How to Deal with Employees Who Don’t Follow Instructions

How to Deal with an Insubordinate Employee and Employees who Don't Follow Instructions

When employees don’t follow instructions, it becomes an act of insubordination.  But it is also something anyone managing people should be able to deal with because failure to follow instructions at work can create a dysfunctional workplace.  So, every manager must know how to deal with employees who don’t follow instructions.

Employees who don’t follow instructions need to face disciplinary action, and the consequences of ignoring a legitimate request should be made known to them. But if they genuinely misunderstood or had a bad day and forgot what you asked them to do, they should not be reprimanded unless they do it frequently.

Employees who don’t follow instructions

If any of your employees refuses to follow your instructions, that is being insubordinate. Insubordination is the act of refusing to do assigned work or to obey a leader.

An employee can refuse to do a job quietly or openly challenging the manager’s instructions, or showing negative body language.  Insubordination is a harmful behavior that can get worse if not stopped.

Creating sacred personalities in the workplace

There are different personalities at work for a manager to manage every day.  Some are very good, and others are not.  Employees who are very good at their jobs tend to be confident and often want to control their activities.

Good managers always try to mitigate unwanted micromanagement practices. So, they grant their employees the autonomy to manage themselves and grow, but sometimes that results in unintended consequences. 

Unfortunately, when certain people realize the importance of their value to the team, they start overstepping the boundaries.      

If you are a manager and want to give your employees the autonomy to do their work, that is great. What you cannot do is to build overconfident employees and make them feel very important. 

Even when an employee is useful to the team, you cannot let them overstep the boundaries. Letting a toxic environment or situation develop because the person is too important is a recipe for creating more problems.

That person will undermine you and even force other employees to adopt the same behaviors. So, deal with problematic employees before their inappropriate behaviors affect your team and yourself.

You can learn a lot more about ways of dealing with employee issues from this interesting book called “Solve Employee Problems Before They Start.”  Check it out on  Amazon by clicking here.

Bad management creates insubordinate employees

There are other reasons why an employee is disrespecting a manager.  Behaviors such as insubordination tend to grow out of dysfunctional management. 

In the workplaces where management is weak, employees can look at their manager and say he is not fit to lead us.  This is not the type of leader we expect, and so they start to disrespect you.  

Many insubordinate employees think they have the potential to do better than a manager. But the reality is they are just egomaniacs who believe they are better than their manager.  If this is happening to you now, how are you dealing with it? 

If you are not good enough at dealing with insubordination issues within your team, the sooner you learn, the better. It is because insubordinate employees can inflict serious harm to your authority and weaken you. 

You may avoid dealing with insubordinate employees because you do not want to provoke a more negative attitude.  That is unacceptable. Allowing open insubordination is like being afraid of setting and enforcing consequences. 

As a people manager, it’s your responsibility to set boundaries and deal with people who overstep them.  You cannot delegate that responsibility!  

Never abandon your role as a manager because you are afraid of confrontation or trying to avoid hurting the feelings of someone who is disrespectful. That is part of your job, and sometimes it is not possible to keep every employee happy all the time.

If any of your employees is not doing their work as expected, do not think it is on them to fix that problem. It can be easy to assume that they will change their insubordinate behavior without facing any reprimand.

But if you do not address it head-on, they will continue to ignore your instructions, and their inappropriate behaviors will become the norm. So, do not be afraid to take action if you know there is a problem.

Ignoring individuals who refuse to follow instructions is to set standards for other people in the team to follow.  Other employees will not do what you want them to do. You cannot let that situation develop.

Unreasonable request at work

Sometimes employees strongly feel that your instructions are unjustified or even not applicable to their roles. It can be understandably frustrating for any employee who has to follow an instruction that seems wrong and is outside their capabilities.

It is also not wrong for workers to show their dissatisfaction with what seems unreasonable to them if they do it professionally.  But employees cannot refuse to follow a legitimate instruction or direct order just because they feel it is unwarranted. 

Read also: How to Demonstrate Positive Attitude at Work

How to deal with employees who don’t follow instructions

There are several ways of how to deal with employees who don’t follow instructions. Identify first the cause of it because several factors can lead to your employee not following your instructions. The problem could be miscommunication or misunderstanding. 

Always you must explain the instruction clearly and give examples until your employees understand – ensuring no room for confusion or misunderstanding.

If necessary, you should also explain what you want to accomplish and why. Ask if anyone has any questions or concerns about the task before proceeding.

If an employee has been given clear instructions but does not follow them due to a lack of understanding, you can fix the problem with just additional training.

Once you have determined why your employees are not following instructions, the cause must be dealt with as soon as possible.

Make your employees understand that it is for their benefit not to refuse to follow your instructions.  Don’t let them get away with this for too long because their insubordinate behavior will only lead others to question your ability to be a manager.

The first thing you do is talking to them directly in response to specific incidences of insubordination. 

Do not try to be nice to insubordinate employees and hope they will change their attitudes towards you.  Do not waste your time because that does not work.  

