Workplace civility is a direct reflection on the capacity of an organizations ability to produce sustainable outcomes. As small communities it begins to develop those cultural attributes based on the way in which people act and interact with each other. Even in the best communities there are a few individuals that don't value common acts of civility.
Almost every workplace has a few of these individuals. We know who they are by their rumor dropping, directional joking, and petty grievances that continue to carry on over and over. If it isn't one person they have a problem with it is another person as the target changes but the behavior continues.
Such lack of civility seems harmless but does damage over the long run as work relationships erode. I have witnessed intentional joking that seemed more like an attempt to swipe at someone than to create good natured fun. These seemingly innocent acts do eventually take their toll on positive workplace environments.
The problem is that such activities are not easy to monitor or disciplined. Who can discipline someone for a joke that didn't say anything bad? The acts are so subtle and full of innuendo that they carry subjective meaning for all the parties involved. It is difficult to find any teeth in them for action.
Despite the inability to act and remove such individuals in the short run I find that it is important to support the victims of such behavior. Not that they can't get over it, deal with it, and defend themselves but just to say, "I get it and I empathize with you".
None of this has to be said formally or even in a way that is obvious. A subtle elbow grab, a quick question of how they are doing, or even just a supportive smile can go a long way. Communities are built on these small acts of kindness that support genuine relationships.
I have learned that there are two ways to deal with such issues. You can either ignore the behavior so that those person doesn't get the "thrill" of the chase or you can tackle the issue so that they know there are social consequences. Each method depends on the personality of the target. Both can lead to escalation.
There are no win-win situations when one person hasn't been properly socialized to the subtle acts of civility. It is based on misperceptions of life, their place in it, and the sense of community. These are not things that can be easily fixed without major insight and radical change. Unfortunately, such individuals will continue to move from workplace to workplace creating the same sort of chaos wherever they go.