Madder world? Passive-aggressiveness getting worse in offices across America

NEW YORK — Seven in 10 Americans are facing unprecedented levels of passive-aggressive behavior in the workplace. The poll of 2,000 employed adults who have witnessed passive-aggressive behaviors finds that 69 percent agree it has become a problem at their office. Moreover, nearly half (48%) of respondents believe the behaviors have increased since the pre-COVID era.

Almost two-thirds (64%) say they witness passive-aggressive actions in their workplace at least once a week. One in five (19%) women can attest to that statement every day, whereas 12 percent of men witness rudeness at the same rate.

Commissioned by Go1 and conducted by OnePoll, the most common passive-aggressive behaviors in the workplace include talking behind co-workers’ backs (54%), complaints and resentment (50%), silent treatments (49%), sarcasm (42%), and dishonesty (37%).

Among entry-level employees, the most observed behavior is sarcasm (76%). The upper echelons of senior management are able to spot people talking behind the backs of others (60%) and executive management can sniff out “friendly reminders” from a mile away (55%). Close to half (47%) say these behaviors are most likely to occur face-to-face. However, 41 percent say it’s also likely to occur either through email or online messaging channels.

passive aggressive

2 in 3 admit to being passive-aggressive themselves

Those who admit the bad habits claim it tended to stem from general work-related stress (18%), frustrations with colleagues (16%), and poor communication skills (12%). They also state they’re likely to show their passive-aggressive behaviors through “friendly reminders” (41%), talking behind co-workers’ backs (38%), complaints and resentment (36%), silent treatment (32%), and sarcasm (32%).

“Since the start of the pandemic, the American workforce has seen countless trends take over the workplace from ‘The Great Resignation’ to the most recent ‘Quiet Quitting’,” says Ashleigh Loughnan, Chief People Officer at Go1, in a statement. “We’ve also found that since the pandemic, passive aggression in the workplace is worse than ever before, which can lead to a host of issues. This report is finding that apart from affecting company culture, passive aggression is impeding productivity, and in order to align the workforce, business leaders need to invest in soft skills training to ensure their companies are working in a cohesive manner.”

The study also reports that workplace passive-aggressive behaviors are often the result of poor time management (51%), a lack of problem-solving skills (49%), and poor stress management (48%). They’re also likely to lead to negative workplace relationships (63%), increased stress levels among employees (55%), and decreased productivity (49%).

Entry-level and executive managing respondents agree that passive-aggressive people “harbor negative relationships” with their colleagues (71% and 59%). Meanwhile, junior, middle, and senior management levels believe it especially increases stress levels among employees (67%, 60%, and 58%, respectively).

It’s enough to cause 71 percent to only do the bare minimum expected from them at work — similar to the recent “quiet quitting” phenomenon. Nearly as many (69%) have witnessed the same behaviors from their co-workers.

What do employees need to feel good at work?

Seven in 10 (71%) believe passive-aggressive co-workers would benefit from appropriate soft skills training.

When asked to identify soft skills — character traits that decide how well a person interacts with others — respondents said time management (53%), communication (50%), and problem-solving (47%) were the most important.

In order to address passive-aggressive behaviors in the workplace, employees say they need to feel empowered to educate co-workers on better ways to communicate (74%), settle passive-aggressive situations (56%), and motivate others to maintain a positive culture (52%).

“Feeling stressed and lacking in communication or problem-solving skills can all lead to passive aggressive behaviors and as this research shows – reduces productivity and damages workplace culture,” Loughnan says. “Overcoming these behaviors at work starts with proper education and training. If people are better equipped with soft skills, such as communication or stress management, it can help solve the problem before it begins.”

“We’re calling on companies to provide an open line of communication between their HR specialists and employees. They can implement and share resources to reduce passive aggressive behavior and in turn, create healthier work environments.”

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 employed Americans who have witnessed passive-aggressive behaviors was commissioned by Go1 between October 13 and October 21, 2022. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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  1. Well when I was in school they taught that we had to be professional which meant avoiding direct expressions of anger, etc.

    And so when things aren’t going so well and people are actually unhappy, seems like the natural result.

  2. Problem with one of the solutions mentioned -talking to HR – is that no one trusts HR anymore. They’re disingenuous mouthpieces for corporate.

  3. Ah yes another study run by “experts”. Human behavior has been so brutally manipulated by the academia and the media, how can anyone possibly “study” it?

  4. Of course people are passive aggressive at work. It is a way to level the playing field in a power relationship that is often unfair. Working in a corporation often means being incessantly bombarded with mind numbing, tedious tasks and arbitrary rules from management about how to carry them out. Intellectual sabotage is an effective way of striking back and creating inefficiency is a way of doing so safely. Bosses getting 2 or 3 times the pay for doing less work are targets of opportunity. International Workers of the World, unite! Trust HR? Lol, they are the ultimate corporate lackeys.

  5. Passive aggressive behavior is not an effect tool. People have been increasingly so do to the fact that direct communication in work or personal life is punished. Thin skin has become an epidemic. I know few people who can handle the slightest disagreement or criticism.

  6. I believe if studies were done the same results would be found amount family members, students and retail workers. We have all been waiting for times to get better while resentments, stress and fatigue accumulate. Few co front what they have no answered to.

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