How to survive a hostile work environment

A hostile work environment creates a number of challenges in the workplace, preventing employees from effectively doing their jobs. For companies, this can be a big issue which can impact employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity. Below, we discuss what a hostile work environment is and how you can create a positive environment for your employees.

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What is a hostile work environment?

A hostile work environment is one where the words and actions of a supervisor, manager or coworker negatively or severely impacts another employee’s ability to complete their work. Any employee can be responsible for creating a hostile work environment.

Hostile work environment requirements

An employee with an unlikable bad habit or one that repeatedly bothers another coworker isn’t quite enough to create a hostile work environment. So what does?

A true hostile work environment must meet certain legal criteria, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). An environment can become hostile when:

  • Unwelcome conduct, or harassment, is based on race, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, age, disability or genetics
  • Harassment is continued and long lasting
  • Conduct is severe enough that the environment becomes intimidating, offensive or abusive

Learn more about these requirements below, and when a work environment is likely to turn hostile.

Work performance is hindered

To establish a hostile work environment, an employee must be able to show that the words and actions of a coworker or supervisor make it impossible to do their job effectively. This may include severe, pervasive and unwelcome behavior, or words or actions that, if not amended, would make the employee unable to function in their role.

Discrimination occurs

The coworker or supervisor accused of creating a hostile work environment has to display behavior that is consistent with discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and regulations maintained by the EEOC define discrimination as behavior against someone of a protected class, meaning discrimination that occurs based on gender (or gender identity), race, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion.

Effective handling has not occurred

When an employee makes a hostile work environment claim, there’s a chance their manager or employer has either witnessed the harassment or been notified of it. Once reported, it’s typically the employer’s responsibility to address the issue timely and effectively to find resolve. If not — if a case is ignored or handled poorly — the employer becomes responsible for fostering a hostile work environment.

Burden of proof

For any hostile work environment claims, regulators are required to look at the experience of the employee reporting it to ensure it meets the necessary criteria to make a case. This means the burden of proof falls on the victim of the behavior to establish a viable claim — one that includes discrimination that is severe, pervasive or unwelcome, and that adds additional burdens to their career movement.

Those examining a case may ask these questions to determine if a situation or environment may be considered hostile:

  • Was the behavior in question unwelcome?
  • Did the incidents occur multiple times over a period of time?
  • Did the incidents occur against someone whose class is protected?

Tips for creating a positive work environment

A big part of creating a safe working environment is preventing harassment from happening in the first place. Below are some tips for creating a positive work environment to avoid harassment and hostility:

Value employees

One way to make employees feel welcome (and safe to report harassment concerns) is to create an environment where employee voices and ideas are valued and encouraged. Everyone should feel like they perform to their strengths within the organization and that you, as a manager, feel employees are competent to do their jobs and bring value.

Consider keeping your office door open during certain times every day to be more available. You can also promote idea sharing, which shows employees you respect their input. Do this by asking for their feedback during decision-making processes or inviting them to collaborate on higher-level projects. All of this can help your work environment feel more inclusive, and create feelings of satisfaction and commitment among your team.

Promote open, clear communication

Communication is key to fostering a positive workplace. This is essential because in a hostile work environment, a strong first step for the victim is to address the behavior directly with the employee in question as well as let them know it’s unwelcome and inappropriate. In an environment where clear and open communication is valued, this type of communication can come with more ease.

It’s also crucial that you establish open, two-way communication with employees as a manager. You can do this by making time to talk to individual employees on a routine basis (e.g, once a week), establishing essential communication channels and being generally approachable and trustworthy.

Implement recognition programs

Acknowledging and rewarding the good work of employees makes them valued, trusted and part of the team. You might do this by recognizing an employee’s work at a staff meeting or by setting up recognition programs that include bonuses and rewards. Both are good practices for organizations that want to create a culture of success. While discrimination may still occur in a workplace where employees feel rewarded and valued, when employees are happy with their jobs, they may be less likely to adopt hostile behaviors.

Make work fun

Happy employees do better work than ones that report less happiness. As a manager, you should maintain a professional environment, but one that also includes opportunities for fun during the workday.

One way to do this is encouraging employees to decorate their workspaces. Another option is to offer breaks that increase morale and make employees more productive upon their return. You may foster an environment of friendly competition between employees by having human resources or sales teams develop contests for a special prize, like a gift card or day off of work.

Build an environment of trust

A couple of ways you can create an environment of trust is by releasing some control to employees to do their job without constant supervision, or by giving employees the green light to implement new ideas. If the right people are hired for the job, they’ll likely work well and be successful with minimal supervision once their initial training is complete.

It’s important that you document a hostile work environment, meaning any comments or actions or touchings that you feel are inappropriate. These types of comments, in order for them to be actionable, have to be based on either your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, or another type of protected category. It’s important that these actions or these comments that are being made be documented whether or not you think that there’s anything there or whether or not you ever even plan doing anything about them.

And the type of information that you want to make sure that you’re including is the date, time, the circumstance, where it took place, who said it, what they said, the gist of what they said. If you remember any quotes, you should include the quotes. You should also include any witnesses that were there. What were the witnesses’ reaction? Did they object in any way to what was going on? It’s also important that you also log your own feelings about what took place. Over time, these are things, these are details that may fade away, but as you continue to keep the log and you’re able to refer back and reflect, it will remind you of the circumstance that you are recording.

One common type of employment discrimination claim is based on a hostile work environment, which may arise in a variety of situations. If you are wondering how to document a hostile work environment so that you can assert your rights in a lawsuit against your employer, the New York City discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates can offer sound legal counsel. Watch the video on this page or read below to find out more information.

A Hostile Work Environment is Illegal

Often, discrimination or harassment in the workplace starts slowly. The perpetrator may initially make a few offhand remarks that trouble you, but they may not be so egregious that you are upset by them. However, the misconduct may escalate so that it becomes frequent or pervasive. A hostile work environment is a situation that occurs when the workplace is filled with improper comments, behaviors, materials, interactions, or other conduct that is wrongfully based on an individual’s: race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or another protected trait. The comments may also be sexually explicit, leading to a claim of sexual harassment. You don’t have to be fired in order to have a claim for a hostile work environment.

Hostile Work Environment

In most cases, a hostile work environment does not arise from a single incident. For example, asking a co-worker out once or making a single joke that appears to relate to a co-worker’s race is unlikely to constitute a hostile work environment based on harassment or discrimination. However, someone who sexually harasses or habitually gropes co-workers, sends emails that contain ethnic slurs, makes comments regarding ones sexual orientation, or posts images of racially charged symbols in the workplace, for example, may create a hostile work environment. Each case is evaluated on an individual basis, but in general, you should make it known to the perpetrator that their actions are unacceptable. Moreover, even someone who is not a direct victim of discrimination or harassment may find that inappropriate conduct creates a hostile work environment. When it happens between two co-workers, the complainant will need to show that the employer knew or should have known about the inappropriate conduct but did not take steps to stop it.

Document the Hostile Work Environment

You should document each instance of discrimination or harassment immediately after it happens, once you suspect that the misconduct is occurring. You should write down exactly what happened in a notebook, including the names of the people involved in an interaction, who saw what happened, any quotes that you remember, and the events.

You should date each entry, and it may be helpful to note any information that could help prove which day the note was written. For example, if your boss made sexual advances toward you or made a demeaning reference to an apparent disability of yours after a meeting with a particular client, you might specify those details in your entry. This creates a contemporaneous record of what happened.

Remember to keep all text messages, emails, and other proof of the discriminatory or harassing behavior. This will be helpful to prove your case. You should provide written notice to your employer to allow for an attempt to correct the situation, and you should keep a copy of the notice for yourself. If you have a verbal conversation with HR to complain about an instance of discrimination or harassment, you should follow up with an email to memorialize the conversation. You should print out your email and any responses so that if these emails are later deleted, you still have a record of them that is easy to access.

Be mindful of any retaliation you may experience for reporting the misconduct. While retaliation is illegal, it doesn’t mean you won’t be fired. Some employers blatantly violate the law. Many of our discrimination and harassment cases include a claim for retaliation.

Consult a New York City Attorney for Your Discrimination Claim

If you are wondering about how to document a hostile work environment, you should consult an employment discrimination or sexual harassment attorney about your situation. At Phillips & Associates, our New York City discrimination lawyers can evaluate your situation and provide vigorous legal representation as appropriate. Contact us at (212) 248-7431 or through our online form to set up a free appointment. We fight workplace misconduct in Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Westchester, as well as Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

45 Broadway, #430
New York, NY 10006
Tel: 212-248-7431
Fax: 212-901-2107

Legal Guidelines Exist That You Need to Know to Define a Hostile Workplace

How to survive a hostile work environment

How to survive a hostile work environment

Susan Heathfield is an HR and management consultant with an MS degree. She has decades of experience writing about human resources.

What constitutes a hostile work environment? Some employees believe that a bad boss, an unpleasant work environment, a rude coworker, failure to qualify for a promotion, a lack of teamwork, or the lack of perks, privileges, benefits, and recognition can create a hostile work environment.

And, yes, admittedly, many of these issues do contribute to an environment that may not be especially friendly or supportive of employees. The environment without employee-friendly offerings can be awful. A bad boss contributes particularly to an environment that employees may see as hostile.

