Passive Aggressive Diaries

Understanding passive aggressive behavior in families, schools, and workplaces

Passive Aggression in the Workplace

Is passive aggressive behavior spoiling your workday?

In The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools and Workplaces, 2nd ed, we dedicate an entire chapter to describing why workplaces can be especially ripe for passive aggressive behavior--by employees and bosses alike. Here are a few of the funny stories we've collected since the book was published. Please add your own in the Comments section of this Blog!

 

Posted by Mike on 1/21/09

I have a co-worker who relies on e-mails and phone calls anytime he wants to communicate--even though we all work together in the same office building, on the same floor! Most of the time, it would be quicker for him to just get up out of his seat and tell me something face-to-face than it is for him to dial my extension or type it out, but he always avoids personal contact. It is really annoying, so I make it a point to never answer phone calls when I see they are from him and to ignore anything he sends in an e-mail!

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Posted by Kelli on 1/19/09

Jeff was the kind of co-worker who liked everything to be "just so." Whether it was his own appearance (never so much as a hair out of place) or the office supply room (small paper clips here, medium clips there), his need for order bordered on obsession.

One day, when I walked away from our office's public workspace for one minute to get a file from my office, Jeff "cleaned up" several stacks of documents that I had been very carefully sorting. 45 minutes of my time was wasted when I had to re-sort and verify the correct ordering of the piles, and I was pissed! When I confronted Jeff about his interference with my work, he gave a lame apology, saying he was just trying to keep the office clean.

Since he was a Senior Account Executive and I was new to the office, I didn't feel like I could defend my "mess," but I did make it a point for the next month or two to keep Jeff busy cleaning. When re-filling supplies, I would put small, medium, and large paper clips all in a single container, and watch him take an hour out of his work day to re-sort them one by one. When he wasn't in his cubicle, I would move his carefully placed pen from the left side of desk calendar to the right side and get a kick out of his puzzled expression when he found his order disturbed. It probably wasn't very nice of me to interfere with his need for order, but it did help me get over my grudge at having my piles disturbed!

 

Posted by Yama on 9/16/09

In my work experience, I have to deal with what has to be the most worthless courtesy clerks ever to be employed by Safeway. Courtesy clerk is the name given to the entry level position which limits the responsibilities of the employee to the most basic of duties (cleaning, bringing back grocery carts and helping customers). One courtesy clerk in particular takes the ticket. I'll call him Randy. A typical workday for Randy consists of him clocking in 5-10 minutes late, walking around the store aimlessly for the entire shift, and then clocking out 5-10 minutes early. My last work shift, I thought it would be wise to show Randy what real work was all about, so I found 4 different dairy products that were out of date and asked Randy to throw them away. Since the product was outdated, Randy had to go through all other similar products on the shelf to see if they too were outdated. Later that evening, I brought in a grocery cart from outside and started to fill random groceries in it. When the cart was filled to an ample amount, I handed Randy the cart and told him a customer forgot his wallet and didn't want to buy the groceries anymore. Randy was forced to put the items away. By the end of the day Randy earned his paycheck.

 

Posted by Spike on 1/23/09

While this is not necessarily a funny example, I think it is a great example of passive aggressive behavior. I work in an industry that employs many blue collar workers working at an hourly rate. By nature of the job they have very little leverage over their boss, the manager. They are easily replaced by a new worker who can become proficient at their task in a matter of days or weeks. The only time they have any leverage is that once a year when the manager tries to squeeze in that much needed vacation. This is the time they choose to quit without notice or just stop showing up, leaving the manager in a lurch and not able to take their vacation. This is not something I have seen happen once or twice but more like forty or fifty times! As with most passive aggressive personalities these people are willing to do damage to themselves just to get at their intended target. These employees often work at the job for several years and do excellent work until they quit abruptly. When a potentially new employer calls the old employer for a reference on the employee. The answer is always a negative one, Terminated - Job abandonment. In the short term the employee sticks it to the manager, but in the long term it is the employee who suffers.

 

What kind of passive aggression is going on in your workplace?

 

 

 

 

Signe Whitson is a licensed social worker and co-author of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed.

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