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toddler tantrum in office chair
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Getty Images (2)

If you think the people you work with sometimes act less like professionals than like spoiled children, you’re not too far off. A new survey from CareerBuilder finds that 77% of workers have experienced some form of childish behavior in the workplace.

“It’s not so surprising,” career coach Roy Cohen says of the survey’s findings. “People are working long hours, and sometimes when you work long hours, you need to blow off some steam.” Cohen also suggests that the influx of millennials into the workplace may have ushered in a corresponding drop in maturity levels (millennials themselves might take issue with this characterization).

CareerBuilder finds that whining seems to be the most common juvenile behavior, with 55% of respondents encountering it on the job. Up next is that other childhood staple of displeasure: pouting, which 46% of workers say they’ve witnessed in their co-workers. Other common offenses, each reported by about a third of respondents, include playing pranks, making faces behind people’s backs, forming cliques, and starting rumors.

It might be frustrating to feel like you’re surrounded by people with the social skills of your average Frozen fan, but you don’t necessarily want to go running to your boss or HR every time you witness a tantrum—especially since 44% of respondents say they've seen co-workers tattle on fellow employees.

So how should you respond? Career experts suggest asking yourself the following questions:

Does it fit with the culture? Some workplace cultures have a higher tolerance for pranks, swearing, and other bad behavior than others. You could find yourself swimming upstream if your expectations for workplace behavior aren’t in line with the way most employees behave.

Is it just annoying? For behavior like snickering, eye-rolling, and making faces, the same advice you got in elementary school is still your best bet: Ignore it. While nobody likes sitting next to the person who whines or gossips all day long, these types of infractions probably aren’t really disrupting your work, and they’re annoyances for which you often can find a workaround. “There may be a way to resolve the situation on its own, such as by moving where you sit or wearing headphones to drown the person out,” says CareerBuilder chief human resources officer Rosemary Haefner.

Can you address it yourself? Remember when your mom would tell you to settle petty childhood disputes yourself? True, nobody likes confronting a pouter, rumor-starter, clique “queen bee,” or other adolescent throwback, but going up the corporate ladder should be your last option, not your first. “Try approaching that person one on one," Haefner says. "Calmly, without passing judgment, explain how his or her behavior is affecting your ability to work." Sometimes it doesn’t dawn on people that they’re being a jerk or hurting others’ feelings until someone points it out to them.

Is the behavior disruptive to business functions? If so, you should document the specific behavior before going to your boss or HR. “Be able to provide examples of how this behavior is having a negative impact on your work,” Haefner says. It’s important to keep things professional and avoid personal accusations or attacks, she says. Even a legitimate complaint about childish behavior, if delivered the wrong way, can make you look like the problem.

Is it harassment or bullying? There are times when a culture of bad behavior can be toxic. Being on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances, racial or sexual epithets, being touched inappropriately or physically threatened are all examples of extreme bad behavior for which you might have corporate—and maybe even legal—recourse. “Read your employer’s policy manual to know the rules and how issues are managed,” Cohen advises. “You may be surprised—there may be a protocol already in place” for dealing with your concern, he says.

Can anyone else be your advocate? If the childish outbursts are coming from your boss—and especially if they’re aimed squarely at you—you might want to consider if there’s another senior-level employee who you can talk to about the situation. This is also an option if you’re not sure HR will be able to handle your concerns effectively and in confidence. A senior employee with more experience might have some insight or knowledge that can help you deal with the issue, Cohen says. If they agree that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed, having them in your corner can be a big help, he adds. “Having someone who’s more senior also complain carries more weight."

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