Identifying A Hostile Work Environment

Most people spend a good deal of time at work each week, and those hours can seem endless if the workplace is a hostile environment. Sometimes a toxic workplace is easy to spot; other times you might not even realize why you feel so awful at work. Either way, hostile work environments are counterproductive and damaging.

A hostile work environment is often characterized by negative attitudes, poor morale, lack of communication, distrust, discrimination, and a general sense of malaise about the work. There can be many different causes for a negative workplace, but there are also some useful approaches to fixing it. This kind of atmosphere can stem from one person, many people, or sometimes management itself. It could be a result of the organizational structure and how it favors a few while neglecting the many. Often it results from a cultural issue that has grown over time. If you don’t walk into your company feeling positive energy and see smiling faces, something may be wrong.

The Effects of a Toxic Workplace

You set out in business to succeed. However, if your company is poisoned by the toxicity of harassment or other forms of abuse, your bottom line will suffer. When employees aren’t happy, they don’t work as hard. Sometimes a hostile work environment will actually influence workers to sabotage work efforts.

When you identify people who are the cause of the negativity in your company, you should sit down with them immediately with HR as a mediator and discuss the issue.

Productivity has been linked to happy employees. When your staff feels threatened or degraded at work, their performance is much more likely to suffer. Poor communication is another side effect of a toxic work environment. When you need information, you need it to be accurate and fast. Your ability to get what you need from your people may be hindered if they do not feel valued and appreciated. When you identify people who are the cause of the negativity in your company, you should sit down with them immediately with HR as a mediator and discuss the issue. Give them a chance to explain but reiterate your policies and how their behavior affects others. Some people are unaware and may take the opportunity to change. With others, you may have to take punitive actions.

How to Address Harassment and Hostility in Your Business

Discrimination is a serious problem in the workplace. We generally hear a lot about sexual harassment, which is a form of discrimination, but some other damaging types of harassment to watch out for are physical, racial, religious, gender-based, age-based and power harassment. Any of these forms can hurt morale and cause more pressing legal issues as well. If you notice any of these types of things happening within your company, you must address them immediately. Ensure that your company handbook includes clear policies prohibiting any discrimination or harassment. Educate employees and management on both topics and go over the reporting procedure to inform HR of any incidents as quickly as possible. Seemingly small incidents, like a racial slur here or an inappropriate joke there, can quickly lead to more serious infractions.

The last thing you want are issues between co-workers escalating to the point of physical violence or worse. Bullying, intimidation, and ridicule at work are not new ideas, but they’re ones you want to be sure you nip in the bud. Regardless of the power structure between people, end it quickly. There are strict laws regarding acceptable forms of behavior in the workplace, and you do not want to be liable for a lawsuit just because you ignored the signs or, even worse, condoned the practice.

Effective Leadership Is the Key

Many books and articles have been written on how to be an effective leader rather than a manager. Management generally oversees people to ensure that they are doing their jobs. They evaluate performance and sometimes dole out punishment for errors made. Leaders, however, inspire people; they encourage them and make them want to succeed for themselves — not just for money or to meet company goals. Effective leadership includes giving praise but also trusting your people to do their jobs. Rather than watch over their shoulder or micromanage them, instead offer help and resources so they can do their jobs in whatever way they want, within reason. When given a greater degree of freedom, many people exceed expectations and performance goals.

Unfortunately, sometimes a hostile work environment stems from management itself. A manager that promotes drama, disagreement, and resentments is stirring the pot of toxicity. A good leader, however, will strive for a comfortable, collaborative, non-hostile environment where workers are all treated equally and feel genuinely valued.

To keep a handle on the workplace environment, you must pay attention and address every incident with a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination or harassment. Probably the best weapon against a toxic work environment is to hire and train good leaders who know how to create a productive, socially healthy, and efficient workplace.


Brooke Faulkner
Brooke Faulkner
Brooke Faulkner is a mom, writer, and entrepreneur in the Pacific Northwest. She loves all things literary, doggish, and plant-based. Of those, words are her favorite. You can find more of her work on Twitter @faulknercreek.

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