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How to Deal With Workplace Defiance

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Workplace defiance negatively impacts employees, managers and even company productivity and morale. Defiant employees have the potential to disrupt an office, create friction and tension and contribute to creating a negative environment. To limit the impact of defiant employees and curb destructive behavior, swift action is required.

Develop Behavioral Policies

One of the best defenses against workplace defiance is implementing a behavioral standards policy. A well-written policy clearly defines acceptable and unacceptable workplace behavior. It outlines what constitutes defiant behavior, whether it is insubordination, insolence or a refusal to perform job duties as instructed. It also lets employees know the consequences of practicing these types of behaviors. When an official policy is in place, managers have a direct means for confronting workplace defiance. They can cite corporate policy and implement disciplinary actions as necessary.

Define Expectations

Employees might exhibit defiant behavior if they feel they’re asked to take on responsibilities that aren’t in line with their job descriptions. Eliminate this potential misunderstanding by clearly defining roles through detailed job descriptions and regular performance evaluations. If an employee questions a request or directive based on a perception of what he sees as his job functions, reference the job description to clarify matters.

Confront the Employee

Left to fester, defiant behavior can grow and lead to resentment and frustration among staffers. Address insubordinate behavior as soon as it arises by counseling the problem employee. In some instances, a staffer might be unaware of how his behavior is perceived by others. Point out specific instances of defiant and unacceptable behavior, ask for an explanation, and issue a directive for change. Document exchanges and take appropriate disciplinary steps if you don't see any improvement.

Model Good Behavior

When managers model the type of behavior they expect to see in their employees, it reduces the potential for defiant workplace behavior. Examples of positive behavior include treating colleagues with respect and consideration, showing a willingness to collaborate, and refusing to spread gossip or talk poorly about colleagues. Employees who are encouraged to exhibit these traits help create an environment where positive interaction is the norm rather than the exception.

Monitor Behavior Patterns

Defiance in the workplace is often a symbol of something much deeper than a staffer refusing an assignment or project. Defiance can be a sign of a long-running attitude issue in which an employee exhibits habitual problems with authority. This type of attitude should be confronted and counseled to uncover underlying issues, such as personal problems, job dissatisfaction or even an inability to effectively carry out job functions because of inadequate training or skills. By learning why an employee is defiant, you are better able to take steps to correct his behavior.


Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

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