Traditionally, bad managers took the brunt of the blame when employees quit their job. According to a Gallup survey, 67% of U.S. employees are disengaged at work, 51% say they’re actively looking for a new job or are open to one, and 47% say now is a good time to find a quality job. Moreover, Gallup’s data says that 70% of the variance in employee engagement is due to the environment provided by the manager.  

According to SHRM, a lack of career development and opportunity is the largest contributor to employees quitting their job.  

But, all of these factors (or the lack thereof) can make an environment seem hostile to an employee’s wants and needs. And, they frequently are depending on what the employee most needs.

Requirements for a Hostile Work Environment

But, the reality is that for a workplace to be hostile, certain legal criteria must be met.

A hostile work environment is created by a boss or coworker whose actions, communication, or behavior make doing your job impossible. This means that the behavior altered the terms, conditions, and/or reasonable expectations of a comfortable work environment for employees.

Additionally, the behavior, actions, or communication must be discriminatory in nature. Discrimination is monitored and guided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A hostile work environment claim is a workplace discrimination claim under federal law. The person complaining must prove they were discriminated against based on race, gender, color, religion, sexual orientation, ancestry, national origin, pregnancy, age, or disability, and that the actions must have been pervasive and severe enough to be considered abusive.

So, a coworker who talks loudly, snaps their gum, and leans over your desk when they talk with you, is demonstrating inappropriate, rude, obnoxious behavior, but it does not create a legally defined hostile work environment. On the other hand, a coworker who tells sexually explicit jokes and sends around images of nude people is guilty of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

A boss who verbally berates you about your age, your religion, your gender, or your race is guilty of creating a hostile work environment. Even if the comments are casual, said with a smile, or played as jokes, this does not excuse the situation.

This is especially true if you asked the individual to stop and the behavior continues. This, by the way, is always the first step in addressing inappropriate behavior at work—ask the inappropriately behaving boss or coworker to stop.

Legal Requirements for a Hostile Environment

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Illustration by Catherine Song. © The Balance, 2018

In addition to the legal requirements for a hostile work environment described above, here is additional information about each factor.

  • The actions or behavior must discriminate against a protected classification such as age, religion, disability, or race.
  • The behavior or communication must be pervasive, lasting over time, and not limited to an off-color remark or two that a coworker found annoying. These incidents should be reported to Human Resources for needed intervention.
  • The problem becomes significant and pervasive if it is all around a worker, and continues over time, and is not investigated and addressed effectively enough by the organization to make the behavior stop.
  • The hostile behavior, actions, or communication must be severe. Not only is it pervasive over time, but the hostility must seriously disrupt the employee’s work or ability to work. The second form of severity occurs if the hostile work environment interferes with an employee’s career progress. For example, the employee failed to receive a promotion or a job rotation as a result of the hostile behavior.
  • It is reasonable to assume that the employer knew about the actions or behavior and did not sufficiently intervene. Consequently, the employer can be liable for the creation of a hostile work environment.

Dealing With a Hostile Work Environment

Put the Employee on Notice

The first step an employee needs to take if he or she is experiencing a hostile work environment is to ask the offending employee to stop their behavior or communication. If an employee finds this difficult to do on his or her own, they should solicit help from a manager or Human Resources.

When inappropriate behavior is coming from another employee, they are your best in-house resources. They also serve as your witness to the fact that you asked the offending employee to stop the behavior.

You want to put the offending employee on notice that their behavior is offensive, discriminatory, inappropriate, and that you won’t tolerate the behavior. (In the majority of cases, the employee will stop the behavior. They may not have realized the degree to which you found the actions offensive.)

Additional Resources to Consult Before Taking Action

These resources will help you address a hostile work environment before the hostility escalates. You can pick between:

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  • How to Deal With a Destructive Manipulative Colleague
  • How to Deal with a Job Where Co-Workers Hate You
  • How to Deal With a Disrespectful & Screaming Co-Worker
  • How to Handle Competitive Coworkers
  • Leaving a Job Because of a Hostile Workplace

Companies typically have clearly defined policies for dealing with a hostile work environment. Dealing with a workplace environment that is generally hostile can be more challenging because there might be no clear remedy or recourse. Take steps to shield yourself from the negativity by controlling those things you can, identifying coworkers with whom you can form positive bonds and, if needed, reaching out to management for help.

Find an Escape

Shield yourself from the constant negativity of hostile work environment examples by escaping from it. Four simple steps can provide at least a temporary respite from the toxicity. First, take a break. Take a short break outside the office, perhaps in a nearby park. If that’s not an option, at least walk around inside or outside the building for a few minutes. Secondly, shut out the hostility by wearing headphones to listen to some relaxing music. Control your immediate surroundings. A third important consideration is to keep your office or cubicle uncluttered, soothing and user-friendly. Brighten your day with a family picture, a flowering plant or a candy jar. Finally, avoid abusive coworkers or direct confrontation whenever possible.

Be Sure to Have Allies

If you feel the work environment is excessively negative, chances are good that other coworkers do, too. Involve like-minded coworkers in any or all of these three steps to share the burden: talk about it, discuss possible solutions and act as a group. Talking about a problem with trusted colleagues can lighten the load because it helps you feel less alone in a negative situation. Work with coworkers and maybe a trusted supervisor to identify possible solutions — agree as a group to avoid gossip or to share the workload of onerous tasks. A more serious step is to take united action toward improving the workplace atmosphere. Draft a group letter for all to sign asking a coworker to stop using profanity, for example, or develop an approach for a small group to meet with management to express shared concerns.

Take Steps to Be Protected

You must take two important steps to document the problem if you find yourself working in a hostile environment. First, familiarize yourself with company policies related to appropriate behavior and interactions in the workplace. Next, to avoid potential “he-said, she-said” situations, keep careful records of specific events to support any future personnel or legal actions that might arise. General accusations of hostility are far less effective than dated documentation of actual incidents of perceived abuse, deliberate mistreatment, unmet deadlines or sabotage. You should also review harassment policies outlined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Seek Help if Needed

The last step is more challenging than the others but might become necessary in particularly toxic work environments. Talk to your boss about the problems, emphasizes Speed Up Career. The goal should be to make him aware of the problem without sounding petty or like someone unable to be a team player. Be prepared to identify specific steps you want supervisors to take to improve the atmosphere at work. If your boss is the main cause of the hostility, you might need to request the assistance of human resources personnel or seek the assistance of a hostile work environment attorney.

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Those terrible workplaces are out there. Poor management, a lack of job satisfaction amongst employees, and hostile influences can all band together to make an awful company culture. Sometimes, you won’t know about it until you start work. If you find yourself in a toxic work environment, it can have real effects on you as a person. It will stress you out, hold you back, and perhaps even teach you some bad habits. But that doesn’t mean you can’t come out on the other side of it intact and perhaps even better than you went in. You just have to learn how to survive it.

“What constitutes a hostile work environment? Some employees believe that a bad boss, an unpleasant work environment, a rude coworker, failure to qualify for a promotion, or the lack of perks, privileges, benefits, and recognition can create a hostile work environment.” –

Pick your battles

When you work in a bad work environment, it’s easy to get wound up by just about every borderline offensive, nasty, or unfair thing that happens. However, voicing your disagreement or disapproval at every turn will only paint a bigger and bigger target on your back. Pick your battles and speak out only when it makes the most sense. Is it important to you or your colleagues’ ability to work? Is it about a personal dislike? Can you offer a solution? Of course, if there are signs of bullying or harassment directed at you, don’t be afraid to stand up and put an early stop to their aggressive behavior aggressive behavior.

Tune it out

Gossip, sniping, or disagreements that don’t affect you shouldn’t even be given the headspace. Not only will it get you down, but it’s easy to pick up the habits by osmosis until your own interpersonal values are starting to get influenced, even slightly. At, there’s some great advice on practical ways to avoid office gossip, including finding ways to change the topic to shut down gossip-sharing sessions before they start. Don’t give in, even if it’s about someone in the office you just can’t stand. The better you’re able to tune out the petty politics of the office, the less it will all affect you. The worst thing a toxic company culture can do is infect you, so don’t give it the chance.

How to survive a hostile work environment

Find the positive

Sometimes, the work environment can genuinely get in the way of your ability to excel at work. You might have to deal with uncooperative colleagues who make collaboration difficult. Or perhaps you have a boss that you’re pretty sure won’t ever give you the chance to advance. If you have to grin and bear it, give yourself real reasons to grin. shows some advice on how to keep working on yourself and developing yourself even when you’re not given the room to do so by the workplace. Find opportunities to network in your industry outside of your own office. Work on your time management and give yourself the means to track and improve your own productivity. Take some time to educate yourself further in a certain aspect of the job or a tool that you use to work.

If you feel like you’re stuck in a dead-end job, then a new career path could be the choice for you. Even though the thought of this might be daunting and seem like a lot of hassle, you will be happier in the long run.

Gather like-minded colleagues

There are few things as important as friends are when making it through a tough time in any environment, at work or otherwise. If the workplace is truly that bad and it’s not a personal problem, you are likely to find others who want to steer clear of it and just do their job. They can be your haven from the toxicity of gossip and can give a real positive note to the workplace. But they can also prove very important allies down the line if you ever need backup in defending yourself from unfair allegations.

