Criticism and Discipline; Decision Making; Leadership; Motivation; Rules and Policies

is it iNsUbordiNatioN?

Primary Topic—Authority

Additional Topics—Criticism and Discipline; Decision Making; Leadership; Motivation; Rules and Policies

Peter Hamilton, the hospital’s maintenance department supervisor, was sure that the announcement he had to make would not be well received by many of his employees. He did not like the idea of having to place limits on when his employees could take their vacations, but after several meetings with his boss, the director of environmental services, Pete was convinced that he would need his full staff plus outside help for a particular 6-week period.

At a November staff meeting, Pete Hamilton announced, “Those of you who figure on vacations during the first half of the year, we’re going to have to ask you to leave May 15 to June 30 out of your planning. The new admitting offices will open May 15. Demolition of the old west wing will start July 1, timed with some work on the adjoining property. That means we’ve got just 6 weeks to gut and remodel the old admitting area so we can get accounting out of the west wing by the end of June. We’ll need all the hands we can find for those 6 weeks. So, if you have vacation in mind, either schedule it so you’re back by May 15, or wait and go some time after July 1.”

There was some muttering in the group, but no voices were raised in immedi- ate protest. However, just as Pete thought that perhaps there would be no trouble, a single hand went up. The person was Ed Mason, a long-time employee and one of the hospital’s two electricians.

Mason said, “I’ve always taken the same 2 weeks in June, every year almost as long as I’ve been here. You trying to tell me I can’t go then?”

Hamilton repeated his explanation and added a general appeal covering the need for all of them to pull together to get a difficult job done in a limited amount of time. Ed Mason uttered a one-word obscenity that was clearly audible to all in the room. Mason’s expression was one of anger and his manner might have struck some as threatening.

Pete dismissed the group, but ordered Ed Mason to remain. When the others had left, Mason said, “I’ve been here 17 years, and for the last 12 years I’ve taken vacation the same 2 weeks in June. There shouldn’t be any reason why I can’t do the

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same next June. I always have my request in first. The others in the department know that, and they’re all used to doing without me during that period.”

Pete responded, “This applies to all of us in maintenance, myself included—I usually go the last part of May, around Memorial Day.”

“You can’t change that on me,” Ed said stubbornly. “That vacation is my right, considering my seniority here.”

“Ed, maybe we all need reminding that vacation is scheduled at management’s discretion. Sure, we try to give you exactly the time you want if we can, providing— like the policy says—that it’s convenient to the functioning of the department and the hospital. This is one time when it isn’t convenient. You don’t seem to appreciate all the work that needs to be done and how limited we are with present staff.”

“Nuts to that,” said Mason as he headed for the door. He added, “My seniority ought to be good for something. I’m not changing my plans for you or anybody.”


Put yourself in Peter Hamilton’s position and decide how you would deal with the problem presented by Ed Mason’s reaction to the vacation restriction.

Case 21: Is It Insubordination? 67

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