The Passive-Aggressive Employee - A Workplace Violence Time Bomb

Dr. Purushothaman
December 6, 2013

The attitudes regarding the topic of workplace violence seem to be as varied as the forms this type of aggression takes. Opinions range from ignorance and avoidance, where thoughts like, "That kind of thing doesn't happen here," are the norm; all the way to the development of plans and procedures for preventing it from happening.

While my predominant focus for my clients is centered around the fact that, by-and-large, most incidents occur where the violence enters from outside the workplace, the fact remains that there are a significant number of attacks perpetrated by employees against their fellow workers. In fact, a recent conversation with my uncle, a senior executive in a large corporation, shows just how workplace violence can be at the forefront of many manager's minds.

The story my uncle related to me was centered around an employee who has been with his company for over ten years. While the company is just becoming aware of the employee's tendency toward displaying many of the warning signs, a more thorough investigation has shown that this problem has existed from the very beginning of the man's employment.

Our conversation, which grew out of the typical family chatter about what everybody has been doing since they last saw each other, started as I was discussing my consulting and corporate training practice. When the topic of workplace violence came up, my uncle's demeanor changed almost instantly. He then went into a detailed description of what he was dealing with since taking over the department where this individual worked.

In short, the story spoke of an individual who displayed a passive-aggressive, inflexible nature that expected everyone to comply with his wishes. My uncle described a person who routinely became verbally aggressive and confrontational, at times even throwing objects, and who was easily angered when he didn't get his own way.

It also showed how his previous manager, herself unprepared for dealing with this type of personality and needing to avoid conflict, had a tendency to coddle the individual in an attempt to quell his angry outbursts. We agreed that this patronizing and "mothering" only prolonged the problem, and certainly did nothing to help the employee to either change his tactics or make the decision to seek employment elsewhere. In fact, it helped to reinforce his behavior...

...for more than 10 years!

Human resources, and managers at all levels must be ready, willing, and able to identify and, at the very least, isolate the passive-aggressive employee. Employees with this personality disorder can be a virtual time bomb, just waiting for the right trigger to set them off. When that happens, only that individual's self-imposed limits will determine just how far he or she will go in unleashing the fury from within.

Every company must insure that its workplace violence plan can identify and handle this type of personality type. But, that's only the beginning. Due to the possibility of this type of individual becoming physically violent, every employee should be trained to be able to evade, avoid, and escape from the damage that may ensue.

Ironically, rather than self-defense training making employees more hostile, as is often believed by many, it actually has been shown to reduce and even eliminate physical attacks altogether. Since the potentially dangerous worker is surrounded by individuals capable of neutralizing any attempt at physical hostility, he or she tends to seek other means to deal with their issues. Or, they simply change jobs, hoping to find a place where the sheep are easier.

Does your company have a solid and complete workplace violence training program? Do you and your workers know what to do should the unthinkable happen and you come face-to-face with violence in the workplace? Or are you betting the lives and safety of everyone involved that there isn't someone right now, inside or outside your company, planning an attack? Get the facts and stop making safety decisions based on denial, apathy, or ignorance.

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