4 ways to stop passive aggression in the workplace

  • 71% of workers blame passive aggression for their lack of effort at work.
  • Passive aggression in the workplace can come across as sarcasm, silence, or gossip.
  • To counteract this, keep the lines of communication open and regularly reflect on your own behavior.

The way employees communicate has changed significantly as companies transitioned to working remotely during the pandemic. With online culture becoming the norm, companies have had to rethink how to keep their employees engaged and connected. However, the sudden shift from face-to-face interactions to online communication has created numerous problems, including an increase in passive aggression. In fact, research conducted by my company, Go1, shows that seven out of ten Americans experience higher levels of passive aggression in the workplace than they did before the pandemic.

The destructive power of passive aggression

There have been several employee-driven movements in the corporate world over the past year. “Quieting quietly” is gaining popularity and may be linked to increases in passive aggression in the workplace.

Toxic behaviors like passive aggression can not only lead to turnover, but also create a culture where employees feel unmotivated. This also had a further impact on employee attitudes and resulted in a drop in productivity. So much so that 71% of employees blame passive aggression for their lack of effort at work. If left unchecked, these behaviors can create a negative feedback loop that further damages company culture and the workforce.

In order to build a healthy culture and keep employees engaged, it is important to break this cycle. Here are four key tips to combat passive aggression and turn toxic workplaces back into healthy ones.

1. Identify the cause

Passive aggression in the workplace can manifest itself through a number of different behaviors, such as: B. Sarcasm, silence or spreading gossip. Instead of just focusing on the negative behaviors, it’s important to ask why these behaviors occur in the first place.

Think about any recent organizational changes or major projects that may have created tension or conflict in the workplace. Also, consider any personal factors individuals may experience outside of work that influence their behavior. Performance reviews and exit interviews are great ways to gather this information.

Was there a “bad” manager who practiced favoritism? Has your company created an always-on culture that blurs work-life balance?

Once the root cause of passive aggression has been identified, collaborating with different departments can help develop solutions that address the specific underlying cause. For example, this may include providing leadership training for the manager who does not treat their peers equally, or implementing an updated PTO policy to help employees unplug and re-energize while setting boundaries.

2. Find out about soft skills training

More than half of Americans said passive-aggressive employees would benefit from proper soft skills training. Educating your workplace on how to improve their communication, time management, and problem-solving skills is key to preventing passive-aggressive behavior before it occurs.

In 2022, big tech companies made headlines for their handling of tough news like layoffs. Communication training could have played a role in teaching both managers and employees how to voice their concerns and how to handle these difficult conversations without being passive aggressive. The University of California, Berkeley recently launched a course focused on role-playing those very conversations that have already produced great results. Many of the students who reported avoiding conflict before the course now believe that practicing these conversations helped build trust and intimacy.

Creating a culture of trust is important for organizations looking to reduce passive aggression in the workplace. Companies with high levels of trust tend to be more productive and avoid micromanagement. That way, managers can trust employees know how to prioritize their tasks, and employees can trust managers know how to delegate tasks effectively to prevent burnout.

3. Create an open line of communication with HR specialists

It’s critical that employees feel comfortable and secure when communicating openly with HR leaders in their organization. These individuals have an influence on the culture and way of working of an organization – they can implement and share resources to reduce passive-aggressive behavior and in turn create healthier work environments.

One way to implement this change is to increase the frequency of check-ins with HR. The exact interval at which these check-ins occur (e.g. quarterly or semi-annually) depends on the size of your business. Larger businesses may need more frequent check-ins, while smaller businesses may be able to do them less frequently.

These check-ins give employees more opportunities to raise concerns and frustrations directly with HR, rather than harboring negative feelings or expressing them indirectly through passive-aggressive behavior.

HR leaders can also guide and support employees in communicating effectively and confidently, which can help avoid misunderstandings and conflicts that can lead to passive aggression.

4. Take responsibility and reflect on your own behavior

It’s common for people to engage in passive-aggressive behavior out of frustration, so the fact that nearly 70% of Americans admit to being passive-aggressive shouldn’t come as a surprise. Entrepreneurs are not immune to passive aggression, but by holding yourself accountable and taking responsibility for your actions, you can set a positive example for others.

You don’t have to make a big announcement every time you engage in passive-aggressive behavior. Instead, you can show accountability simply by acknowledging to the person on the receiving end of your behavior that you reacted out of emotion. This could be as simple as sending a Direct Message apologizing for your behavior and repeating that you will communicate better in the future. This simple gesture can go a long way in building trust and improving communication within your team—motivating others to follow your example and express their thoughts and feelings head-on.

As a business leader, it’s important to recognize the impact your work culture can have on your team and your bottom line — especially when you consider that toxic work cultures can cost organizations more than $44 billion each year, with one in five employees dying as a result problems leaves the company.

Marc Havercroft is President of corporate e-learning solutions company Go1.

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