It’s great to be nice to your employees but not the ones who don’t follow instructions.  Even if you are nice it should not weaken your authority and stop you from dealing with insubordinate employees.  

Your duty includes getting everyone to do their work and correcting them when they are failing.  

You are not a manager to cajole employees who do not listen or follow your instructions.  If you see any sign of insubordination from your employees, be very firm and deal with it without wavering. 

Have a conversation with the insubordinate employee

Every manager should be able to hold impactful conversations with their employees and get them to follow instructions.  

Read this book called crucial conversations: Check it on Amazon hereI highly recommend this book to anyone who is trying to have a difficult conversation with their employees.

Sometimes it is possible to deal with an insubordinate employee with just a brief conversation or simple coaching.  But if that fails to solve the problem, take it to the next level depending on your workplace disciplinary procedure.

Choose the appropriate actions to take to resolve the issues.  Arrange a meeting with the employee behind closed doors.  No matter how you feel about the issue, always remain calm and avoid reacting emotionally.  As a manager, you must maintain a professional demeanor at all times.

Tell the employee what the issue is and the impact it has on everyone concerned. The conversation should be short and to the point, leaving no room for argument. Ensure that you focus on facts alone and do not use generic words to describe the incident.  

Here is an example: I have noticed that you do not always follow my instructions. I’m not sure if it is because you do not understand or are choosing to disregard them. Regardless of your reasons, this affects our team dynamics and must change immediately!

Give the employee a chance to respond. They should be allowed to tell you why they are choosing to ignore your requests. This will also be a chance to see if there is more to the situation than just not complying with your requests.

You do not have to accept the excuse, but instead of getting angry, let them know that it is not working anymore and that you need them to follow your instructions.

If there is no response, or they continue to be negative, you can move on to the next step. It may help if you have some scripts available on how to approach the situation. For example, you might say:

I understand that not following my instructions makes it hard for me and your colleagues, and I must ask that you stop disregarding what I am asking you to do!

When this happens, I have to either ask again or look for help from someone else. Once again, remain calm and composed at all times.

Set out the conduct you expect in the future. And make it clear what will be the consequences if the employee misbehaves again. This means being clear of what disciplinary action you have at your disposal. 

Do not forget to write down everything. And make sure you use the exact words of what was said or the things the person did and the date of the incident.

After documenting all, ask the employee to sign that document and then put it on the employee’s file.  Always make sure you have a well-documented paper trail when disciplining or terminating an employee. 

For more read this related article: How to Deal with Insubordinate Employees

Make them understand the effect of their conduct

Sometimes disrespectful employees do not understand that what they are doing is wrong.  And sometimes they know but just don’t care. Whatever it is doesn’t matter, you still have to deal with them.  

So, be firm and consistent with all your employees — you cannot send mixed messages. It will convey to them that there are consequences for their actions and failure to follow your instructions.

You want to make them do some serious re-thinking about their conduct and what it means to disrespect a manager.

Set boundaries and enforce consequences 

You are the manager, so set the boundaries and enforce the consequences of not following instructions. When there is no consequence for undesirable behaviors, employees will continue misbehaving.

Create clear performance expectations by making your employees understand the process they should follow in doing their work. And give examples wherever possible. Be consistent so that there are no misunderstandings later on down the line.

If the consequences are painful, they will want to avoid them.  But when you keep warning them without taking other serious actions, they will continue to disrespect you or not follow your instructions.

Yes, it is right to give warnings and document the incidents.  But you have to act when those warnings fail to solve the problem.  Let the employees know the consequences and the risks insubordination brings to their jobs. 

It is about setting and enforcing boundaries for everyone working under you and to hold them accountable if they overstep them.

Say what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior and ensure that they understand the consequences of their actions.  And let them know that you will not tolerate anyone who undermines your authority. They have to take and follow instructions from you and move on with their work.  

Also Read: How to Manage Workload Effectively with Conflicting Deadlines and Priorities

If they continue being insubordinate after you establish the boundaries, deal with it head-on.
Now, may be it is the time to give your employee a written warning.

They have a choice, to do the right thing. If their behavior do not improve, then prepare for the more serious action. Whether that means to suspend or fire the employee, do it!  But make sure that you do it the right way.

Never ask for an apology from employees who disrespect you or don’t follow your instructions. If you do that, it will be a forced apology so, it is meaningless. 

What you need is to make all your employees respect your boundaries as their manager.  And that is not to undermine your authority.

How to get employees to follow instructions depends on the measure you take and the way you conduct yourself as their manager.  

Always manage with confidence, spell out your expectations clearly, and hold people to them. You need to be firm on what is not acceptable under your leadership.

You are the boss and in charge. That means it’s your responsibility to ensure good communication with staff members, so they know exactly what they need to do and can’t use ignorance as an excuse for not following instructions. Good luck!

Do you like this article?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts on how to handle employees who do not follow instructions in the comment box below

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