Passive-Aggressive Behavior at Work


Construct a short case study of passive-aggressive behavior at work. You may draw from personal experience, use an example from an article or other published work, or even create a hypothetical scenario and character(s). If you choose to write about someone you know, please use a pseudonym. Describe specific passive-aggressive behaviors exhibited by the person. Describe how the behaviors may affect others in the workplace. Illustrate organizational goals that may not be addressed due to the passive-aggressive behavior. Then, explore and evaluate how those involved in the situation should react effectively.

Sample paper

Passive-Aggressive Behavior at Work

Passive-aggressive behavior is common in the workplace especially where employees are incapable of directly expressing sensitive issues that they may be experiencing. Passive-aggressive personality disorder leads to a pattern of indirect expression of covert feelings related to anger through acts such as sullen behavior, procrastination, “justifiable” actions by the person involved, stubbornness, and other expressions of behavior. Although employees may occasionally display passive-aggressive behavior, persistent display of such behavior may indicate that an individual is suffering from the passive-aggressive disorder. In such a case, such employees may require help in order to fit well with others. This paper examines the case of Hellen, a 35 year-old clerk working in one of the local municipal offices, and who exhibits passive-aggressive behaviors in the workplace.

Hellen has held her current position for 15 years. She always felt she was meant for a better job, other than the one she currently held. As such, she kept complaining about how she was sidelined from getting promotions. This is despite the organization basing the promotions on a fair performance appraisal process that analyzed customer feedback and other internal evaluation measures such as tests. Hellen was slow and inefficient on her work. Customers would often complain that she was extremely slow and the most awful staff. Although the supervisor often reprimanded her, she would ignore their remarks or answer them rudely, saying they should hire additional staff. Hellen was almost sure she could not lose her job, so she maintained the negative energy. Hellen would often act sullen whenever employees requested for help. If an employee insisted on getting help from her, she would become hostile in a bid to turn them down. Hellen would rarely take responsibility if something went wrong; instead blaming everything on others even when it was clear that it was her fault.

Hellen’s behaviors may negatively affect others in the workplace. Her behaviors would often make other employees angry with her, especially in a situation where she would try to pass the blame on others. This is because on most occasions, the employees would get defensive in trying to prove they did their role. Her behavior has led to strained relationships with other employees. Other employees shun Hellen and only engage her when it is necessarily to do so. Most of the employees walk away from her whenever they enter into arguments with her. This happens regardless of whether she is raising valid opinions. Hellen’s behaviors have contributed to low morale among some workers. This mainly affects the workers who often depend on her in some way. Those who are unable to understand her behavior often feel demoralized and stressed at times. Her behaviors also contribute to missing of deadlines among employees tied to her efforts. For instance due to her slow nature, she might deliver important reports late for compilation and analysis. Her team members are subject to her ridicule, which affects their performance. Lastly, team members have to complete her tasks often.

Passive-aggressive behavior may hinder the achievement of organizational goals. One of the major goals that may be adversely affected involves the performance goals (Wynnewood, 2007). It is difficult for the organization to achieve set targets due to low motivation among staff and the misunderstandings that emerge among employees. When some team members become uncooperative, productivity is negatively affected, which makes it difficult to achieve set targets. Passive-aggressive behavior may hinder the organization from achieving employee-motivation goals. A number of factors within the organization contribute towards employee motivation. Some of these factors include salary, promotions, recognition, and other factors such as attitude in the workplace. Passive-aggressive behavior may hinder the organization from achieving a strong organizational culture. For instance, passive-aggressive behavior present in a few employees may likely spread among other employees leading to disintegration of the company’s culture. Lastly, it may difficult for the employees to work as a team. Passive-aggressive behavior promotes individualism since it is difficult for employees to build trust.

There are effective ways in which those involved in the situation may react effectively. Hellen’s coworkers should learn to understand her behavior and avoid overreacting over issues. Often, those involved in passive-aggressive behavior aim at making others angry as a way of releasing their anxiety (Nelson & Quick, 2011). When employees respond emotionally, they end up stressing themselves, which may affect their performance. Employees should also examine their behavior to see whether they have any contribution to Hellen’s passive-aggressive behavior. In some instances, employees themselves may be to blame or the cause of Hellen’s behavior. It is important for employees to analyze the situation from multiple perspectives, including from Hellen’s perspective.

It is important for employees to acknowledge any underlying issues raised by Hellen. Hellen could be reacting in a passive-aggressive manner due to the desire for being heard. Employees should avoid using bad language or directly telling Hellen that she suffers from passive-aggressive disorder since this may only aggravate the matter (McIlduffCoghlan, 2000). Lastly, it is important for employees to examine the situation with other colleagues in order to confirm that they are not the source of the problem. In order to deal with the situation in the long run, Hellen should seek help from a trained and qualified psychotherapist. Psychotherapy can help her identify underlying problems and to deal with stress and anxiety in an effective manner.



McIlduff, E. & Coghlan, D. (2000). Understanding and contending with passive‐aggressive          behaviour in teams and organizations. Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 15(7): 16           – 73.

Nelson, D. L., & Quick, J. C. (2011). Organizational behavior: Science, the real world, and you.             Mason, OH, USA: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Wynnewood, P. A. (2007). Passive-aggressive behavior and leadership styles in organizations.     Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, vol. 14(2):130-142.


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