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Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Perfect Office Crime

In The Angry Smile, we dedicate an entire chapter to describing why workplaces can be especially ripe for passive aggressive behavior--by employees and bosses alike. Here are a few of the funny stories we've collected since the book was published. Please add your own in the Comments section!

Posted by Mike on 1/21/09
I have a co-worker who relies on e-mails and phone calls anytime he wants to communicate--even though we all work together in the same office building, on the same floor! Most of the time, it would be quicker for him to just get up out of his seat and tell me something face-to-face than it is for him to dial my extension or type it out, but he always avoids personal contact. It is really annoying, so I make it a point to never answer phone calls when I see they are from him and to ignore anything he sends in an e-mail!

Posted by Kelli on 1/19/09
Jeff was the kind of co-worker who liked everything to be “just so.” Whether it was his own appearance (never so much as a hair out of place) or the office supply room (small paper clips here, medium clips there), his need for order bordered on obsession.

One day, when I walked away from our office’s public workspace for one minute to get a file from my office, Jeff “cleaned up” several stacks of documents that I had been very carefully sorting. 45 minutes of my time was wasted when I had to re-sort and verify the correct ordering of the piles, and I was pissed! When I confronted Jeff about his interference with my work, he gave a lame apology, saying he was just trying to keep the office clean.

Since he was a Senior Account Executive and I was new to the office, I didn’t feel like I could defend my “mess,” but I did make it a point for the next month or two to keep Jeff busy cleaning. When re-filling supplies, I would put small, medium, and large paper clips all in a single container, and watch him take an hour out of his work day to re-sort them one by one. When he wasn’t in his cubicle, I would move his carefully placed pen from the left side of desk calendar to the right side and get a kick out of his puzzled expression when he found his order disturbed. It probably wasn’t very nice of me to interfere with his need for order, but it did help me get over my grudge at having my piles disturbed!

Posted by Yama Nusraty on 9/16/09
In my work experience, I have to deal with what has to be the most worthless courtesy clerks ever to be employed by Safeway. Courtesy clerk is the name given to the entry level position which limits the responsibilities of the employee to the most basic of duties (cleaning, bringing back grocery carts and helping customers). One courtesy clerk in particular takes the ticket. I'll call him Randy. A typical workday for Randy consists of him clocking in 5-10 minutes late, walking around the store aimlessly for the entire shift, and then clocking out 5-10 minutes early. My last work shift, I thought it would be wise to show Randy what real work was all about, so I found 4 different dairy products that were out of date and asked Randy to throw them away. Since the product was outdated, Randy had to go through all other similar products on the shelf to see if they too were outdated. Later that evening, I brought in a grocery cart from outside and started to fill random groceries in it. When the cart was filled to an ample amount, I handed Randy the cart and told him a customer forgot his wallet and didn't want to buy the groceries anymore. Randy was forced to put the items away. By the end of the day Randy earned his paycheck.

Posted on 1/23/09 by Spike
While this is not necessarily a funny example, I think it is a great example of passive aggressive behavior. I work in an industry that employs many blue collar workers working at an hourly rate. By nature of the job they have very little leverage over their boss, the manager. They are easily replaced by a new worker who can become proficient at their task in a matter of days or weeks. The only time they have any leverage is that once a year when the manager tries to squeeze in that much needed vacation. This is the time they choose to quit without notice or just stop showing up, leaving the manager in a lurch and not able to take their vacation. This is not something I have seen happen once or twice but more like forty or fifty times! As with most passive aggressive personalities these people are willing to do damage to themselves just to get at their intended target. These employees often work at the job for several years and do excellent work until they quit abruptly. When a potentially new employer calls the old employer for a reference on the employee. The answer is always a negative one, Terminated - Job abandonment. In the short term the employee sticks it to the manager, but in the long term it is the employee who suffers.

What kind of passive aggression is going on in your workplace?


  1. The workplace is probably the most passive-aggressive place in the world. This experience happened at my place of employment a couple of years ago. I was working at an establishment that specialized in catering large functions and wedding rehearsal dinners. A coworker who had been publicly disciplined for a minor mistake by the owner. This coworker was one of several that was responsible for taking calls and confirming reservations. One day, a bride called to tell the owner that the wedding was being delayed due to her fiancee's unplanned deployment to Iraq. The coworker "forgot" to tell the owner of the change in plans and the owner had the hall set and food prepared for a reception for 250 guests. The owner was perplexed when no one showed up at the appointed time. My coworker got a better job shortly after that and the owner never did find out who took the call from the bride.