How to survive a hostile work environment

Document everything

A bad workplace doesn’t always just stick to being nasty or getting in the way of productivity. It can become truly risky. Lies can endanger your job, bullying can have severe effects on your ability to work, and a boss that has it out for you can be the riskiest thing of all. Follow the same advice that responsible employers will get when it comes to HR. Document absolutely everything you can about hostile work behavior. Every instance of bullying or harassment you witness or are targeted by. Every unfair disciplinary action. If you have notes from the employer on company policy, use them and employment laws to see what constitutes behavior that is against policy or illegal. These are the things you should focus on recording. You don’t know when things might escalate and your records could prove to be the thing that saves you.

Speak out

If it all becomes too much, then you should be prepared to address it directly. In doing so, the notes mentioned above can be a great help, again. If it’s an internal problem such as a manager who has it out for you or workplace harassment, it’s a good idea to take your complaints internally first. If they don’t work, then it might be time for legal advice. In cases of reporting fraud or the workplace failing to deal with harassment or discrimination, you have protections against repercussions. As states, these whistleblower protections are there to ensure that employers don’t have the ability to retaliate against you during or after your complaints. You don’t get these protections if you don’t use the right channels, so be careful. As always, pick your battles. Not only what you fight, but where you fight them.

How to survive a hostile work environment

Don’t ignore your stress

Even if you’re tuning it out, focusing on your work and the friends you have there, it can get to you. Stress builds up and if you’re not taking care of it, it can get the better of you. Give yourself the opportunity to vent your frustrations meaningfully. Engage in a sport, a hobby, or meditation to work out your stress. Avoid bringing workplace issues home with you and fixating on them. Most importantly, know your limits, and when you need to change your job or career.

Sometimes, even the work you love in the field you’ve been dreaming about comes in the package of a terrible work environment. Sometimes, you need to tough it out for a while before moving on. The points above can help you do just that.

How to survive a hostile work environment

Jetta Productions / Getty Images

How to survive a hostile work environment

Harassment at work is disturbingly common. A RAND study found that 1 in 5 workers reported suffering from abuse or harassment at work, including bullying, verbal abuse, or unwanted sexual attention.   When the abuse is severe and persistent, it can lead to a hostile work environment, which can make it difficult or even impossible for employees to do their job.

Are you currently coping with abusive behavior from your boss, co-workers, or clients? To protect yourself and your career, you need to determine whether your situation meets the legal standard for a hostile work environment. Then, you can figure out how to handle the situation and what to do next.

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment is a workplace in which abuse or harassment interfere with an employee’s work performance or force them to do their job in an intimidating or offensive environment.

Harassment in the workplace might be based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, gender, nationality, age, physical or mental disability, or genetic information.   While you may be most familiar with the concept of sexual harassment in the workplace, there are many other types of workplace harassment.

Examples of a Hostile Work Environment

Harassers may make offensive jokes, call names, make physical or verbal threats, ridicule others, display offensive photographs, or impede another person’s work throughout the day.

A hostile work environment is created when anyone in a workplace commits this type of harassment, including a co-worker, a supervisor or manager, a contractor, client, vendor, or visitor.

In addition to the person who is being directly harassed, other employees who are impacted by the harassment (by hearing or viewing it) are also considered victims. They, too, might find the work environment intimidating or hostile, and it might affect their work performance. In this way, bullies and harassers can affect many more people than just the targeted employee.

Hostile Work Environments and the Law

Laws related to a hostile work environment are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Harassment becomes unlawful when the employee must endure the behavior in order to keep their job, or when it affects their salary or status. Hostile, abusive, or intimidating behavior is also considered harassment under the law.

Anyone who believes that their employment rights have been violated may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. You can file charges in four ways: online via the EEOC’s Public Portal, by mail, in person, and by telephone.  

You normally have to file your complaint within 180 days of the incident. There are opportunities for extension to 300 days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. But it’s a good idea to file as soon as possible.  

It is important to inform yourself about the definition of unlawful harassment in the workplace before filing your claim with the EEOC. The organization’s website has an online assessment tool that can help you determine if they will be able to help with your specific situation.  

Employers are usually held liable for harassment caused by a supervisor or co-worker unless they can prove that they tried to prevent it or that the victim refused the help provided to them.

Alternatives to Filing a Claim

If you do not want to file a claim, but you find the work environment unbearable, you might consider other options. One is to solve the issue you are having with the person or persons making the work environment hostile. You might speak to your company’s human resources office for advice on setting up a meeting or mediated conversation between you and the other party.

If staying at your workplace is unbearable, you might also consider resigning from your job. However, even if you are extremely unhappy at work, it is important to resign gracefully and professionally. You never know when you will need a recommendation or a letter of reference from your boss, and a professional exit will help you get a positive review.

Hostility and the Job Interview

Occasionally, a job interview can be a hostile environment. For example, an employer might ask you inappropriate or illegal interview questions. These include any questions about protected characteristics like age, race, national original, gender (including gender identity and sexual orientation), religion, genetic information, etc.

If you’re asked an inappropriate interview question, only you can decide the best course to take. Although you’re within your rights to say that the question is illegal, it may be best to deflect. After the interview, you can decide whether you want to pursue a job with an employer that asks those kinds of interview questions.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.

How to survive a hostile work environment

Work may not be Disneyland, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the most miserable place on earth. There are many reasons why you may find yourself in a toxic work environment: an awful boss, office bullying from cliquey coworkers, a total lack of communication, or unrealistic expectations that keep you working around the clock. And some places are downright abusive — so much so that you may want to file a legal claim when you leave.

Before you turn in your resignation, learn how to protect yourself if you do take legal action, or to simply keep your bridges intact and not hurt your professional prospects.

Quit a Toxic Work Environment

  1. Talk to a Lawyer
  2. Take Notes
  3. Sit Down With HR
  4. Don’t Touch Anything Confidential
  5. Be Honest When You Resign
  6. Give 100 Percent Until the End
  7. Learn From the Experience and Move On

Talk to a Lawyer

If something makes you uncomfortable and goes beyond a normal office dispute, reach out to an attorney, says D. Jill Pugh, a Seattle-based employment lawyer. An attorney will give you an idea of where you stand — maybe your boss sucks, but what he’s doing isn’t illegal. Or you might learn you have grounds for a court case and can start taking steps toward filing a claim.

A lawyer can also give you a bigger picture of your options based on your specific workplace. For example, she may be able to point out policies that you didn’t even know you agreed to when you were hired, Pugh says. (Employers often have new hires sign paperwork — or print information in their employee handbooks — that waives employees’ rights to court trials.)

To find an attorney who primarily represents employees, check out the National Employment Lawyers Association.

Take Notes

Instead of firing off an angry email to your friend when your boss steps out of line, keep a journal on the situation, Pugh says. If you do plan to file a claim, these records will be invaluable — and the more detailed, the better. Include dates, times, the names of people involved, and descriptions of abusive conversations, unmerited punishments or discriminatory practices.

Always make sure to hand-write the notes — don’t put them on a company computer or even your personal one, Pugh says. This protects you against the chance that your former employer could request access to your entire personal computer, which a court just might grant.

Sit Down With HR

When something problematic comes up at work, use any employer dispute resolution policy before quitting, Pugh advises. This way your higher-ups can’t say they would have taken steps to resolve issues if only they’d known about them.

The procedure for resolving a dispute should be outlined clearly in any good employee handbook. Generally, you’ll want to start by making an appointment with your HR representative. Bring those notes with you, as well as possible solutions. As in any conflict, you want to come across level-headed and non confrontational. You never know where this HR person will end up, and you might as well be remembered not simply for the conflict, but for how well you handled it.

Don’t Touch Anything Confidential

Whether or not you pursue legal action, remember that you could get yourself in hot water with an ex-employer if they think you’re repeating confidential or proprietary info. In the event that you received an email from an employer that contained both proof of harassment as well as confidential company information, document in detail the exact nature of the harassment, as well as the date, time and recipients.

If you end up needing the entire email as proof, you can let lawyers do the job of legally gaining possession of the communication, and you can’t be dinged for distributing confidential information.

Be Honest When You Resign

If you write a resignation letter, don’t leave out the real reason you’re leaving, Pugh says. Otherwise, your letter could be used against you as proof that you were happy at your company, should you end up pursuing any legal action.

If you want to get your point across but not wreck relationships, you can strike a happy medium between honesty and diplomacy. Pugh suggests a simple: “I wish I could stay, but circumstances in the workplace have made it so I cannot.”

Give 100 Percent Until the End

“As tempting as it might be to slack off, take the high road and give the company your complete attention until the day you leave,” Sharlyn Lauby, author and president of ITM Group Inc, says. Chances are, your industry is smaller than you think — every good reference counts.

Finish strong by making sure your coworkers aren’t left with a pile of your loose ends. Complete any existing projects, or at least make sure anything you can’t finish is delegated to someone qualified. Organize documents that can help your successor take over, like schedules, contacts and protocols. In other words, leave your company as if there weren’t bad blood between you.

Learn From the Experience and Move On

Instead of ending up on a hamster wheel of workplace dysfunction, treat your toxic work environment as a learning experience, Lauby says: “Understanding what you’re looking for in a career will help you make better decisions in the future.”

