How To Manage Workplace Insubordination and Rebellion

How To Manage Workplace Insubordination and Rebellion

Often times I write from my own perspective , the construction industry. And sometimes it is difficult to say if some of the things I have written still hold in other industries or broader still, in other facets of life.

There are so many reasons why subordinates could be difficult to deal with, a lot of them. This does not necessarily mean that they are not willing to work, even though there are times when this could be the case. On one particular occasion while working in the Niger Delta, I was left with a group of angry poorly motivated workers some of whom were ex-militants. This was the case as the Senior Engineers could not handle them because of the threat of violence and the difficulty in dismissing them.  The terrain was daring; being left alone in a bush hundreds of miles away from the base, with a group of “armed strangers” to work alongside with, was something worth preparing for. I took my chance anyway.

First of all, there are reasons why subordinates could be difficult to work with, and they include the following :

  • When they have a history of violence or rebellion: A worker with a history of violence or rebellion will find it difficult taking instructions from anyone. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what is done to them, they tend to naturally return to the means of resolution or communication they are accustomed to when in seemingly difficult times.
  • When they realize how difficult it will be to let them go: People know when they are indispensable. There was an instance where a particular crane operator bragged about how nobody could fire him as he was the only available person who at the moment could operate that brand of crane. The previous operator was an expatriate who left years ago. This gave him the rare privilege of tolerated insubordination. Another similar case is where a worker is related or close to someone of great importance to the organization.
  • Poor remunerationWorkers who are poorly paid are rebellious in nature and subordination in this instance is also extremely difficult.
  • Extreme pay inequality between the upper hierarchy and the lower hierarchyExtreme pay inequality could be a disservice to any organization. The general feeling amongst the lower hierarchy would be that they are the one’s doing the work, where other who barely do anything are getting all the reward. The bigger the gap, the more unrest there is likely going to be . A typical case of “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop” (monkey works, Baboon eats) .
  • Lack of career growth: When loyal workers have put in many years of service in a firm with little or nothing to show for it in terms of career growth, it leads to dissatisfaction. And this dissatisfaction is spread or transmitted to even new employees, who having heard stories of how loyal employees were treated in the past, tighten their seat belts for insubordination .
  • Bad Management: Bad managers can make even good workers lose motivation. Acts like lack of professionalism, abuse of power, lack of empathy, not following due process etc can strangle out the order in an organization.
  • Pride: Pride can make a worker exaggerate his influence and can even make him reluctant to respecting leadership .Instead of seeing work to be done, he sees a personality to attack.

I tried to highlight possible causes of rebellion in the workplace by listing the items above based on my personal observations.  So, now going back to the scenario at the beginning of this article, I will highlight also the techniques I employed to manage the situation. The point here is that it worked in the end. I was able to keep them motivated and working even though they may have done so reluctantly. I was safe, they worked, we delivered. These are practical steps I applied that really worked in handling workers in extremely volatile situations. 

  1. Erase or suppress the feeling of fear: Your body language matters a lot. Fear could be seen as a sign of weakness, and people could read and smell fear from the way you talk, walk or even react to simple situations . Many of them are experienced in capitalizing on it to their advantage. Try anything legal that gives you the maximum confidence you need to meet them every morning .
  2. Play along as a victim too: Playing along helps to. Be sympathetic to their plight and try to understand what life is from their end, or at least pretend to understand. Make them understand or think that you don’t necessarily like what you have to do,  but just that you have no choice. That all of you have a common “enemy”.
  3. Never isolate yourself even in the midst of tension: If eventually there is tension, never isolate yourself. It is seen as evidence of fear and could be taken advantage of. Rather integrate and come as close as possible to the scene. It also gives the impression that you aren’t always just thinking about yourself.
  4. Try some sense of humour: Good old jokes can help lighten situations. It works a lot of times.  Just don’t do it in every given moment. Timing is key.

I have written this down based on personal experience gathered from working in the field, it is left for the reader to use his discretion to know if this works for him. All the best.

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