We all want a fulfilling career, but sometimes people unknowingly step into unfriendly workplaces. Here’s how to deal with a hostile work environment and find the best path forward.
You don’t need to find a new place to work only because of an ongoing conflict with a coworker or supervisor. Use these tips to manage the hostile environment and achieve the best solution for everyone involved. It may take some creativity, but anyone can follow these steps to find more joy at work again.
Talk with your manager
No one can get along with everyone. You’re going to have coworkers who become your best friends, but won’t happen with every person who interacts with you. Unfortunately, sometimes people’s personalities clash in the workplace.
You may have tried to be friends with a particular person for months or even years with no success. If you have an ongoing series of negative interactions with someone, they might have turned into a bully.
Bullies exist far outside the walls of primary schools. Adults can make nasty comments or passive-aggressive jabs all the time, especially if they feel like their career could benefit. If you have a bully at work, talk with your manager about what’s going on.
They’ll have the authority to speak to the person you’ve mentioned and get them to respect whatever changes you need to feel comfortable. If the person doesn’t respond positively, your manager can also be the one to escalate the situation.
They could bring the issue to human resources (HR) and put your experiences on file. When HR sees a pattern of complaints against someone, it may be enough to move them to another department or let them go. Even if nothing happens right away, speaking up about your ongoing situation is a crucial step to fixing a hostile work environment.
Meet with your coworkers
Managers also sometimes need tips for a hostile work environment. You’re in charge, so everyone looks to you for solutions. You’re also responsible for problems people don’t bring up right away. You might lead a team who can’t thrive because two members don’t get along.
If this situation is the case, it’s your responsibility to sort through whatever keeps them from working together.
Schedule a meeting with the two individuals and speak with them in a private conference room. Listen to both sides to maintain a neutral perspective. You might find immediate solutions for them or suggest potential ways to leave the meeting on better terms.
No matter what you decide, follow up with them individually after a few days or weeks to get their opinions on if your plan succeeded.
It’s OK to fill a supervisor position and also feel like you don’t know what to do. Talk with your superior or look into conflict resolution training to strengthen your skills. Employees will clash at any workplace, so it’s essential to learn how to mediate. Your company should want you to excel in mediation because it makes you a more significant asset to the team.
Address the problem calmly
A particular employee might make you dread walking past their desk to use their restroom or sit alone in the workplace kitchen for lunch. They could have a habit of cornering you with negative comments or making you physically uncomfortable. It’s always OK to address them calmly and communicate your discomfort.
Letting them know how you feel could open their eyes. They might back off and end the hostile environment. The whole situation may have begun because they misinterpreted something and didn’t feel welcomed to your team or the workplace.
If the person is unreceptive to your concerns, you’ll feel more confident that bringing the issue to your manager or HR is the right decision.
The most important thing about addressing the problem individually is knowing how the other person is receiving your message. Your voice might sound positive, but your crossed arms would communicate you’re actually upset.
Use specific positive or thoughtful word choices and combine them with body language which signals your openness. The other person will reflect those feelings and better respond to your concerns.
You might worry about not knowing how to communicate your message clearly. If so, ask a friend or family member to pretend they are the person you have in mind. Practice talking things out with them at home or another safe space. Their feedback could fine-tune your efforts and make the actual conversation much easier.
Start a harassment log
Maintaining a harassment log is another way people learn how to deal with a hostile work environment. If the person who makes you uncomfortable won’t stop their behaviour after a private conversation, or your manager won’t do anything about it, grab a notebook. You’ll need evidence to approach management higher up.
Record every interaction which makes your work environment unwelcoming. Write the time and date of each log, plus anyone who overheard what happened.
You should also screenshot any chat messages from an abusive person and save their emails in specific folders. If you can prove their behaviour is continuous, people higher up in the company are more likely to act on your complaint.
Consult with human resources
If you’re not sure what to do, you can always email someone in HR. They can set up a meeting and be the mediator. Your workplace bully may listen to someone in HR over you or your manager. Still, you might hesitate to contact someone because you’re worried nothing will happen. There are extra steps you can take to make inaction less likely.
