Can you rehabilitate a passive aggressive employee?

They're awfully hard to spot because they seem agreeable to your face, but they drag their feet or sabotage projects behind your back. Is there an antidote?

This article was originally published by on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, contributor

FORTUNE -- During a month-long household move, Patty Shore, director of marketing at Creative Energy Options, asked to bring her dog to the consulting firm's White Haven, Pa. offices. Everyone at the company expressed enthusiasm, president Sylvia Lafair recalls, but before long, one employee began complaining that the dog, a mixed-breed collie named Mr. Ray, hovered outside her office and wouldn't leave her alone.

Shore tried to restrict Mr. Ray to the other end of the office, but couldn't keep the pup away from the complainer. "Finally, two people came to me and said, 'She has dog biscuits in the drawer of her desk and feeds the dog when nobody is looking,'" says Lafair. "It was very devious."

Lafair confronted the employee about her passive aggressive behavior and received a wide-eyed response: she just felt sorry for the dog. After a few more incidents of underhanded behavior and performance issues, Lafair had to fire the problem employee.
"Passive aggressive people will say yes to your face and stab you in the back," she says. "Sometimes you can't help.... They need to be asked to leave."

Passive-aggressive employees present one of the toughest workplace challenges to both managers and coworkers. The behavior can be difficult to identify, and even tougher to change. Left unaddressed, passive-aggressive actions can spread to other employees and create a culture of heel dragging and mute rebellion.

"The passive aggressive stuff is like a cancer. It's insidious and if you walk by it, you're saying it's acceptable and it will spread to others," says George Bradt, a consultant and author of The New Leader's 100 Day Action Plan. "The prescription is, head it off at the pass." Read more at