People Management

What Is a Hostile Work Environment and How to Fix It

Creating a safe and friendly workplace requires measures to rectify a hostile work environment. Learn what constitutes a toxic workplace and how to create a space that makes employees feel comfortable and productive.

Takeaways

  • Hostile work environments can lead to lawsuits and damage your company’s reputation if they aren’t addressed. 
  • Unwelcomed conduct reduces employee productivity and boosts employee turnover rates, impacting talent acquisition costs.
  • Comprehensive training and transparent communication help to address and prevent hostile work environments.

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment is when an employee is subject to harassment, discrimination, or other negative behaviors based on their identity as part of a protected group. Protected groups include race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, and genetic information. 

Unfortunately, hostile work environments are relatively common. According to the American Psychological Association, 22% of workers have experienced harm to their mental health at work.

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Why Is Addressing a Hostile Work Environment Important?

Dealing directly with hostile behaviors can go a long way toward preventing them from becoming a permanent part of your company culture. These behaviors lead to employee stress and have negative consequences for your business. In extreme cases, discrimination and harassment at your organization could lead to lawsuits. 

Moreover, failing to address these issues may damage your company’s reputation, making it harder to attract top talent.

Platforms like Glassdoor have made it easier than ever for people to share their work experiences, and many job seekers rely on reviews from previous employees before accepting a new job. Negative stories of workplace hostility could discourage them from joining your company. 

Additionally, a hostile workplace makes it difficult for your team to work efficiently, which could limit your company’s productivity and prevent achieving business objectives and goals. 

“People thrive at work when they feel genuinely respected and valued by their managers and coworkers.”

– Caden Childs , Wizehire Coach

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment can take many forms, including behaviors or conditions that create an intimidating, offensive, or uncomfortable atmosphere for employees. Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Discrimination: It’s when employees are treated unfairly or differently based on factors such as race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.
  • Harassment: Unwelcome advances, offensive jokes or comments, or any behavior that creates a hostile or intimidating environment.
  • Bullying: Telltale signs include persistent mistreatment, humiliation, constant criticism, yelling, and disrespectful communication by a co-worker or manager.
  • High turnover: Employees leaving the organization frequently could indicate a hostile environment—and it also drives up talent acquisition costs.
  • Micromanagement: Excessive monitoring or control over employees’ work can easily create a sense of distrust and hostility.

How Toxic Workplaces Impact Employee Productivity

Toxic workplace environments can significantly undermine employee productivity by creating conditions that hinder motivation, engagement, and work performance. 

  • Increased absenteeism: Employees may take more sick or mental health days to avoid the toxic environment.
  • Coffee badging: While many factors contribute to coffee badging, a toxic workplace may encourage employees to spend less time at the office.
  • Gossip and Rumors: Hostile workplaces often foster an environment of gossip and rumors, which can create distractions and erode trust among team members. 
  • Burnout: Companies that set unrealistic expectations for employee performance can lead to burnout, exhaustion, and decreased productivity as employees become physically and mentally depleted.

How to Cultivate a Positive Company Culture

What sets your company apart from the rest? If your thoughts instantly jump to “company culture,” you’re on the right…

How to Fix a Hostile Work Environment

Creating a positive work environment requires a collective effort from management and employees to establish a culture of respect and support where everyone feels valued and safe.  Managers should promote professionalism, empathy, and integrity in their daily interactions with employees, setting an example for others to follow.

Encourage Employees to Report Unwelcome Behaviors

One of the biggest challenges to fixing a hostile work environment is getting your employees to report these behaviors when they happen. Many employees hesitate to make these reports due to fear of retaliation or confusion about who to talk to. 

Implement procedures for employees to safely and comfortably report unwanted behavior to remedy this issue. This will look different in every organization. In many cases, employees will feel more comfortable having an informal conversation directly with their manager or with people resources rather than going through a rigid reporting process.

Companies can also consider adding a process or platform for anonymous employee workplace reporting. This is a great way to encourage employees to speak up without fear of retaliation.

Whichever route you choose, clearly define your processes for reporting hostile behavior in writing to avoid confusion. Specify that your organization will not take any adverse employment action against employees who report hostile behavior. It is also important to outline specific consequences for those who engage in such behavior. 

Provide Training and Education for Your Team

Ongoing training and education are essential to prevent hostile behavior. Although the federal government does not require it, many states do, particularly for sexual harassment training.

Moreover,  the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) strongly recommends anti-discriminatory employee training to promote fair and inclusive work environments.

Prioritize DEI Initiatives

Diversity training is an ongoing process that supports and reinforces a culture of inclusion and equality. It’s not just a box to check off but an opportunity for companies to promote positive social change and create a more harmonious and respectful workplace. 

Companies should aim to develop a DEI program specifically for their unique organizational culture. By establishing affinity and allyship groups, employees can feel a sense of belonging and support, which can help foster a more inclusive and welcoming work environment.

Organizational Transparency Matters

Creating a culture of transparency within an organization is vital to success. Such an environment fosters trust and openness, increasing productivity and job satisfaction.

The journey towards transparency begins with leadership. When leaders set an example by demonstrating respectful behavior and sharing their experiences, others follow.

Leadership teams should consider approaches such as frequent communication and openness about company policies and procedures during onboarding, one-on-one meetings, employee reviews, company all-hands, and internal messaging. Doing so effectively prevents negative behaviors from festering because of misinformation or assumptions. 

Navigating Different Employee Communication Styles

Some employees prefer face-to-face group discussions, while others want to express their feelings in writing. Accommodating different communication styles and preferences and having employees share them openly encourages more thoughtful interactions and often eliminates conflicts.

Remember, respecting each employee’s uniqueness fosters engagement and promotes a sense of value and inclusivity for all. Tailoring your communication approach to suit employees’ personalities and preferences can promote a healthy workplace culture.

Wize Words

Fostering a positive workplace culture not only boosts job satisfaction and productivity but also yields positive results for the bottom line. Investing in such a culture enhances employees’ well-being and plays a crucial role in the overall success and profitability of the organization.

Author

  • Sarah Foley

    Sarah Foley, a Chicago-based freelance content writer and marketer, boasts a rich portfolio spanning back to 2015. Over the years, she has meticulously crafted hundreds of blogs, web copy, and ebooks that delve into diverse subjects, including business, technology, HR, and more.

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The article was reviewed by Deirdre Sullivan

Sarah Foley

Sarah Foley, a Chicago-based freelance content writer and marketer, boasts a rich portfolio spanning back to 2015. Over the years, she has meticulously crafted hundreds of blogs, web copy, and ebooks that delve into diverse subjects, including business, technology, HR, and more.

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