Five Red Flags That You May Be Managing a Passive-Aggressive Employee

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It can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint when someone is using passive-aggressive behaviour in the workplace.  It is often subtle, covert and manipulative.

Without even realizing it, when I was younger, I would somehow find myself getting caught up time and time again in multiple dynamics with passive-aggressive individuals at work.  For instance, I once had a client who never address any dissatisfaction with my work with me directly.  Rather, she would share her concerns with everyone else, and I would learn about it through the grapevine.

Five Red Flags That You May Be Managing a Passive-Aggressive Employee

I had noticed the behaviours.  I was aware of the patterns and knew that they bothered me.  But what I hadn’t realized back then was that I was getting caught up in these types of dynamics because I was doing that helped perpetuate it.

In some ways, being in these types of dynamics worked for me.  At the time, I had a strong need to please and be liked.  I also avoided confrontation like the plague.  This made it easy for someone to engage in these types of passive-aggressive behaviours around me, as I would never call them out on it. 

For example, although I knew the person referenced above was sharing concerns about my projects with everyone but me, I didn’t ever approach them to let them know that I wanted to be informed directly of any problems related to my projects.

As I started to become more aware of these behaviours, I began to be able to put in place some of the limits that were needed to limit the impact these types of behaviours had on me.  In my coaching and consulting work, I’ve also helped managers learn how to navigate these types of dynamics in the workplace.

Here are five red flags that you may be managing a passive-aggressive employee at work.

1. Problems aren’t addressed with the person concerned

You may be managing a passive-aggressive employee when they tell you that there is no problem but then they go and complain to others. To your face, they tell you that everything is fine, but that’s not the same story they share with others.

2. Gossip

There’s sabotage going on behind the scenes which creates gossip.  You’ll notice a lot of speaking behind people’s backs and attempts to rally people to agree with a certain point of view.  Issues are only discussed in sub-groups rather than with everyone concerned.

3. Feedback is taken personally

Anytime you give any feedback on the person’s performance, the individual takes it very personally.  They may become more withdrawn, be harder to engage in conversations and generally become difficult.  Rather than addressing their concerns about the feedback with you, they show you through their behaviour that they are upset.

4. Inconsistent verbal and non-verbal messages

This happens when someone is telling you one thing, but you can read from their body language that they aren’t telling you what they are truly thinking.  When you ask for clarity, they might insist that they’re being up front with you, but you just have a nagging feeling that they aren’t telling you what they truly think.

5. They fail to complete tasks

If you’ve asked someone to do something and they agree to do it but then don’t, you may be dealing with passive-aggressive behaviour.  They are sabotaging with their actions.  Their behaviours demonstrate that they don’t support the plan, even though they told you they did.

These kinds of behaviours can be quite toxic. They lead to difficult interactions across the team.

The first step to changing this is simply to noticed and be aware of these behaviours.

The next time you’re at work, take a critical look at how interactions are taking place within the workplace and if see if you notice any of these five red flags.

If you do, know that the best thing you can do to curb these patterns is to name them.  Be up front about what you’re observing, speaking from your own perspective so that you are not blaming the other person. 

For more tips on how to shift team dynamics, subscribe to my YouTube channel, Collaborative Solutions.

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Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette, M.Sc.(A) works with middle managers who want to communicate authentically so they can effectively lead their teams without losing themselves. As a former Speech-Language Pathologist, Lindsay applies her expertise in the neuroscience of communication and connection to help managers foster an environment of trust and respect in their teams, so that everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lindsay’s approach has been profoundly influenced by her work with First Nations organizations, her experience as a parent to two neurodivergent children, and the premature loss of both of her parents. These experiences have taught Lindsay great lessons about the power of excellent people skills that extend well beyond her professional expertise.

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette, M.Sc.(A) works with middle managers who want to communicate authentically so they can effectively lead their teams without losing themselves. As a former Speech Language Pathologist, Lindsay applies her expertise in the neuroscience of communication and connection to help managers foster an environment of trust and respect in their teams, so that everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lindsay’s approach has been profoundly influenced by her work with First Nations organizations, her experience as a parent to two children with pervasive mental health challenges, and the premature loss of both of her parents. These experiences have taught Lindsay great lessons about the power of excellent people skills that extend well beyond her professional expertise.

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Leadership communication skills to elevate team performance.

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