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HR Update: Straight talk on how to deal with passive aggressive employees

BY FORREST FLINN

In my opinion, there is nothing worse in dealership life than dealing with passive-aggressive employees or coworkers.  You know the ones that say one thing and then go and do something else.  Whether the passive-aggressive behavior is from a coworker, a manager, or even the dealer principle him or herself, working in dealerships with people who display passive-aggressive behavior can make you lose your mind and, even worse, your motivation to perform well on the job. This month’s blog will focus on how to define and deal with passive-aggressive behavior which can be down right costly to your dealership’s bottom line and, more importantly, destructive to your entire dealership’s culture.

What is passive-aggressive behavior and what impact does it have on the dealership?

Passive-aggressive behavior is one of those things that you cannot see on the surface or directly explain away. Sometimes it is subtle and sometimes not so much. Passive-aggressive behavior is the expression of anger and hostility in nonaggressive ways, usually towards coworkers or their managers.  The passive-aggressive person subtly will exhibit behaviors that appear to be passive but really are directed and painful on purpose.  The purpose, consciously or not, is to try to control a situation, injure another person, or sabotage a process or strategy while looking innocent on the surface and avoiding any and all responsibility.  Sometimes it is unconscious behavior, but for the most part it is well thought out and planned.

The impact of employees with passive-aggressive behavior is huge!  According to Fast Company, the cost of employees with passive-aggressive behavior cost the U.S economy over 37 billion in lost productivity each year. (Fast Company) Just think of the time we spend trying to deal with issues in environments where passive-aggressive behavior is allowed to go unchecked.  Powersports dealerships are tough enough to manage let alone deal with employees who can’t deal with things head-on for whatever reason.  How much of your energy and time is spent dealing with consequences or fallout of passive-aggressive employees?  I will tell you how much— way too much!

How do you spot passive aggressive behavior in the dealership?

According to IdealistCareers.com, there are definite telltale behaviors of passive-aggressive employees, but below are the main types of behaviors that will tell you whether someone is or isn’t possibly passive-aggressive:

  • Sarcasm
  • Silent Treatment
  • Withholding of praise
  • Criticism
  • Sabotage
  • Unreliability
  • Work slowdowns or stoppages.

How can you correct an employee displaying passive behavior?

Can passive-aggressive employees be fixed or rehabilitated?  The short answer is yes and no.  You first should try to resolve the issue by counseling the employee that is displaying the disruptive behavior and try to see where he or she is coming from.  Have a sit down, a come to Jesus meeting, without being too accusatory or direct. Don’t aggressively confront the employee but try to be as understanding as you can.  Try to dig out the root cause of the destructive behavior.   Remember that passive-aggressive employees are trying to accomplish two things:  controlling a situation and/or avoiding confrontation.  You need to give these types of employees your full understanding and support.

But what if trying to understand or coaching the employee doesn’t work?  If you have tried your best to turn the situation around with the employee and the behavior still persists, then it is time to part ways with this employee.  I personally would give it roughly two months before I pulled the trigger and terminated the employee in question.  At the end of the day you cannot afford to have passive-aggressive employees destroy the culture of your dealership.  Remember that passive-aggressive behavior is a cancer that will spread rampantly through your dealership and decrease morale, productivity, and could devastate your bottom line.

What should happen if the behavior does not improve?

Unfortunately, when all coaching has failed, you have to make a choice between a healthy culture and an unhealthy one.  Yes, I am suggesting that you will have to terminate the employee who is passive-aggressive and replace them with one who is not.  In some cases, the employee in question is a key employee and you feel you cannot live with or without them. I’m here to tell you that you can live without them and your dealership in the long-run will be better for it.  And actually, after you terminate and after your new employee is up and running, you will ask yourself why you didn’t make this change a long time ago.

Final Thoughts

As I have said over and over, running a modern powersports dealership is tough.  When dealing with dysfunctional employees it’s better to deal with it straight on and not let it fester for days, months, and possibly years. There is too much at stake when it comes to building a dealership’s culture.  So much time, blood, sweat, and tears that you have put in to have a dealership that you can be proud of and where most of your employees enjoy working. Don’t let a few dysfunctional employees ruin it for you.  Life is too short and being profitable is hard enough.

After all, it is just good business.

Forrest Flinn, MBA, PHR, SMS has been in the motorcycle industry for more than 20 years and has been a true student and leader serving in various capacities. He previously worked as an implementation consultant for Lightspeed and as a general manager with P&L responsibility for a large metro multi-line dealership. Currently Forrest is the managing partner and chief visionary for a consulting firm that specializes in outsourced accounting, human resources, social media strategy, dealership operations consulting and Lightspeed/EVO training.

Contact: forrest@powersportsmc.com

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