British workers claim they have to handle passive-aggressive behaviours from their colleagues on average four times a week, with 44 percent saying it is now worse than ever.

The passive-aggressive behaviours shown vary, but the most common have been found to be sarcasm (38%), speaking negatively behind another colleague’s back (37%), and eye-rolling (36%).

Nearly a third (31%) of workers are tired of “friendly reminders” too.

What are the main causes?

Workers cite a lack of soft skills like communication (38%), stress management (37%) or problem-solving (25%) as the main causes.

In addition, two-thirds (66%) say they believe their colleagues who exhibit damaging behaviours are likely to not have benefitted from the appropriate training. 

The importance of soft skills is proved further, as those happy with the training offered at their work are more than twice as likely to feel empowered to educate colleagues on ways to communicate that will reduce passive-aggressive behaviours (35% vs 17%) and 47% more likely to settle passive-aggressive behaviours.

How can passive-aggressive behaviours be removed from the workplace?

When it comes to settling passive-aggressive behaviours, there is also a noticeable difference by age, with 47 percent of workers aged 18-24 comfortable doing so, compared to 23 percent of those aged 45-54.

This age group is also almost twice as likely than your average worker to report the behaviour (40% vs 25%).

What is the impact of this behaviour?

Despite the actions of some, these behaviours are having a detrimental effect on workplaces across the country. Passive aggressive behaviour has been shown to be a contributor in 39 percent of resignations for the last 12 months.

This makes it one of the major factors in those who decided to leave a job, alongside pay (42%) or a lack of opportunities to increase their skills (34%).

Workers also say it is creating a toxic work environment (43%), harbouring negative relationships between colleagues (43%) and decreasing productivity (38%). 

The lack of productivity is taken a step further, as the new findings suggest a link between passive-aggressive workplaces and the new trend of ‘quiet quitting’.

Also, 43 percent say it has reduced their colleagues’ motivation to be so low they only want to do the bare minimum, and one in five (20%) admit the same for themselves.

It is not just ‘quiet quitting’ that people admit to, as 30 percent admit to passive-aggressive behaviour themselves. Of this group, 35 percent say they know full well what they’re doing, but 34 percent only become aware later that their actions may have been viewed that way, and they don’t mean to do it. 

Ashleigh Loughnan, Chief People Officer from Go1 says:

“Feeling stressed and lacking communication or problem-solving skills can all lead to passive-aggressive behaviours and as this research shows – reduce productivity and damage workplace culture as a result.

“Overcoming these behaviours at work starts with proper education and training. If people are better equipped with essential soft skills, such as communication or stress management, then it can help solve the problem before it begins.

“For this to happen, we’re calling on companies to provide an open line of communication between their HR and L&D specialists and employees. They can implement strategies and share resources to reduce passive aggressive behaviour and in turn, improve their company culture.”






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.