To avoid the same pitfalls in your new job, there are some questions you can ask before you accept a new offer. For example, ask about what personalities flourish in their organization to figure out whether you’re a good fit. Or turn the tables and ask your interviewer what she likes about working at the company. If she has a hard time coming up with an answer, it can be a hint you may want to look elsewhere.

Published May 12th, 2021 & updated on May 12th, 2021

Has a coworker ever taken credit for your hard work? Do you have a boss who CLEARLY plays favourites among the team? Or is your workplace just constantly filled with bullying and harassment? If you said ‘YES’ to any of these, you’re likely dealing with a toxic work environment! Remember that movie, Horrible Bosses ? Yeah…like that.

A negative work environment is both mentally AND physically taxing and, if you’re going through it right now, chances are you are reaaally struggling. It can feel so isolating and you probably spend every single morning DREADING your workday (we definitely get it). Just the idea of spending another year at that place makes you sick to your stomach. You should never feel like that at work, so we’re going to help you recognize those toxic behaviours and provide some tips that’ll help you get the heck outta there!

What Is A Toxic Work Environment?

A toxic workplace tends to put money and company success over the needs of their employees. Kinda messed up, considering said employees are the reason for the company’s success. As a result, you feel underappreciated which drives down your motivation (potentially causing more negative feedback). It’s all around not a good time. So, let’s break down what factors come into play in toxic work culture, how to deal with them, and how to put your needs first and LEAVE.

7 Toxic Work Environment Characteristics

If you’re crying at work or still stressed outside of work, those are usually good indicators that things are not playing out in your best interest. The same goes for constant negative performance reviews (or even no reviews whatsoever), being told there’s 0 chance of a promotion or pay raise, and constantly dreaming about leaving one day and never coming back!

Consider this a toxic workplace checklist with examples of the main ways an employer can spread animosity and toxicity:

  • No Breaks: You’re overworked and underpaid, and your work always follows you home!
  • Fear: You’re terrified of making a mistake because you’ll be scrutinized for it!
  • No Support: It’s allll about output, and never about your mental or physical wellbeing!
  • Abuse: You’re verbally abused or sexually harrassed by toxic coworkers, and scared to ask for help for fear of losing pay or benefits!
  • No Recognition: You never get rewarded for your hard work, which majorly decreases your motivation!
  • Guilt Tripping: If you’re thinking of leaving, you’re convinced into staying through fear-mongering or false promises!
  • No Accountability: You’re blamed for the mistakes of others just because you’re lower in the hierarchy!

Of course, there are many more things that can happen in a toxic workplace environment, but these are some of the core struggles that have a big effect on your mental health! And the mental impacts can turn physical suuuper quickly if you stay in that unhealthy situation . You’ll experience extreme burnout, get sick more often because the stress affects your immune system, and likely see an increase in depression and anxiety.

How To Deal With A Toxic Work Environment

It’s tough navigating how long to stay in a toxic work environment. The easy answer would be to tell you to leave, but it’s not always that simple! You probably rely on that job security to cover rent, groceries and other living expenses. Plus, in a poor economy (or a pandemic), the job hunt can be ENDLESS. So, we’ve brainstormed some tips to help you put your mind at ease if you just can’t leave your job right now.

1. Set Boundaries

Don’t bring your work home and ALWAYS take your lunch break .

2. Find Outlets

Find a hobby or something you love (like exercise, cooking, or art) to relieve stress.

3. Find A Support System

Find a friend, or family member, outside of work that you can vent to. They might feel like they have to comfort you by offering advice, but it’s okay if you just need to get some anger or sadness off your chest. If that’s the case, ask them to just listen .

4. Avoid Chatter

It can be SO tempting to swap horror stories with colleagues to relieve stress (and feel less alone), but it can fuel the fire and make a bad situation worse. So, try to avoid those whisper sessions happening over at the water cooler. Just slap on those noise-cancelling headphones and drown it all out.

Who knows, maybe you’ll be able to find a better (and healthier) opportunity sooner than you think. (Our fingers are crossed for you!) So, send out as many resumes as you can while you’re still at this job and keep those options open!

Leaving A Toxic Work Environment

When the day has finally come for you to escape a toxic work environment there are a few things to keep in mind! If your toxic boss is a problem on a regular day, they may act out when they find out you’re no longer at their disposal. So, stand your ground and make sure you don’t get sucked into another however-many years at this job just because they’re angry or hurt. Leaving a toxic work environment might be easier said than done, so here are some tips that will defs help!

1. Come Prepared

Have your resignation letter printed and signed, with your last day clearly specified. And, just in case they ask, have your list of reasons for leaving written down or memorized. It will help to keep you level-headed (even if all you want to do is gesture around wildly and say “um, helloooo”).

2. Say No

If they’re trying to convince you to stay, know that you can absolutely just say no .

3. Stay Calm

Use a calm tone to explain why you’re leaving. You never know who you might cross paths with in the future so try to maintain your composure (and reputation). Also, you might need a reference letter from the company in the future, so that’s another ( very frustrating) reason to try to keep things civil.

4. Don’t Do It Alone

If you’re uncomfortable or too nervous to talk to your boss alone, then ask a rep from Human Resources to sit in on your meeting and act as mediator. Or, if your boss loooooves to gaslight you, ask a trusted colleague to sit in. They don’t have to say a word, but it will be SO reinforcing to have a witness there to validate your feelings and experience afterwards.

And, when it’s all said and done if anyone asks why you left just give them the generic “I was unhappy and leaving was the best decision for my health.” Simple and vague, but it gets that point across.

We HOPE you have just read this article for funsies and didn’t actually need guidance for leaving a toxic work environment (because you LOVE your job!), but since that’s prob not the case we just want you to know…YOU ARE INTELLIGENT AND DESERVING OF A HAPPY WORKPLACE. We’re here for you, always!

Two recent federal decisions this past summer illustrate the significant hurdles that an employee will have to surmount in order to sustain a claim of hostile work environment beyond an employer’s summary judgment challenge. In each case, the court concluded as a matter of law that the employee’s charge of a hostile work environment was not predicated upon a factual showing sufficient to demonstrate a severe and pervasive environment that altered the conditions of the plaintiff’s work. Employers should take heed that defending a claim of a hostile work environment can often turn on the ability to demonstrate that the allegedly offensive conduct about which an employee complains was too sporadic or incidental to non-offensive behavior, such that the work environment is not permeated by hostility.

In Byrne v. Telesector Resources Group, Inc ., No. 08-0101-cv, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 15493 (2d Cir. July 14, 2009), the plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to gender discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as well as discrimination under the Equal Pay Act and the New York Human Rights law. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that she received pay unequal to that of two comparable male employees; that she was discriminatorily passed over for promotion, that her manager retaliated against her by withdrawing a job posting after she applied for it and by transferring her position from Buffalo, New York to Syracuse, New York; and that she was subjected to sexual harassment rising to the level of a hostile work environment.

With respect to her claim of a hostile work environment, the plaintiff submitted evidence that a male co-worker told her that a colleague gave out his work fax number as “25penis,” that her supervisor invited a former manager who had been accused of sex discrimination to the holiday party, and that on multiple occasions she heard male co-workers making inappropriate sexual references in conversation. The Second Circuit affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the hostile work environment claim and held that such allegations did not rise to the level for establishing workplace sexual harassment, which requires an environment “permeated with discriminatory intimidation that [is] sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [the] work environment.” Petrosino v. Bell Atl. , 385 F.3d 210, 221 (2d Cir. 2004). The Second Circuit reaffirmed that “offhand comments or isolated incidents of offensive conduct (unless extremely serious) will not support a claim of discriminatory harassment.” Id. at 223. The court reviewed the plaintiff’s evidence and concluded it was not “sufficiently severe” to constitute an actionable hostile work environment claim.

The recent trial court decision in Gallimore v. City University of New York Bronx Community College , No. 04 Civ. 8236 (RJS), 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56449 (S.D.N.Y. July 2, 2009), is of a like accord. In Gallimore , the trial court granted summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s hostile environment claims, despite the plaintiff’s allegations that her supervisor would peek out of the office at her, would roll her eyes and “suck her teeth” at the plaintiff, and would brush close to the plaintiff in an intimidating manner. The plaintiff also alleged that she was the recipient of numerous hang-up phone calls and that her car was vandalized.

The trial court found the plaintiff’s hostile work environment evidence insufficient as a matter of law, to survive summary judgment, noting the Second Circuit’s admonition regarding the severity and frequency of offensive conduct that must be present in order to sustain a hostile work environment claim. The trial court concluded that the harassing comments and conduct the plaintiff alleged were episodic and not sufficiently continuous and concerted, and therefore failed to rise to the level of severe or pervasive conduct necessary to sustain her claim.

As these recent decisions reflect, employers faced with claims of hostile workplace environment should vigorously defend such claims, particularly where the employee cannot demonstrate that the allegedly offensive and inappropriate behavior is either pervasive or severe enough to satisfy the high evidentiary bar necessary to survive summary judgment. Absent a detailed factual record that the allegedly offensive behavior permeated the workplace and altered the conditions of the employee’s work environment, employers can take comfort that claims of hostile work environment are unlikely to survive summary judgment.

