In a nutshell, passive aggressiveness is an indirect way to express anger. In the workplace, this replaces the outright display of conflict and confrontation. When it goes unchecked, it creates a toxic work environment. It can lead to gossip and make people feel they have to walk on eggshells around certain individuals. Other signs include:
- Forgetting or misplacing important documents
- Using email to avoid face-to-face conversations
- Resisting feedback for personal or professional improvement
- Having a “that’s not my job” attitude
- Skipping specific people in the chain of command, going above supervisors’ heads
- Humiliating co-workers in public
- Taking sick days during crucial meetings or projects to slow progress
- Withholding important information
- Doing less work when more is asked for
The untold truth is passive aggressive behaviors have a huge impact on an organization, despite the acts being subtle. The resistance and undermining chips away at morale, productivity, quality of work and turnover. High performers usually quit, leaving toxic employees continuing to act out.
How Passive Aggressiveness Shows up:
Yes means delay
An employee who feels undervalued and underappreciated will often verbally agree to tasks and projects. This person will find it quite satisfying to gradually “forget” deadlines, “misplace “documents, using sick days to slow team progress.
Messy, Incomplete Work
A previously depended on employee who feels slighted might change tactics, either by the above, or by slow walking their work. Normally spot-on with their attention to detail, suddenly their work may be missing crucial steps, details or important information. This person will play the victim when called out on their actions, claiming “No one told me…” or “I didn’t know…”
Holding up progress
A healthy, productive team is built on open communication. A passive aggressive person will sabotage the efforts of coworkers trying to move forward by using sick days, withholding information, reports. This will shut down communication and disrupt a productive team. It can be quite difficult to re-establish performance standards.
Rather than discuss issues directly, a passive aggressive person can seek revenge. This could be in the form of workplace gossip (trashing a reputation) or in one extreme case, a client reported someone sabotaged their laptop by installing a virus.
The mistake too many leaders make is to avoid confronting this behavior. It is a morale buster. Yes, most people do not like conflict however, telling you or your team, “work it out yourself,” is a cop out.
What’s a Manager to Do?
In the case of passive aggressive behavior or bullying, there needs to be a clear expectation of workplace standards. Having a zero-tolerance policy is the only way to ensure people with a passive aggressive style do not stay at your company.
Taking a stand will also increase your credibility. This is a time when consensus doesn’t matter. As the manager you must set the standard for the workplace, especially respect. You want people who want to do the best job possible and are willing to develop skills and themselves to improve.
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