January 9, 2009


In the army, the first thing that they teach you is to listen to your superior and one of the biggest mistake that a lower raking officer can do is insubordination. Of course, in the army, if you are in a battlefield, not listening to your superior can get you kill or you may lose your country or the war. Whatever it is, in the army, which is built on thousands of years of practice of men killing each other from the Roman times to the first seige of Jerusalem to the current merciless killing of the Palestinean, the subordinates must follow whatever instruction given by their superior.

In an office, that is not as easy. I have found out the hard way after 8 years of owning my own company and managing it day to day from when it has only one staff to the current 15 people. Totalling all of them, at least there were nearly close to 50 people who had come to work for me, left or still working for me from 8 years ago. The legal profession in Malaysia has a very high turnover and nurturing or keeping talent is one of the most difficult task for the management of any legal firm.

However, the issue here is not about the top talent. That may be an issue for another posting. This is about the employees at the clerical level or those who can be considered as the logistic part of a legal firm, which are the despatches. They are the blood and vein of a legal firm as they are basically the front line of the legal firm as they meet clients or send documents to other legal firms. The one who do the real work for a conveyancing firm like mine. They may not be the best person to gauge the competency of a firm but some firm do rely on these employees to do everything. Some only have these and just the owner who does the signing of documents and taking the credits.

Back to the issue of insubordination in an office. It happen sometimes without people planning to do so. You may feel down that day due to something outside of work and then you bring it to the office. You may have been harbouring an ill-will towards your fellow employee or even your superior and something happen that day which break the camel's back. So you snapped. You shouted and walked out of the office. It may be in your nature to do such. You are known to have a temper. So, you don't care whether you were shouting to a superior or another fellow employee. What you want is to just let off steam.

How do us as employer handle this? As a lawyer, I always goes back to the letter of the law. There's the Employment Act and there is also the letter of offer which binds the staff to our office. If their blowout leads to any monetary loss, they will have to bear it. If work is not completed, they will receive a black mark on their record with a memo and if the black mark is more than the 3 notices which we have carefully explained in their letter of offer, they need not come back for work anymore.

I have learned long ago, in an institution, as small as us, the best employee(s) are the owner(s)...

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