I have one very smart coworker that I am hired to manage as a member of my team. He is been with the company for over 8 years, so he has made a few signs "do not manage me, I know what needs to be done". I am NOT a micro-manager and actually welcome and appreciate when employees are self-sufficient, however it has becoming a recent frustration on multiple fronts, specifically:

1) About a month ago, I have sent an email to the group suggesting using variable names,let's call them: "red", "yellow", "green". Had a couple of meetings after that, no one has objected. So I thought we are OK. To my amazement, that co-worker has started using different variables "black" and "blue". It is not the end of the world, yet is my expectation that my directives are for the team to use?

2) Another part of our job is to taking care of some compliance tests, filling out the mandatory testing paperwork, etc -a bit tedious, yet vital part of our job. My "smart yet insubordinate" employee is ignoring that task as well - I got some reminders from the management that "hey, one of your co-workers has missed his paperwork". I have tried politely reminding him of that part of the job -he replied "It will not help if you keep reminding me of that " .

3) He does not ask my opinion on anything and does not share the "secret sauce" of what he has learned on the job - being in the same company for 8 years. When I make mistake because I do not know how and why things are done certain way - I feel that I am thrown under the bus.

I know it is not normal, but he is otherwise a very smart, valuable to the company, knowledgable and socially likeable person: I think that insubordination comes partially of "a job security syndrome" and partially of his resentment of me. While he has never applied for my position, he clearly has some other manager in mind instead of me.

Any advice in a situation like this?

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    (1) Did you suggest or direct? If the former he's entitled to disagee.
    – keshlam
    Jun 4, 2015 at 19:02
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    Have you ever talked to your colleague privately? You're the manager and should really be having regular meeting to ensure that they're achieving what they want to personally and to bring up any issues early...
    – Ben
    Jun 4, 2015 at 19:02
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    Have IT take an old underpowered computer with the smallest screen available and load it with the minimum that the dev needs to do his job. And replace his computer with it overnight Have that locked down so that he can not install anything or run anything except the minimum. Block his access outside the firewall. Stop assigning good tasks to him and reassign all of his tasks to people who are playing ball. Then write him up until he starts complying or quits/gets fired. Jun 4, 2015 at 19:23
  • I'm confused. Is this a co-worker or an employee? Jun 4, 2015 at 19:40
  • I have to wonder if perhaps expectations with this worker are unclear? You go back and forth between describing him as a "coworker" (peer) and an "employee" (someone who reports to you). You refer to the same statement as a "suggestion" (optional) in one place, and a "directive" (mandatory) in another. I have to wonder if your being a bit to tentative in your management attempts? Jun 4, 2015 at 21:22

2 Answers 2


Your coworker is not behaving well, but it sounds like you aren't helping the situation. You need to have some separation between your "manager" duties and your "team" duties.

1) I would not expect a manager to be involved in something as small as variable naming. That's something the team can figure out. If you feel like you need to send an email as a manager to get that sorted out, that IS micromanaging. If you suggested something and the team decided on it (aka everyone explicitly said "yes this is what I agree on" not just "didn't have any objections"), and then he goes against it, you need to stop that right away. When the team makes a decision, one person does not get to override that. Any changes to the plan need to be brought up and discussed again by the team.

2) In this case he is just giving you attitude, which is unnecessary. I would stop reminding him and just set a firm deadline. "Paperwork needs to be completed by 5pm Friday, no exceptions"

3) Again, are you the boss or a team member? Are you upset he is not asking for your opinion or your permission? As a team member, he probably doesn't need to ask for your opinion because he's very experienced. Are you expecting all decisions to come to you as the boss? Is that expectation clear to the entire team? If it is, then you need to tell him that. If it isn't, then I don't think you should be upset because you shouldn't rely on implied behavior. It's your job to set clear expectations.

In general I think it's better for you to set expectations of "what" needs to happen, not "how." You can easily point to requirements that are not being met and proceed from there if he doesn't meet them. Unfortunately this type of person is not uncommon and it's unlikely you're going to change their attitude.

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    2) "Let me know which projects they are, and I'll work with the stakeholders to ensure you have enough time to do your paperwork." Jun 4, 2015 at 20:34
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    1) If multiple teams are involved it's even more important the agreed upon standard doesn't change. I think it's fine to say "we agreed upon this, please stick to the convention. please change what you have written to match" 2) Can you re-prioritize the projects or are there other teams involved? If he doesn't get it to you on time, then ask him to do it on the spot. First thing in the morning before he starts anything else is best. Get him to agree to do it immediately. Not after an hour. Not after email. Not after the meeting. Immediately.
    – Bowen
    Jun 4, 2015 at 20:57
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    You need to make the priorities absolutely clear. If paperwork deadline justifies reduced productivity, tell him so. If variable naming is an official interface spec, put it in those terms. Many of us geeks (a) work better when we understand why a request was made, and/or (b) deal with bureaucracy such as arbitrary deadlines when it's made very clear that the nonsense is considered critical in order to defend our freedom to work in our own way elsewhere. He's trying to optimize his productivity. You need to define these as part of productivity. Give him reasons, not just instructions.
    – keshlam
    Jun 4, 2015 at 23:29
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    This isn't an insubordination problem. It's a communication problem.
    – keshlam
    Jun 4, 2015 at 23:30
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    @keshlam very good points - probably he doesn't know it's acceptable to delay the 'other important projects' for the paperwork and that he'll get the backing to not be held responsible there. Jun 5, 2015 at 8:10

@user33445 Your HR department has the tools for you. When an employee is insubordinate or does not perform, there are steps that are taken. E.g, the first written warning along with clear explanation of the disciplinary process.

You've already given him verbal directions which he's refused to follow. You can do it once more verbally along with description of your company's process — or you can go to the first-written-warning stage — documentation which will go into his personnel file.

There need to be consequences. If the company doesn't have a system for this; then they're not giving you what you need to manage, and you should leave the position.

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