Passive Aggressive Poison

How passive/aggressive individuals can poison a work environment even more than overtly antagonistic employees

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) describes passive-aggressive personality disorder as a “pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations.” In my experience, it most frequently occurs in the workplace as indirect behaviors that subtly undermine efficiency, authority and interpersonal relationships.

The lazy hostile employee with an attitude is usually not the most disruptive to a functional work environment. You might ask why? It is because those types of individuals are easily identified and, at least, you know where they are coming from. Moreover, management usually terminates these folks before they disrupt organizational culture. On the other hand, more problems are created in the office culture by employees who appear to be doing a reasonable job… but in fact are slowly eroding the performance, attitude, and morale of the people around them through passive/aggressive behaviors.

What do they do?

  1. They frequently use the expression, “That’s not my job.”

To get the work done, it is important to have employees that do whatever it takes to get things done regardless of their title, position or seniority and not procrastinate. “It’s not my job,” really says, not only do I not care about you but I am passively indifferent to the needs both of the company and fellow workers.

  1. By virtue of their position, they think they’ve already paid their dues.

They wish to rest on their laurels and assume that they no longer need to work very hard. This type of passive/aggressive behavior can be especially malignant since it is infectious to other workers that may feel that they have a right to coast also.

  1. They feel that experience is enough.

Experience is certainly important but it is not an excuse to sit in the office waiting for someone to drop by to be mentored and intimidated by showing them your superior knowledge. Holding back and not proactively sharing your knowledge is characteristic of the passive/aggressive type personality.

  1. They lead the meeting after the meeting.

After the group holds a meeting that garners a degree of consensus,

the passive/aggressive tends to hold the “meeting after the meeting” about issues that had seemingly been resolved. They create passive resistance by raising issues that undermine the decisions so that no agreed upon actions can be implemented.

  1. They love to gossip by innuendo and a form of a negative grapevine effect.

Casual back biting and rumor are common tools of the passive/aggressive individual. Even under the guise of harmless banter and being a ‘fun guy’, nothing can more quickly destroy employee morale than negative sarcasm. This can also cause key employees to leave or act as a barrier for promotion based upon merit.

  1. Passive aggressive personalities excel at fence sitting.

This trait is, in my opinion, the most disturbing of this personality complex. They tend to hide and flip-flop on issues at will. Because they avoid making any waves, they are often promoted into managerial positions where the negative impact of their passive/aggressive behaviors is amplified. This is supportive of the Peter’s Principal that proposes that employees have a tendency to be promoted to their level of incompetence.

Transparency, teamwork and congeniality punctuate an ideal work environment and passive/aggressive behaviors do the opposite. Do any readers have experiences to share where these types of negative resistance have created a hostile work environment?  




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