that is not only important what gets done, but also how it gets done (no collateral damage). Neither is happening in the situation described here, Make sure the employee understands this, even though it seems like common sense. Also, as previously stated, ask for the employee's input into how to resolve the issues he has with others in getting done what needs to get done (and remind this person he or she is part of a team). The employee can either be an honest, motivated person who needs help in communicating more effectively with colleagues and problem solving OR a complainer who just makes excuses because they are not getting their work done.

The former offers a great learning/teaching opportunity, but you need to be willing to invest some time to help this person progress in their career. If it is the latter, then moving this person out of your company is the best path. Many highly motivated people fall into the former category ( an honest, motivated person who needs help in communicating more effectively with colleagues and inter-personal problem solving) at some point in their careers, and need a bit of mentoring to grow as a professional. Don't give up too soon on someone who truly cares about their work and possesses skills and potential that may be hard to replace in today's world.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

You are right Ernie but I think mentorship has become a dying art / practice. A lot of managers out there, but not a lot of teachers.


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