How to survive a hostile work environment

Is Your Work Environment Unhealthy?

Does the idea of going to work make you feel physically ill? Have you been getting recurring headaches, waves of fatigue, or bouts of stomach sickness on the job? Chances are, you either have a diagnosable illness like the flu, or you’re dealing with the somatic effects of a toxic work environment. How to survive a hostile work environment

Sadly, few of us go through life without enduring a hostile work environment at least once. While it’s easy to say “just quit!”, that’s not always a possibility. For those who’re stuck in their toxic work environments, here are some ways to get by—and maybe even to get something good out of the negative experience.

1. Communicate the Issue

Whether it’s a coworker being disrespectful or a supervisor with unrealistic expectations, try to talk with them one-on-one about the issue. Plan what you want to say beforehand, and have a solution in mind—it helps to come to the table with ideas of how to improve things, and shows your coworker that you take the issue seriously. Maintain your integrity by remaining respectful and focused on the discussion at hand.

Your coworker may refuse to engage, becoming defensive or shifting all the blame on you as a person. If that happens, move on to our next tip…

2. Realize that this isn’t a Reflection of Your Worth

While some employers or coworkers may use guilt, shame, or fear to get you to do what they want, it’s important to recognize when their criticisms are unfair and to not take them to heart.

Does your employer make you feel like you can’t do anything right? Like no matter how hard you try, it’s never good enough? It’s hard not to take these interactions personally, but for your wellness it’s essential that you realize that they don’t do this because you are legitimately the *worst employee of all time*—they do it because, for whatever misguided reason, this is how they’ve learned to treat people.

Try to notice when your employer or coworker makes you feel bad, and instead of dwelling on self-doubt or criticism, ask questions like these:

Is this really my fault, or is it a systemic issue?

Is this person acknowledging all of the hard work I put into this and other projects?

Are their expectations realistic?

How to survive a hostile work environmentNoticing when their comments present a warped view of reality will prevent you from doing the same. You’re less likely to absorb negative words when you realize that the problem isn’t necessarily yours.

3. Make Allies

You don’t want to go through this alone, and chances are, you don’t have to. It’s unlikely that you’re the only person struggling within your work environment, even if it seems like everyone else is performing effortlessly. Try to make friends within the office, inviting others to grab coffee or hit up happy hour. Say hi in the halls and pass on funny stories to your officemates.

If you feel safe and comfortable (i.e. they won’t report you or make your complaints the talk of the office), you can unload some of your concerns on your friend. Chances are, they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. If you don’t feel comfortable divulging the problems you’re having, you’ve at least made a buddy to chat and laugh with when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Associating at least one positive thing with your office will make it easier to commute over in the morning.

4. Take Breaks

It’s easy to get so caught up in your work that you forget to take breaks, but this is a major error. Your work environment is bad enough—don’t make it worse by missing meals, burning yourself out, or simply sitting in a negative space for a full day.

Take a walk : Research shows that exposure to the sun causes our bodies to release endorphins, which make us feel good. Exercise also decreases stress and improves mood and energy levels. This solution is an all-around win.

Go get coffee or lunch : Get out of the office and treat yourself to a nice latte or a healthy meal. Not only will you get the benefits of being outdoors, you’ll also have a mood boost from getting a nice snack.

Meditate : Even a few minutes of meditation can help decrease stress, and you can do it from inside your workplace. Check out websites like The Chopra Center or podcasts like The Meditation Podcast to find free samples.

5. Personalize your office space

Put a few things that make you feel happy around your office or cubicle. They can be visual (pictures of family and friends, letters from happy clients), olfactory (air freshener, a nice smelling lotion), gustatory (snacks in your drawer), or anything else you can imagine! When you’re working, listen to soothing or energizing music with your headphones. Make your workplace as pleasant as it can be, given the circumstances.

6. Know when leaving is absolutely necessary

Leaving a job when you have nothing else lined up or feel you need the position to move forward in your given field is not ideal. However, if your psychological and physical health are seriously in danger, it’s time to move on. You won’t be the first person to take a drastic step like this, and you won’t be the last. Try to outline what you would do in case of emergency—how much do you have saved up, and is there more you can save in the meantime? What are some alternate job opportunities, even small, part-time ones? How would your social network be willing to help you if worst came to worst?

Most importantly, know that you deserve a happy and healthy workplace, and there are plenty of them out there. Your life and self-worth don’t have to be defined by your current workplace. You’re so much more than that.

How to survive a hostile work environmentLilly McGee is Viva’s Director of Operations and Communication. A published poet, she enjoys writing about mental health, literature, and identity. Other pieces include “The Psychological Effects of Stereotyping” and “Mental Health on TV.”

Do you get stressed out at the thought of going to work every morning?

Does the thought of spending eight or more hours at work each day get you all wound up and sweaty?

Do you constantly find yourself wishing that Monday morning were Friday evening?

Do you feel emotionally and mentally stressed out just thinking about your job?

If these feelings have nothing to do with your ineffectiveness at work then you are probably in a hostile work environment.

What makes a work environment hostile varies largely, but it is commonly attributed to having a bad boss (this could be an understatement), co-workers who drive you up the wall, and an ineffective Human Resource Department, among other things.

The following are a few survival tips to help you hang on to your job and survive in that hostile environment until the tide turns in your favor.

Work on yourself.

As annoying as the situation may be, learn to contain yourself. Develop an internal coping mechanism like counting to ten before you respond to an annoying remark or insensitive comments.

Draw strength from a higher power if you must, pray, meditate and do whatever it takes to get yourself together, calm and composed.

Remind yourself why you are at the job.

Why are you working in that company? Are you there for the money, experience or for personal fulfillment? Whatever the reason, let the objective you want to achieve give you the strength to survive each day.

Don’t mix business with pleasure.

If you can help it, draw the line between your private life and your life at work. Sometimes unnecessary socialization at work can be the ammunition that makes your environment even more unbearable.
A little gossip at the copy machine with a co-worker can be the beginning of a nightmare.

Be professional.
Acting in a professional manner seals the lips of those who may want to capitalize on your unprofessional behavior to make your life a misery.
Whether you are responding to e-mails, or speaking to your boss or co-worker, calm down take a deep breath and avoid the temptation to escalate the matter.

Learn what not to do.

Since life is always about making progress and getting better, this is usually the best environment to learn what not to do, learn what not to say and who not to trust in future.
If you are planning to start your own business or be in management, then this is a good place to learn about how not to treat employees or how to be a good boss!

Be creative
It is amazing how hostile environments can bring out the best in you. You may begin to explore areas in your life that you never knew existed and also begin to expand your range in terms of what you want to do in life.
This is usually the time to reflect seriously about your life and what matters most. Many life-changing ideas begin when people have reached the end of their ropes and start to expect better things for themselves.

Stand up for yourself.
Do not keep silent about the hostility. Speak up for yourself, defend your actions when necessary, talk to someone who might listen to you, record your complaints with HR, do whatever is necessary to set the record straight.

Jump ship
When it gets so bad, and after you have exhausted all options, be good to yourself and jump ship.

Your place of work should be empowering, not constraining.

A toxic work environment is any job where the work, the atmosphere, the people, or any combination of those things makes you so dismayed it causes severe disruptions in every other aspect of your life. My words of advice: “Plan your escape immediately.”

  • Do you dread the idea of staying in your job for another year?
  • Do you feel like your manager doubts your ability to make smart decisions about your work?
  • Have you cried at work?
  • Is your role continually changing?
  • Are you interrupted so often when you sit down to focus on a task that it’s almost impossible to get work done?
  • Are you assigned tasks from multiple supervisors with little or no regard for the work already given to you?
  • Do performance reviews feel like an ambush of negative feedback that you’ve never been clued into?
  • Are you belittled or yelled at by your manager or colleagues?

The majority of individuals in the corporate workforce have most likely experienced toxicity in the workplace, especially if they are employed in the United States where many of us are overworked, underappreciated, and are drowning in an unhealthy work/life balance.

From negative, gossipy co-workers, tyrannical upper management, and a lack of benefits and compensation to inconsistent rules, the inability for vertical mobility and the absence of personal boundaries, a toxic work environment can linger into your personal life and cause you more mental and emotional turmoil than you can imagine.

I have been in a toxic professional environment in the past and quickly escaped; I literally left work one day and never came back; it was that bad. Unfortunately, I know I am not the only one who has experienced verbal abuse and emotional distress in a toxic work environment.

12 signs you are in a toxic work environment

Upper management is entitled and/or tyrannical.

Power does not breed leadership. Just because your boss or an upper-level manager is in a higher position than you does not give them the right to belittle you. They may have more years under their belt or a higher-level degree, but that does not mean they are better than you. If they do not treat you as an equal, then it is time to reconsider your job options.

Your management does not align with the company values.

When your boss talks poorly about the company or gossips about the board of directors, there most likely is a huge problem behind closed doors that may eventually trickle down to the rest of the company. The leadership in the company should always align with the company’s values and ethics.

Your colleagues are unprofessional.

If your colleagues do not take their job seriously, are always late to meetings, do not take pride in their work, gossip, complain, or are just plain rude, then you know something is wrong. Your colleagues should be supportive, happy, and professional and should make your workday that much better.

