5 Ways to Better Manage a Rebellious Employee

5 Ways to Better Manage a Rebellious Employee
Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

There Always Seems to Be at Least One Rebellious Employee
We know from people manager assessment data that a manager or team leader’s nightmare is often dominated by that one fractious employee who never quite fits in.  Rebellious employees tend to disrupt performance and create disengagement by exuding negativity, debating every issue, ignoring cultural norms, and creating dissension.

New manager training participants report struggling with how to handle a rebellious employee.  Supervisors may know how to encourage their team when employees are eager to cooperate but are baffled by handling a team member who resists, counters, and rebels.

Some Tips to Better Handle a Rebellious Employee
Whether you’re new to people management or have some experience getting work done through others, here are a few suggestions for how to deal with a mutinous employee:

  1. Ensure that Goals are Crystal Clear
    Our organizational alignment research found that goal clarity and commitment account for 31% of the difference between high and low performance. Before you jump to conclusions about your defiant team member, make sure that their goals and performance expectations are crystal clear and agreed to.Often, goal confusion leads to team friction and dysfunction.  Make sure that you and your team both think that everyone’s SMART goals are SMARTER.
  2. Ensure that Roles and Responsibilities Make Sense
    Even with clear goals and accountabilities, some employees are ill-suited to their current responsibilities. Invest the time to diagnose whether your insolent employee has the competence, resources, motivation, and confidence to get the job done in a way that makes sense.Meet one-on-one to understand if they need more coaching or support in order to be set up to succeed on your team.
  3. Explore Any Justification
    Invest the time to discover what specifically is causing their behavior. Are they unhappy, struggling, or frustrated personally or professionally? It is possible that they have noticed something important that is misaligned culturally and don’t know how to bring it to your attention in a more acceptable way.As much as it may be difficult to accept, think about whether the employee’s defiance of the cultural norm is justified.  Are they simply the bravest of the team, willing to question goals or process?  Or do they have some personal problems that are impacting how they show up at work?

    Meet with your disengaged employee one-on-one to assess the problem and agree upon next steps to get on the right path.

  4. Give Direct Feedback and Allow Time to Learn and Adjust
    If goals and roles are clear, it may just be that your employee is unaware of their own behavior and their broader impact on the team. Give direct and honest feedback so that they know where they stand and have a reasonable opportunity to improve.Then provide a fair amount of time for them to improve, seek support, and adjust.   Sometimes people just need some slack until they understand how to get work done, gain their footing and are able to better integrate with the team and collaborate toward common goals and accountabilities.
  5. Act
    Once you have worked through the above possibilities, you need to take meaningful, timely, and decisive action. One bad apple can sabotage your culture and the entire team.  If the negative behavior is allowed to continue for too long, team engagement and performance will suffer.If the problem cannot be rectified, do what you can to move the employee on with compassion and in alignment with the company’s core values.

The Bottom Line
As a people manager, it is your job to keep your team moving forward in the right direction in a way that makes sense.  If you have a team member who is always causing problems, you need to find out why and deal with it before they derail you and your team.

To learn more about how to handle a rebellious employee, download 3 Must-Have Ingredients of High Performing Teams for New Managers

Evaluate your Performance


Get key strategy, culture, and talent tools from industry experts that work


Health Checks

Assess how you stack up against leading organizations in areas matter most



Download published articles from experts to stay ahead of the competition



Review proven research-backed approaches to get aligned



Stay up to do date on the latest best practices that drive higher performance


Client Case Studies

Explore real world results for clients like you striving to create higher performance