Dilemma of the Month: Managing an Insubordinate Subordinate

Back Q&A Jul 5, 2017 By Suzanne Lucas
I recently received a promotion, so two months ago I hired “Jane” to assume the role of my former position. Since she’s been here, Jane has constantly undermined me. She has told lies about my character and my productivity to other employees. It is quite obvious that she intends to do whatever she can to show that I am not fit for my new role. What is the best way for me to document her behavior? I don’t want the documentation to sound like a personal issue; though I must admit that she has referred to how “young” I am, which is offensive to me.

You are her boss. Let me repeat that. You are her new boss. You manage her. There’s a much easier solution to this than if you were peers or if she were your boss. What you do here is simple: You tell her to knock it off.

No one has time to deal with mean and vindictive employees. Get the paperwork together, have your manager and HR sign off on it, then sit down with this insubordinate employee and a witness. Tell her today is her last day and wash your hands of a bad situation.

Before you do that though, discuss the situation with your boss and HR to find out what you are and are not allowed to do about Jane. Some companies allow you to fire people with no notice during their first 90 days, which seems like it might not be a bad idea here. This doesn’t seem like a case where she simply needs some coaching and additional training to get up to speed. This sounds like a character flaw.

To be honest, if you are allowed to just fire her, I would do that immediately. No one has time to deal with mean and vindictive employees. Get the paperwork together, have your manager and HR sign off on it, then sit down with this insubordinate employee and a witness. Tell her today is her last day and wash your hands of a bad situation.

However, if that isn’t allowed in your company, you’ll need to do a bit more. Invite her to a meeting with you and a witness — preferably HR or your manager. If neither of those people are available, then use one of your peers. Under no circumstances should the witness be one of Jane’s peers or one of her direct reports.

The reason I recommend meeting with this employee under the supervision of a witness is that Jane has clearly proven herself to be untrustworthy. You don’t want her to lie about what you said in this meeting. Also keep in mind that the job of the witness is to be just that: a witness only. They don’t need to speak or add to the conversation in any way — they simply oversee it.

Once you’ve set up the meeting and ensured a witness will be there, here’s what you say:

“Jane, you have been saying things about me that are not true. This ends right now. We work as a team in this organization and we support each other. I am happy to give you the tools you need to accomplish your job, but I will not tolerate lying. Is that clear?”

Jane will, of course, deny she lied at all. Respond with, “Good. Then you should have no problem being truthful and positive from now on.”

Then address the insubordination. Inform her that you are documenting this conversation and will put it in her employee file.

So what happens when she does it again? Well, if she were a long-term employee, I’d say you put her on a 90-day Performance Improvement Plan (also known as a PIP) with clear goals about productivity, gossip, insubordination and lying. But, Jane is not a long-term employee — she’s brand new to the company and she hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt yet.

I’d say a 30-day PIP is about what Jane can expect from the company. Make sure you clear this 30-day PIP with your own supervisors before you talk to her. The last thing you want is to say, “You have 30 days to get your act together,” and then have your manager undermine your decision because they don’t agree with your assessment.

Write up everything. Outline clear guidelines for what you expect of Jane. You will need to meet with her at least weekly to go over the PIP. If she fails to meet your expectations — that is, if she continues lying and being insubordinate — at the end of the PIP time period, you fire her.

Now, you may be second guessing your hiring skills since you are the person who hired her. You may need to do some work on improving those skills, but remember that even the most seasoned managers make hiring mistakes. If the next person you hire turns out to also be a jerk, then you’ve really got something to worry about. Otherwise, chalk it up to bad luck.

Have a burning HR question? Email it to Evilhrlady@comstocksmag.com 

Comments

Ellen Parisi (not verified)July 10, 2017 - 5:04am

Your articles are very helpful and timely. I wish I had discovered you many years ago.

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