Your boss is a bully.

Enough said! If your boss says phrases such as, “You should feel lucky you have this job,” or if they give you ultimatums, do not respect your work-life boundaries, will not grant you days off, or talks down to you, then you are not in a healthy workplace.

Your work-life balance is more “work” than “life.”

Are you continually taking your work home with you, checking your emails at home, going into the office early, and staying late at the expense of your personal life? Are you unable to take a vacation? Are you constantly talking about work when you are at home or are out with friends? Although many of us do enjoy working hard, when our work starts to cut into our personal lives to the point our balance and happiness is thrown off, then there is a problem.

You feel like you cannot grow within the company.

Do you feel as though you are working toward a promotion or a raise or are you constantly denied pay increases? Is there another position that you can potentially grow into or do you feel stuck in your current role? Are you constantly begging and pleading for a raise or better benefits? If you feel that you cannot make a vertical move within your company, then it may be time to make a lateral move to a different company.

You are constantly getting sick.

Emotional and mental stress can have a large negative impact on your physical health. If you are working in a toxic environment, you are more likely to get sick and many toxic environments will not grant you the proper time off to recover from your illness.

Your personal life is becoming affected.

If you are so miserable at work that you find yourself miserable at home, in your relationships, and with your hobbies, then your toxic professional life is seeping into every other aspect of your life. You may find yourself constantly talking about work and complaining about your boss when you should be enjoying your time off. Eventually, your loved ones will become tired of your negative talk and complaining, and your personal life will take a major hit.

Your colleagues are always complaining.

You may think it is your fault that your job is sucking the life out of you but if your colleagues are miserable and constantly complaining, then it is clearly your job that is toxic, and it has nothing to do with you.

There’s a lack of transparency.

Your boss and upper management should always be clear about things like deadlines, your work performance, meeting times, and changes within your role. If you seem to always find out about these big changes after they happen because everything is kept a secret, then there is something terribly wrong.

Rules are inconsistent.

For example, let’s say your coworker gets a raise or gets promoted when you did the exact same thing, and are reprimanded instead. Unfair treatment among employees and unclear rules within the company can result in a huge power struggle and unhealthy competition among coworkers; a recipe for a toxic disastrous environment.

Your gut is telling you there is something off.

This visceral organ carries a lot of strong emotion, and when you “get that feeling something is off,” then it probably is. If you usually have good instincts, then listen to what you are feeling.

Finding a solution to the problem

The most important way to handle a toxic job is to understand that you are not the problem; it is a culture issue in which higher-level management enables abusers. Soon enough, that toxic mindset will become passed down throughout the company.

Most likely, this toxic work culture at your current job will not change, and therefore the only concrete way to end this is to find a new job — but this is often easier said than done. In the meantime, there are certain steps you can take to make your workdays (and your personal life) more bearable:

How to survive a hostile work environment

A Hostile Work Place can be a huge log on your road to success, a stone in your shoe, an obstacle on your track but it should definitely not keep you from reaching your final destinations! You see, many successful people had to deal with their hostile work place once and they’ve not only lived to tell about it but learned a few important lessons along the way! You can survive and even succeed in your hostile work place as well and here are a few tips to help you do that:

1 Practice Positive Thinking

The art of positive thinking will help you stay sane in your hostile work place and you should practice it by forcing yourself to think of something nice to say about people you can’t stand. Every person has a quality, even if it’s just a itsy-bitsy one and I’m sure you can look deep enough to find it. This technique will help you see things from a different, more positive perspective and, although it can’t do much to change the environment you work in, it sure will help change your opinion about it.

2 Keep a Journal

Keeping all that negative emotions all bottled up inside of you can’t be good in a long run! That’s why most pros recommend keeping a journal. You know… the thing we used to call “Diary” back when we were teens… the little book that used to hold all of our biggest secrets. Well, why not give it a shot? Write whenever you have time or whenever you feel like you could explode and who knows… your journal might turn out to be a good book or TV show material some day.

How to survive a hostile work environment5 Tips on Caring for Poinsettias .

How to survive a hostile work environment9 Most Fabulous Street Style Icons Who Will Inspire You .

3 Surround Yourself with Positive Things

The space you work in is yours to decorate as you wish so I strongly suggest adding stuff that make you happy! Some people put flowers, some prefer diplomas and certificates and some claim family photos and their children’s drawings are what keeps them happy and motivated throughout the day. But, hey, those are just some of many interesting ideas! Let’s say you’re a bag lady – why not bring your new bag with you? Yes, you’ll probably have to deal with a lot of sly comments but hey, you’ll certainly feel happier and be motivated to work more and earn more if you have the chance to eyeball your prized possession during breaks.

4 Don’t Lose Your Temper

Don’t let your hostile work place control you – be the one in control! Believe me, even the most egoistic persons will think twice about picking on someone who shows no interest, emotions or care about what they have to say. Your reaction is what feeds these folks – the knowledge that they’ve managed to piss you off! If you don’t let them have that, you’ll remain untouchable!

5 Work

People in your nut house… err…workplace… are probably so busy gossiping, fighting and sticking their nose into everyone’s business that they don’t even have time to work! No problem! A smart, motivated problem-solver such as yourself won’t go unnoticed around so many underachievers!

6 Don’t Mind the Distractions

People who had to suck it up and play with card they had been given agree that the best way to handle a hostile work place is to tune out and focus on stuff you have to do rather than stuff everyone else is doing. If you have your own office this shouldn’t be a major problem but, if that’s not the case, try headphones! Play your favorite music, work and let your pesky co-workers know you’re unwilling to discuss anything but work-related issues.

7 Find a Co-Sufferer

You’re not the only normal soul in that hostile work place so, instead of walking around with a do-not-approach frown, find an ally you can talk to, laugh with and spend quality time with. Surviving in a hostile work place is much easier when you know that you have a friend to share thoughts with.

8 Set Boundaries

Staying aside and trying not to get involved in any tricky situations might not always work because some people (and by that I mean: a lot of people) aren’t really capable of reading those small polite signs. They will try to stick their nose into your business, they will ask inappropriate questions or make inappropriate, rude and even snide comments – you should know that. My suggestion would be to use the first tip and try to establish a polite, normal relationship while letting them know that being kind doesn’t mean they have the right to walk all over you.

Yup, working in hostile work place can sure be a big problem but remember – you’re paid to work, not to make friends! Could you ever work in such an environment and, if yes, how would you deal with your hostile work place?

Research wrongly predicted that being “nice” would help. Here’s what does.

Some recent research about employees who deal with abusive bosses shows that a well-intentioned study of workplace behavior can produce findings that confound the researchers’ predictions. This research found one unsurprising result; but another part of the findings — which puzzled the researchers — is what caught my eye.

To explain, the research surveyed the ways in which employees behave when working for abusive bosses. Those are often people who are narcissistic, denigrating, arrogant and unsupportive — or outright undermining — of employee’s learning and development.

The unsurprising part of the findings was that just trying to avoid the abusive boss or plotting ways to retaliate didn’t work. That made things worse for the employee, according to the study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and summarized by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post.

But it was the other set of findings that caught my attention. Here, the researchers predicted that “acts of compassion and empathy — employees who assist bad bosses by going above and beyond, helping bosses with heavy workloads even when they’re not asked” would lead to diminished abuse by those bosses. And, that “acts of kindness might help lessen future rude or abusive behavior.”

The researchers were surprised to discover that it didn’t happen. Instead, according to the study’s co-author Charlice Hurst, “Abusive supervisors didn’t respond to followers being positive and compassionate, and doing things to be supportive and helpful.” The researchers concluded that their findings seemed to “clash with common sense.”

Really? I think most anyone who’s ever worked for abusive bosses would laugh at such “common sense” assumptions. No, trying to be “nice” or empathic towards the narcissistic, arrogant boss who often makes conflicting demands on employees isn’t going to produce positive change.

What Helps?

However, a hint at what can help comes from another study. It found that employees who find ways to disengage, emotionally, from abusive bosses, experience a greater sense of managing their dilemma and its emotional impact.

That’s consistent with what I’ve found in my work with men and women who deal with these situations. That is, if you reframe how you envision your situation to begin with, that can open the door to proactive, positive, constructive actions in the situation you feel trapped in. There are several ways you can do this. It can begin with what one mid-level executive did, for example, as she looked for an alternative to just hunkering down, feeling depressed and disempowered.

She began with mindfulness meditation, focusing her attention on simply observing the negative emotions her boss’s behavior aroused in her. Just “watching” her emotions pass through her weakened her tendency to dwell in anger or pursue unproductive actions. That initiated a shift towards stepping “outside” herself — outside the narrow vantage point of her own ego — and towards seeing herself as though she were a character in a movie.

With that expanded perspective, she could view her boss as simply being the person he was, no matter what the psychological reasons were for why he was that way or how she judged them. Emotional disengagement helped her not take his behavior personally, although it impacted her personally. In effect, she remained “indifferent” to her own emotional reactions. And yet she stayed engaged in seeking solutions to her situations.

For example, she began to ask him directly for ways she could aid his objectives — rather than avoid or circumvent him. She also decided to cede control of some areas that didn’t matter to her, but which her boss seemed to enjoy micro-managing. Her disengaged perspective strengthened her confidence in her expertise; that her boss’s agenda or his abusive management didn’t diminish it.