  2. Being a female supervisor for an office of ninety people can be rather challenging. Employees think they can come into my office at any time, even without scheduling a meeting. One particular employee never, never, never schedules meetings. He also has a tendency to talk for long periods of time. Even though I have told him on numerous occassions to schedule a meeting when it is more than a five minute conversation, he jokes and says I always have time for him. I now will not speak to him about office matters unless it is on my calendar. I hope my passive aggressive behavior of refusing to speak to him will eventually lead him to actually scheduling meetings, like everyone else in the office does.

  3. The 3rd story happens quite often with hourly paid workers. I worked with many employees who implimented this form of passive aggressive revenge. Once working at Wawa, I worked with a young man on the graveyard shift. I knew he didn't like working at Wawa, but I asked him to just hang in there. On my off day, I received a call at 1 a.m. from my manager. The young man came in to work, fully in uniform, walked up to my manager while there was a crowded line and said "I quit". He knew very well that if there was not two people working the graveyard shift, the store had to close. I thought it was sort of funny he chose to quit on the day the store manager was working. I'm glad it wasn't me.

  4. Group 6 psych 393

    Being as though I work in an office I see passive-aggressive behavior all the time. It comes in many shapes and forms. From bosses doing things to employees to employees doing it to each other. I have to laugh at it because I understand a lot of times where the person is coming from. Especially working in an office because most of the time you’re stuck in an ugly cubicle all day and you’re stuck with the people that work around you. I, myself have done some passive-aggressive things in the work place because you don’t want to get in a fight with someone and have to work in a close quarters situation with them, but you want to get even with them.

    I work for the army so we have a lot of military personnel that work alongside civilians. The Colonel is the top boss in my district. Once a month all of the Division Chief’s have to make a presentation to report the status of their project managers’ projects to the Colonel. All in all it takes about 12 hours to make this PowerPoint presentation because you have to run a lot of reports from all kinds of different databases in order to update the information in the PowerPoint. Then there is a bunch of color coding that goes along with it. Well, our boss used to wait until a day or 2 before the presentation to ask our secretary to do this for him. Mind you, he has known when this presentation is due. These presentations are planned a year in advance. Our poor secretary would come in at 7 in the morning and stay until 6 in order to finish this for him. Her work schedule was supposed to be from 7 to 3:30. Leaving at 6 was a big inconvenience for her because she had to rely on public transportation and had to get her kids from daycare at a certain time. Even though our boss knew this he would always wait until the last minute. She finally got sick of his antics and conveniently planned a 3 day vacation 2 days before the presentation and the day the report was due. So, our boss needless to say was up the creek without a paddle, and ended up having to do the presentation himself. After that troubling experience he never came to her last minute with anything.

  5. I can really relate to the third story! I also have a job which pays all its employees by the hour. A couple years ago we had a manager who was very strict and never let anything slide. Over time the employees hated my boss for this, but they never really said anything in fear of losing their job. When it came time for my boss' evaluation, my boss asked each employee to his office and stressed the importance of the evaluation and how it was related to a possible bonus for my boss. All the employees including myself said something along the lines of "Yeah, no problem. I'll make sure you get that bonus." It was evident some of the employees got their revenge when the review was mad public that my boss received some of the poorest marks possible. No bonus for him that year.

  6. I worked for a boss who was very strict. She would demand I stay in my office so that employees could come in and speak to me if they needed to or if she needed me for something but, on the other hand, if I was sitting in my office and she walked by she would call me into her office to ask me why I was just sitting in my office instead of circulating throughout the department making sure everything was running smoothly. She drove me crazy! I finally spoke with her about this and other problems with her contradictory expectations but nothing changed. In fact, she was very defensive. I finally went to Human Resources and spoke with the director to tell him about her. After speaking with a few other employees in my department they confronted her. She was so angry that I went to H.R. and she even told H.R. that I never spoke to her about these issues. Consequently, I was terminated for "poor work performance" but I know the real reason I was terminated was retaliatory. She had hired another supervisor prior to my termination, changed my hours from day to night and then told the other supervisor I was "passive/aggressive". Which one of us is really the passive/aggressive one?