Think about framing the conversation in a way that matters most to the company. HR representatives and business owners want employees who are engaged and thriving. When employees become disengaged for whatever reason, it can cost $450-$550 annually by losing sales or creating a bad reputation for the brand.
Mentioning these things could be a powerful tool in your arsenal. Discuss how being bullied makes you less productive in addition to being more stressed and anxious. You’ll appeal to the company’s interests and likely get a faster response by moving the bully to a different department or letting them go.
Talk with a therapist
No matter how your workplace responds to your ongoing experience, they can’t do much to help heal your mental health. Meeting with a therapist is one of the best tips to deal with a hostile work environment.
They’ll point out helpful tools to ease your anxiety or construct more helpful conversations. A counsellor can also become a sounding board when you wonder if you should stick with your job or reasonably seek employment elsewhere.
Surround yourself with allies
Loneliness is a challenging aspect of working somewhere you don’t enjoy. Rude coworkers or managers make people feel isolated in their mistreatment. Surround yourself with allies to battle this mental health aspect of a hostile professional environment.
Your coworkers may have witnessed the harassment or experienced it themselves. Talk about it with them to relieve your anxiety and feel supported. When even one person validates your feelings, you’ll gain strength. You can also ask your allies to speak up about the bullying if you want to report the individual to management.
Request an adjusted work routine
People who are stuck in a hostile environment should consider adjusting their work routine. If your manager is aware of the problem and supports you, they might switch things up to make your job more comfortable.
A good manager always respects their team members’ needs over someone’s workplace contributions or productivity. They should always care about your well-being and want to help you find more peace and deal with a hostile work environment.
Talk with your supervisor about sitting away from hostile individuals. Request your manager to avoid scheduling one-on-one meetings with them away from witnesses. Simple adjustments could minimise your interactions and make it easier to work while management finds a permanent solution.
File a discrimination charge
Employment rights laws exist to protect people from hostile work environments. If you believe someone has violated your rights, you can file a discrimination charge with your local or national government.
Look into employment laws where you live to find the specific offices and bureaus handling employment complaints. Remember, you can use any evidence you’ve collected to support your claim and make your case more substantial.
You have a legal right to proceed with a charge if you’ve suffered due to discrimination related to your:
- Sexual orientation;
- Gender identity;
After providing identifying information about yourself, your employer and the person or people discriminating against you, the office in charge of workplace complaints may prioritise an investigation into your claim. Their findings could result in back pay, a promotion, hiring changes or compensation for legal fees.
Before filing your complaint, consider what you’d like to happen as a result of an investigation. You may not care to stick around with the same company but want management teams to prevent the hostile environment from continuing.
You may need financial compensation for therapy bills accrued due to the recent events. There are many ways to resolve a situation beyond removing the workplace bully. Keep your goals in mind while proceeding with a complaint and any related investigations.
Leave the company
Sometimes people do everything they can to resolve an uncomfortable situation or deal with a hostile work environment, and nothing changes. If this is the case, it’s time to consider if you should leave the company.
Seeking employment elsewhere is a good idea if you believe it’s best for your mental health or physical safety. You don’t need to win the fight and work there forever to prove anything to anyone. It’s always wise to put your well-being before your career.
You also might make a more significant difference by leaving. Distracted business owners or managers who keep their teams at arm’s length might not give you their full attention until they need to fill your position. They’ll want to know why you left and what happened to cause your professional exit so their next hire stays longer.
Now you know how to deal with a hostile work environment, use these tips to work things out. Start a harassment log, talk with your manager or file a complaint with HR to get things moving.
You can always take legal action with the EEOC if your workplace can’t find a resolution. Nobody deserves to work a job they hate, so find your next steps forward by considering actionable tips like these.
About the Author
Ginger Abbot is a career and education writer who specialises in helping students and professionals find their passions. Read more of her work on her learning publication, Classrooms, or subscribe to her newsletter.