Additionally, however — and importantly — she concluded that her career prospects under him were probably a dead-end for the foreseeable future. So she immediately updated her resume and began looking for a new position. This kept her focused on her career development objectives while navigating through the situation with as little friction as possible.

Of course, it’s important to self-examine at the outset when you find yourself in a bad situation. Look honestly, with outside help if necessary, at what you might be contributing to the problem. Ask yourself, “How much is it me or the situation?” Without doing that, you might take actions that you later regret or that prove to be unhelpful.

Nevertheless, the example I described above highlights some guidelines that help people deal with a range of abusive, destructive and otherwise unhealthy management. They include:

Create an emotional buffer zone. Observe your internal emotional responses to your situation, but recognize that you’re not obligated to act on them. Visualize a “space” between your emotions and how you choose to deal with them in your behavior. If you don’t, you’re likely to say or do something unhelpful or damaging to yourself. Stay aware of your buttons that your boss is pushing, but don’t get drawn into reacting to your boss’ emotional issues. Recognize that you always have a choice about what you do with your emotions in your own behavior.

Expand your perspective. The buffer zone around your triggered emotions enlarges your perspective about the situation: what’s feeding into it, and what may be driving your boss’ conduct. Seeing the problem in a much larger context includes looking at many factors. For example, the role of other players or other organizational issues and politics, regardless of what your opinion is about them. It includes considering that your boss’s controlling or abusive behavior may reflect some fear about her or his own security in the position.

Act with “engaged indifference.” That buffer zone and an enlarged perspective help you become more proactive towards managing your situation, while being “indifferent” to your own emotional reactions that are triggered along the way. You’re less likely to be drawn towards unproductive behavior fueled by anger, resentment or self-pity. You might even decide to look for ways to help your boss feel more secure or supported, despite what you think of him or her, because doing that might diminish your boss’ anxiety and will, therefore, make your life a bit easier as long as you remain there.

Avoid another abusive situation. If you decide you must leave, then do the research when considering a new job: Look for signs of a potentially negative situation by, for example, paying attention to what you hear during interviews; asking people within the organization what it’s like to work for that company or that boss; heed any red flags raised by what you hear; and don’t contribute to history repeating itself.

Not all of us feel equally well and comfortable with our workplace environment:

  • Politics- When people use their personal influence to achieve what they want; it also called ‘politicking’. People may use their power to withhold certain information, may form a good bond with an authority to gain rewards, use their position. There could be times when use of this power to play politics may overshadow the organization goal and take the form of self-interest.
  • Disrespectful treatment- One needs to treated with respect and fairness. It is a primary need to be satisfied at work. The way one gets treated from the up in hierarchy, behaves the same with employees lower to them. Thus the culture of respect and equal treatment needs to be established in every dynamic of relationship in the organization.
  • Harassment- Harassment may not be of sexual nature to be termed as one. It is the extreme of hostile environment. One may face repeated threats, abuse, intimidation that becomes the part of employment status or decision.
  • Lack of appreciation & empowerment- At times organizations are designed as such, where the decision itself to make a decision or to not make a decision is stifled. It is only human to expect to feel appreciated at work as well and not just personal life.
  • Unsupportive colleagues- We need to remember, even a workplace has social groups. Unsupportive colleagues can make work environment uncomfortable for us. Even in work teams where finishing one’s assignment may require support from others, it could become detrimental at work.
  • Formal or Informal Culture-One may feel comfortable in a particular environment. For some of us working in unprofessional, or informal culture could be quite uncomfortable and at times just the opposite would hold true!

All of these fetch different reaction from different kind of people and organization. Conversely, an organization can design the structure to suit the process of work outcomes. These can adversely affect our motivation and performance. A happy and cooperative work atmosphere is conducive to growth and enhances job satisfaction. Retaining positivity in a non-supportive environment and improving quality of professional relationships can do wonders!

Know Your Counsellor

How to survive a hostile work environment

(MA in Applied Psychology)

How to survive a hostile work environment

(Masters in Clinical Psychology)

How to survive a hostile work environment

(M.Sc in Counseling)

Introducing Our First Self-Help Book

How to survive a hostile work environment

“She had become so cold overnight, I couldn’t believe she wasn’t coming back this time. I didn’t know what to do, what to say to make things okay anymore. If only I could say the right things maybe Preeti would have stayed.”

With this book, we bring you several real stories. Few are a reflection of first-hand or vicarious experiences, others are inspired by break up cases helped by the counsellors at BetterLYF.

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How to survive a hostile work environment

How to get out of a Toxic Relationship

According to a 2019 study by the American Psychological Association, toxicity in the workplace is not only on the rise, but it’s also hugely detrimental to employees’ mental health. How? Per another study by researchers at Lund University in Sweden, over the past 20 years, toxic work environments have contributed to increased depression, substance abuse and other health issues. The bottom line is, toxic workplaces are unpleasant and unhealthy. But short of quitting your job and finding another (which is the right move in certain situations), there are thankfully ways to mitigate the stress caused by working in a toxic office. Here are seven tips for dealing with a toxic work environment.

How to survive a hostile work environment

1. Don’t Stoop to a Toxic Colleague’s Level

Helps with toxic bad-mouthing

In other words, don’t reward bad behavior. When your teammate starts ragging on your shared manager’s propensity for dipping out 45 minutes early, don’t bite the gossip bullet and jump in (we know—it can be tempting). Instead, offer a neutral response and pivot to a new subject. Once they realize you won’t take part in her bad-mouthing bouts, they’ll probably start looking to do it elsewhere (aka with a receptive audience). Hopefully, your dismissal will also signal that her behavior is not normal. Or nice. Or appreciated.

2. Leave Your Work Stress at the Door

Helps with creating boundaries in your work-life balance

It’s one thing to occasionally vent to your partner or roommate about how much work is killing you; it’s another to make it the centerpiece of every conversation. Be conscious of how often you’re talking about your job around your loved ones and make sure the majority of your conversations are about things other than your conniving desk mate or micromanaging boss. Not only will the people around you get tired of hearing about your work woes (even though they do want the best for you), it’s not healthy to dwell on things you can’t control. It’s all about balance, people.

3. Seek Out Positive Co-Workers

Helps with creating a more positive environment

Even if it seems like everyone you work with is toxic in one way or another, chances are there are at least a few people who are feeling the same way as you are. If you notice a colleague facing the same issues that they are, try to gauge how they’re feeling about the situation without gossiping (which will just backfire). Once you establish that you’re on the same page, you’ll be able to lean on each other and commiserate.

4. Practice How to Confront

Helps with highly stressful, one-on-one interactions

If tensions have reached a tipping point, it may be time to address the issue head on. In stressful situations, it’s often difficult to get out all the things you want to say, so practice first on a close friend who’s familiar with the situation. Running through your points ahead of time (your boss is always asking too much of you, your superior is constantly taking credit for your ideas, etc.) will help you retain your monologue, feel more confident and ultimately be more effective in your delivery.

5. Build Trust

Helps with micromanagers

The problem with a micromanager boss is that it pits two very basic human neuropsychological needs against each other: our need for autonomy and their need for control. Navigating this tension is all about building trust. You won’t get autonomy until they get their certainty. In order to gain trust from a micromanager, you have to provide them with the things they crave the most: information, inclusion and, yes, control. Resisting that—or being sloppy about the details—will only aggravate the situation.

Here are some tactics to try: First, try to anticipate their needs. The more you learn about their expectations, the more you can proactively address them, removing the need for them to micromanage. Second, communicate clearly and keep them overly informed. This means providing regular updates, plus status and progress reports before your boss asks for them. Keep in mind, this could be as simple as a daily email that lists all your projects and their status or CC-ing them when relevant. Finally, do your best to adopt their standards. You want to align your work to their preferences and learn what markers of quality your boss wants/needs, then deliver on them. (This also may require assessing yourself and looking for any trouble spots that are preventing your boss from trusting you.

6. Leave Your Job or Change Departments

Helps with unsolvable toxic situations

Thanks to uncertain job markets and financial responsibilities, quitting your job in favor of one that will be healthier for you isn’t always an option. But, if you are able to think about finding a new company, it’s worth considering. Even if now isn’t the right time to make a move, it can never hurt to keep your future options open by mastering the art of networking. Here are some tips for expanding (or maintaining) your professional network whether you’re stifled by the pandemic or you’re an introvert for whom networking feels nightmarish. Note that this doesn’t have to mean leaving your company altogether; sometimes just changing departments or teams can work wonders in terms of removing yourself from a toxic environment. If there’s another department you’re interested in, put feelers out to see if there’s a place for you. You can even spin the reason you’re switching teams to make it seem like it was your narcissistic boss’s great idea.

7. Find Ways to Relieve Stress Outside of Work

Helps your general mental health

If leaving your job isn’t an option at the moment, it’s important to make sure that your life outside of work—something have more control over—is fulfilling. This could mean scheduling a vent session with a friend in a similarly toxic job, picking up a soothing hobby like yoga or prioritizing self-care (post-work bath, anyone?). The point is to ensure that, even though your 9-to-5 might be super frustrating, you have something to look forward to once you clock out every day.

