6 Ways to Deal with Passive-Aggressive Employees
If you’re being driven to the point of anger and frustration by an employee who procrastinates, sulks or passes snide remarks, there is a distinct possibility that you are up against a typical passive-aggressive personality type. Since you have to go into work every day and deal with that person because they report in to you, you’ll need to learn how to deal with this behaviour and not lose your cool.

Every manager at some time or the other will have worked with an employee who agreed to complete a certain task within a stipulated time frame, but never came through. When questioned about it, that person will have a number of excuses.

Though you listen to what your employee is saying, you have a gut feeling that they don’t really want to do the work. They would even enjoy seeing you get in trouble with your boss for not having the report ready for a big management meeting.

So what exactly is passive-aggressive behaviour and what are the best ways to deal with passive-aggressive employees?

What is Passive-Aggressive Behaviour?

Passive aggressive behaviour isn’t easy to explain and there are a number of complexities that lead to it. The truth is, if you have even a couple of employees like these to deal with, the situation can be very stressful and difficult to handle.

Passive aggressive behaviour can be defined as a very deliberate and disguised manner of expressing feelings of anger and frustration. In most cases, it involves behaviours which are specifically designed to “get back” at a person without the latter actually recognising the anger that lies underneath.

Passive-Agressive Employee

A passive-aggressive person strongly believes that life only gets worse when people get to know of his anger and that is exactly why he expresses his anger indirectly. It’s also why people who display this behaviour tend to be sulky and withdrawn; they procrastinate a lot and their work may also be substandard. In addition, the person may go out of his or her way to sabotage group projects or find different methods of exacting hidden revenge.

As a manager, when you notice signs of this type of behaviour within your team, you will naturally want to address it right away. However, this is one situation where it is important to take things a little slow. As the head of the team, it becomes your responsibility to maintain professionalism in the workplace, so confronting this person without any solid evidence can lead to a showdown. There are, however, a number of ways in which you can deal with passive-aggressive behaviour effectively.

How to Deal With Passive-Aggressive Behaviour

1. Take the issue by the horns

When you are doing this, it’s important to be clear and concise about the things you have noticed. Make sure to document the incidents so that you can bring them up in your discussion with your employee. Any toxic behaviour or recurring incident that you notice will have to be addressed, but you need facts to back what you are saying. During Activia’s training courses you will learn how to be attuned to your own gut feeling when it comes to dynamics and situations in your workplace. If something feels off, there’s a good chance it actually is.

2. Stay calm

Once you have pinpointed your employee’s behaviour as a case of passive aggression, it’s important that you remain calm and collected while you are confronting them. If you let emotions come in play here, it will only worsen the situation and it’s very likely that the person will either shut down or harbour much deeper angry feelings towards you. Keep your facts straight and remain calm and clear. It’s not difficult to get confused or become angry when you are pulling apart so many facts in this type of a discussion.

Want to Be More Assertive?

Activia offers online, public and onsite courses to match your needs.


3. Recognise that changing the person isn’t possible

A passive-aggressive person has very complex behavioural patterns, many of which are very deeply rooted and are a way of coping with insecurities, anxieties and stress. So, even though confronting the person is the right plan of action, do not be under the impression that the person will digest and accept everything you’re trying to say. Your focus should be on trying to look for ways and means of improving the situation, rather than attempting to change that person’s attitude.

4. Give them a voice

A large number of passive aggressive people tend to behave the way they do because they feel that they are being cold-shouldered and that nobody listens to them. If you find that this is the case, involve that person in solving challenges. Ask them things such as “keeping in mind the desired outcome, how exactly would you handle this issue?”.

5. Establish consequences

Passive-aggressive employees will either place blame on others or be full of excuses. When you notice they are using these tactics, tell them what you will do if this behaviour continues.

6. Communicate with your team

Colleagues Talking

Just like bullying and sociopathic tendencies, passive aggression is a workplace behaviour that can become problematic if you, as an employer or manager, do not immediately address it. It’s very important that you keep the communication lines open and encourage your team members to speak up. Your employees shouldn’t feel like they’ve got to watch their backs. If they feel they have to be constantly wary in their workplace, that’s when behaviours like this begin to surface.


As an employer, your work relationship with your employees should be thought of as partnerships. Sadly, it’s not always possible to balance this well when you’re dealing with individuals who have passive-aggressive tendencies. It’s important that you steer clear of favouritism and be objective in the manner you interact with every member of your team.

The truth is. having a passive-aggressive employee in your organisation can be very stressful. It can impact your business; and even worse, negative behaviours and attitudes tend to be contagious.

If you have any passive-aggressive employees on your team and want to attempt to make it work, focus on your own actions, communicate with your staff and build trust. This can go a long way in stopping passive-aggressive behaviour in its tracks. Activia conducts specially designed training courses that can help you effectively tackle difficult situations, such as these, in your workplace.

Want to Be More Assertive?

Activia offers online, public and onsite courses to match your needs.


Have you ever had to deal with a passive-aggressive employees at work? Are there any other methods you think would be effective? Let us know in the comments below!