Years ago on a ship, you had a captain and under him were lieutenants and commanders and finally, the crew. If the captain made a decision that the crew didn’t agree with, they might go so far as to conduct a mutiny. If you’re not sure what this might have done to the captain, you might watch “Mutiny on the Bounty.”

Today there are similar ranks in government and business, with someone in authority and others under him or her tasked to follow instruction.

And at times, there are mutinies.

In your organization, do you have an uprising on your hands? Employees might not make the manager “walk the plank” or leave him on an island, but attitudes have a way of spreading, either for good or for bad.

For example, most agree that a smile is contagious. When you genuinely smile at someone, often that person will return the smile.

But when someone has a negative attitude, he begins complaining, and pointing out flaws in management, that attitude seeps through the workplace and others begin to join him. They will start agreeing by thinking about other flaws they’ve observed and gripes they’ve developed, and soon, the environment is immersed in negativity.

If the problem persists, it grows like mildew and attaches itself in the oddest places. Soon, more employees are complaining to the point they are calling the shots. They are telling management what they should or shouldn’t do. And their attitude spills externally so they begin treating customers negatively.

When employees begin taking over, who is at fault?

How can management overcome this challenge and regain control?

When employees take over

You can usually tell how management is by the work environment of the employees. If employees are fairly happy; they feel valued; the atmosphere is pleasant to work in; and outsiders sense a happy place, then you can figure out that a solid management team is in place.

But if the atmosphere is tense; if people look unhappy; if there are cliques and whispers; then you can probably guess that management is either out of touch, they don’t care, or they are equally unhappy.

A work environment is a reflection of those in charge – leadership. A good leader knows how to make decisions. And he/she is charged with maintaining order, unity and solid communication among his/her team.

Humans are pretty good at figuring out other humans. We see flaws, we hear tone of voice, we see facial expressions and body language, and we hear and see when bad decisions are made. We can tell when people have low self-worth and we can sense confidence.

If managers do not stand up for their team – let alone, themselves – then for the bullies in the work environment, the stage is set for their future attack.

When managers are cruel and belittling to employees, then eventually the bullying managers (also a sign of low self-esteem) will have a mutiny on their hands at some point. Or employees will leave one at a time until the manager no longer has a team.

Ultimately, management holds the cards for how employees feel about their environment, their work and their goals.

Management holds the cards for how employees feel

about their environment, their work and their goals.

Meeting the challenge

Managers need to have their own clearly defined goals to begin with. They should understand what their executives require of them, how to accomplish their goals, what achievements need to be made, and what the consequences might be if they are unable to fulfill their duties.

Leadership, in turn, needs to present their team with clearly defined goals as well as the consequences if they are not met. And then follow through. The goals and values of the company, and the rewards and consequences, should be repeated on a continual basis. Employees who meet the goals should receive encouragement and praise and maybe a bit of a monetary reward. But if they don’t meet them or even fight the goals, then managers have to follow through with the consequences, even if that means firing insubordinate employees.

Because the rebel employees tend to gather followers, the sooner the employee is made to either see reason or the door, the better for the rest of the workers.

Not all managers enjoy confrontation. And if they already have low self-esteem, this makes the task worse. But since they accepted the role of manager, dealing with difficult situations comes with the territory. Employees thrive when their supervisors act as the boss and take proper charge. When managers are firm and, in a sense, stand up for their valued employees by eliminating the dissident employees, they strengthen their team and ultimately, the organization.

If you are approachable as a leader so employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns, this will help you to be aware of the issues your team is experiencing.

A good leader sets the example for others. A good leader also knows how to make the tough decisions and command proper respect.

A good leader knows how to make the tough decisions

and command proper respect.

Balancing flexible with firm

Policies, goals and expectations are excellent to have in place. We all need structure and we need to understand what is expected of us. That’s simply human nature.

A manager needs to be firm, but that doesn’t mean inflexible. There are times when flexibility is needed, such as when an employee can’t work a certain day for personal reasons, perhaps because of a surgical procedure. A flexible boss will show understanding and try to work with the employee to adjust the schedule.

But what if that employee demands time off on several occasions, especially if it’s discovered he’s lied about his frequent video-game binging days? Or he has a habit of calling the morning of his work shift to say he isn’t coming in? Or an employee is not a team player and his co-workers often have to pick up the slack?

When the employee becomes unreasonable, others have to be considered. If his actions are affecting the team and the work environment, what consequences are in place for this kind of behavior?

The same goes for an employee who is disrespectful to others, who defies the manager, is insubordinate, and who tries to call the shots (i.e., refusing to follow direction, ignoring assigned tasks, overstepping bounds). Generally this behavior will affect, not only co-workers, but non-employees, such as consumers or clients. If the employee believes he can get away with condescending, selfish behavior because he has not faced consequences, he won’t change and the business will suffer.

How to regain control

First, recognize you need to gather all your facts. What have you observed? What have other employees or customers revealed to you?

Next, talk with the employee privately, in your office or other area where you won’t have interruptions. Share the facts and give him the opportunity to explain his behavior.

Third, firmly tell the employee the behavior is unacceptable and why. Give him a scheduled amount of time to work on his attitude. Explain the consequences if there is no change when the grace period has ended. Outline each problem, what you expect of him, and how he needs to fix each.

Finally, if there is no change or he reacts adversely to your initial meeting, depending on your company’s policy, you might have to elicit additional help, such as from human resources or the legal department, to sever ties with the employee.

When an employee creates a public scene, such as berates an employee (or several) in front of others, immediate action is needed from the manager so the rest of the employees understand the behavior is unacceptable. You might say: “John, that comment was disrespectful and not tolerated here. Please keep your negative comments to yourself.” This tells the employee, and everyone around him, you heard and observed the behavior. Following up with a firm response, such as: “See me in my office in 15 minutes,” also tells employees you are going to deal further with the situation.

Again, managers have to think of the team as a whole and how behavior affects the business. Employees who suffer means the organization is suffering.

Strengthen the team. Remove the loose cannons. Be the manager who is approachable, firm, flexible and a team player. Live the values of the company. And assist your employees when needed.

Additional articles:

“From boss to coach — The changing role of the supervisor”

“Do your employees know your CEO?”

“Are you listening to employees’ concerns?”

“How effective is your open door policy?”