Dealing With A Member Of Staff Who Undermines You: Here’s How

All restaurant owners know how crucial it is to have a team that works together proficiently to achieve a shared goal. Unfortunately, it is also common knowledge that you won’t get along with everyone in the workspace, and some staff will go out of their way to undermine you. Not only can this be incredibly frustrating, but it can also destroy team morale and cause disharmony in the workplace. Therefore, it is crucial to know how best to approach and remedy this issue quickly and effectively.

In this article, we will teach you how to do just that. As you read, you will learn the ideal ways to deal with a member of your restaurant staff who undermines you, from assessing the situation all the way to resolution.

Wait To Pass Judgement

For some restaurant managers and owners, this might be the hardest step because it is arguably the most instinctual.

When a staff member begins to undermine you, the initial reaction most people have is to assume the individual is doing it out of hostility towards them personally. However, this is not always the case, and attempting to remedy the situation with this mentality in mind will often lead to more problems than resolutions.

Once you’ve recognized that a staff member(s) is undermining your authority, the first step you should take is to wait to pass judgement until you’ve spoken with that individual(s) and determined the cause. 

Prematurely concluding that they are undermining you out of spite or hatred is only going to insight those emotions in yourself and then carry over to the rest of the process, effectively reducing the odds of a calm, rational discussion, and a positive outcome. 

Determine the Cause Through a Private Conversation

The most crucial step of this process, by far, is to try to listen to the individual undermining you and come to an understanding as to why this behavior is happening.

Staff undermining should be addressed as quickly as possible and in a safe, calm, private environment. It is typically more beneficial to speak to said individual one-on-one so the two of you can peacefully air everything out, but if tensions between you two prevent this, having a third, neutral party (ex. a manager or co-owner you both trust) could be beneficial.

When the time comes to speak with the undermining staff about this issue, clearly state what you feel is going on and provide examples of these instances, so they know what the discussion is about and what examples demonstrate it in your eyes (this is important because they might not have seen that instance as undermining).

After you’ve informed them of the issue, listen to their response and refrain from interrupting. Again, it is important to not become over-emotional during this process and to give them your undivided attention, as this might be the only time you truly get to hear how they feel and why this is happening.

You might be surprised to hear that the undermining action was warranted in a way. Perhaps the individual had more information than you at the time and the real issue is that they should have confirmed/communicated with you first, before taking action. This would align with someone who doesn’t have a history of being difficult in the workplace and can most likely be resolved quickly with communication. 

Regardless of the reason, it is important to have this discussion and to document when the undermining instant and this private conversation took place so you can keep track of this behavior in case it continues, and serious actions need to be taken.

Clearly State Workplace Expectations Regarding This Behavior

One way to help prevent instances of undermining employees from occurring in the first place is to have a clear code of conduct recorded in an employee handbook that is accessible by all members of staff.

When an employee is clearly undermining you, it is often helpful to reiterate or outline your expectations regarding how they should act in the workplace, particularly when it comes to respecting their superiors and their co-workers. 

Detailing these expectations is beneficial for two reasons. One it ensures all employees are held to the same standard and have a provides a sense of structure. And two, it ensures you have made your expectations very clear to that individual, so they have guideline to follow in the future. Should their undermining continue, they can no longer feign ignorance regarding whether this is acceptable behavior.

Be Open-Minded and Self-Reflect

Another important step to take during and after your private discussion is to try and stay open-minded (perhaps see the situation through their eyes) and then self-reflect once you have all the information.

While undermining a superior is never appropriate or acceptable, staying open-minded will help you understand why your staff member did this so you can determine if their reasoning has any elements of rationale or validity, or if they are truly doing this to stir up drama and create a toxic work environment. 

Not every employee will think the same way, and you might find that what you see as undermining is not what that individual intended. Listening, staying open-minded, and communicating clearly will help the two of you come to a resolution with as little friction as possible. 

That being said, another possibility, that is a hard pill for many restaurant managers and owners to swallow, is that they might truly be the cause. Again, undermining is never truly warranted, but it can be understandable, to a point, if those in charge are being hypocritical, unpleasant to their staff, or are generally disconnected from the reality of their staff’s workplace. This could result in staff members who were initially frustrated with a situation, to escalate to outright undermining.

To be clear, you should not allow them to place the blame entirely on you, as it is also inappropriate for them to willingly undermine your authority, but don’t always assume the blame is entirely on them either. While some staff will undermine you for unrealistic or unacceptable reasons, some might have explanations that are justified and viable, which is why it is crucial to always lead by example.

Establish the Best Method for Moving Forward

By this point, you have successfully addressed your concerns of undermining to your employee, listened to their explanations, and established your expectations in the workplace. The final step is to determine what plan of action is best going forward.

The consequences of an employee undermining their superiors is highly dependent on the situation. If this is the first time such an instance has occurred, you could opt to follow the previous steps and let the matter drop. However, if this individual is toxic in the workplace and frequently causes drama or other issues, more serious action, such as termination, might be required. 

Typically, restaurant owners and managers will opt for less serious consequences first, such as:

  • A verbal warning
  • A write-up system 
  • Revocation of privileges 
  • Temporary suspension

After taking everything that has occurred over the previous steps into consideration, you must use your best judgment to determine what consequence is most appropriate for that sake of yourself as well as your other staff members and business as a whole.

Final Thoughts

Having an insubordinate staff member who undermines is never pleasant, especially if it is done publicly in front of staff and customers. This behavior can have a serious negative impact on your business, which is why it is always important to address it immediately before other employees view it as acceptable or it makes them and others uncomfortable in the future.


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