Lynne writes, “We are having great difficulty with a ‘hostile environment’ at the school. Our child is three years old and has an aide. The teacher and teacher’s assistant are angry at the aid because she informed us that our son, who has feeding problems, was force fed during his first week in the school.”

“After she told us what happened, we questioned the school and the teacher. From that point on, the environment has become unbearable for the aide and is having a negative impact on our son.”

“The district informed our aide that she is not to tell us about anything that goes on in the classroom. They say the aide is not following the direction of the teacher and is too overprotective of our son. We’ve had several meetings and have written several letters to our school district regarding this situation.”

“Does the aide have a right to tell us what is going on in the classroom? My guess is yes. Is there any caselaw or sections of the law that we can refer to?”

Pete & Pam Wright Answer

Pete: As a parent, your mission is to make the school want to help your child and your family. You will not succeed at this mission by blaming, writing complaint letters, or waving caselaw at school personnel.

The school will react to perceived threats by pulling their wagons in a circle, preparing to defend themselves if you sue them. Do not be surprised if the aide who took your side against the school is transferred or fired.

These behaviors are not unique to schools. They happen in most organizations when there is a perceived threat from the outside.

Pam : How do you react when another person – someone you do not know well – makes demands of you? If you are like most people, you dig in and hunker down for a fight. When a person makes demands on you, I doubt that you rethink your position. You prepare to defend yourself.

Restructure Your Relationship with the School

Pete : Your child is three years old. You will be dealing with the school for many years. What can you do? You need to restructure your relationship with school personnel.

Pam : In our training programs, we tell parents, “Unless you are prepared to remove your child from public school forever, you need to view your relationship with the school as a marriage without the possibility of divorce . You need to focus on solving problems while protecting the relationship.”

Advocacy Skills

Pete : I do not recommend that you stop advocating for your child. I do recommend that you learn effective advocacy skills and techniques. Start with these articles:

In Understanding the Playing Field , Indiana advocate Pat Howey discusses trust, expectations, power struggles between parents and schools and how to avoid them, the parental role, and the need to understand different perspectives.

When Parents & Schools Disagree – Educational consultant Ruth Heitin describes common areas of disagreement between parents and schools and offers suggestions about how to handle these disagreements.

How to Disagree with the IEP Team – Without Starting WW III – Pete Wright answers questions about IEPs and how to disagree with the IEP team without starting World War III. Learn about the Rules of Adverse Assumptions, how to use tape recording and thank you letters to clarify issues, and how to deal with an IEP team bully.

You need to learn to use tactics and strategies – letter-writing, persuasion, and negotiation. Consider attending a Wrightslaw advocacy training program or Boot Camp – we do programs around the country.


Pete : Read our article, “Letter to the Stranger.” This article may change the way you view the process and your role forever.

Pam : Read the articles and sample letters in the Paper Trails & Letters section of the site. Start with these two articles:

In Art of Writing Letters, you learn to use tactics and strategies when you write letters to the school. You learn about the Blame Approach and the Storytelling Approach; the sympathy factor; first impressions; pitfalls; and the powerful decision-making Stranger.

If you have a problem with the school or concerns about your child’s program, you must document your concerns in writing. 12 Rules for Writing Great Letters includes rules for writing letters and editing tips.

Negotiation & Persuasion

Pam : Parents need to understand that they negotiate with school staff for special education programs. In Learning to Negotiate is Part of the Advocacy Process, advocate Brice Palmer describes negotiating in advocacy, explains important rules, offers excellent tactics and techniques.

Pete: I also recommend that you to read two books (assuming you have already read our book, From Emotions to Advocacy!)

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury will teach you how to negotiate “win-win” solutions to disputes without damaging your relationship with the school.

How to Argue and Win Every Time by Gerry Spence will teach you how to persuade others to see things as you do, understand your perspective, and WANT to help. How to Argue includes great stories about how people dealt with situations similar to yours. Read the story in Chapter 8 about the mother who wanted her county to fix a dangerous road. After you read this story, you will understand what you need to do.

You can get these books from most libraries and bookstores. You can also order them from The Advocacy Bookstore (our online bookstore).

The Wrights built the and sites and publish The Special Ed Advocate, the free online newsletter about special education law and advocacy.

Pete and Pam also do training programs about special education law and advocacy. To see if they are coming to your area soon, visit their speaking schedule page.

How to survive a hostile work environment

What is a hostile work environment?

According to The Legal Dictionary, a hostile work environment occurs when there is “unwelcome or offensive behavior in the workplace, which causes one or more employees to feel uncomfortable, scared, or intimidated in their place of employment.”

A hostile work environment occurs when employees feel they are being harassed due to their national origin, sex, race, religion, age, or disability. According to the US Department of Labor, the “unwelcome conduct renders the workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive.”

If you are accused of creating a hostile work environment, it is also important to know what it is not. Even the court system struggles to define what a hostile work environment is or is not.

An unpleasant workplace such as dealing with an obnoxious co-worker or difficult work assignments is not “hostile.” Unfortunately, many frivolous complaints are made by employees who do not know the difference. But, those complaints can still be troublesome whether they come from a coworker or an employee you supervise.

There Are Two Sides to Hostile Work Environment Complaints

A federal employee may feel subjected to a hostile work environment and file a complaint against a fellow employee or supervisor. Both people have a point of view about the work environment that differs. And, both have options on how to respond. Here are four things you should do:

1. An employee who feels subjected to your hostile behavior may want to discuss it with you before lodging a complaint. You should welcome this opportunity to try to resolve the situation before a complaint is filed.

Listen carefully to the other side, and discuss how the situation can be resolved.

2. Keep a written record of the conversation especially in the event the individual is not satisfied with your response. This shows you have made an effort to resolve it. Bear in mind the person approaching you is also trying to establish that he or she has made an effort towards resolution.

3. Employees who feel subject to a hostile work environment are advised to keep a detailed record of what they say happened, who is involved, and potential witnesses. If you become aware of a potential complaint, it is critical that you do the same to defend your actions.

4. If you become aware of a potential complaint, it may be advisable to go to your supervisor or human resources to discuss it. It is likely the person with the complaint will do the same, so it is your opportunity to both show you are being responsive and present your point of view.

An employee with a hostile work environment complaint may decide to contact an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) counselor. This is a step required before filing a formal complaint. Often the EEO counselor will attempt to mediate and resolve the situation. Your records will help in the discussion.

If the person accusing you does not agree with how the situation is resolved, that person can begin a formal complaint process.

When do you need help addressing a possible hostile work environment complaint?

Even frivolous complaints require serious attention. You may be in the right but could still pay a heavy cost in terms of your career or possible legal action taken against you.

Many federal employees have opted to obtain professional liability insurance protection — just as professionals do in medicine, financial services, contracting, and more.

It is possible that the complaining employee has engaged an attorney especially when a case goes beyond mediation. When you are subject to a complaint, you need to do the same.

“If a federal employee is accused of creating a hostile work environment, they should seek legal advice and counsel early in the process. Hopefully, the issue can be resolved with mediation, but receiving direction from an attorney experienced in federal litigation can help increase the likelihood that the complaint is resolved favorably,” says Darrell Weber, Vice President of Starr Wright USA. Starr Wright USA provides professional liability insurance for federal employees.

If you are faced with disciplinary action ranging from a warning letter to demotion to removal, you need legal representation if you want to appeal it. Depending on the disciplinary action such as a suspension, you have the right to an attorney, opportunity to respond, and access to materials that had an impact on your case.

An attorney can advise you what your options are including whether the action taken against you was conducted properly. In addition, an attorney will help you draft your rebuttal, which can be written and oral. An attorney can also present a response based on the “Douglas Factors,” established by the US Merit Systems Protection Board. Douglas Factors can lead to disciplinary penalties being reduced based on your years of successful service, a first-time offense, and other mitigating circumstances.

“If the mediation is unsuccessful, and you have to defend yourself, you are best served by having an attorney experienced in federal cases on your side,” says Weber.

In 2017, 5,811 cases were decided in Merit Systems Protection Board Regional and Field Offices.

In 2017, the average time a federal employee waited for a resolution of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint was 543 days.

Deal With Verbal Bullying

How to survive a hostile work environment

Defend Against Verbal Bullying

How to survive a hostile work environment

Deal with Workplace Bullying and Harassment

How to survive a hostile work environment

Deal with Mean Female Coworkers

How to survive a hostile work environment

Prove Workplace Bullying

How to survive a hostile work environment

Deal With a Bullying Boss

How to survive a hostile work environment

Resolve a Conflict at Work

How to survive a hostile work environment

Report Workplace Bullying

How to survive a hostile work environment

Defend Threats to Your Job Due to False Accusation

How to survive a hostile work environment

Survive Office Politics

How to survive a hostile work environment

Prove a Hostile Work Environment

How to survive a hostile work environment

Deal with Problems at Work

How to survive a hostile work environment

Work for Someone With Anger Management Issues

How to survive a hostile work environment

Survive a Hostile Work Environment

How to survive a hostile work environment

Stop Covering for a Lazy Coworker

How to survive a hostile work environment

Avoid Talking Politics at Work

How to survive a hostile work environment

Manage Personality Conflicts at Work

How to survive a hostile work environment

Avoid Conflict at Work

How to survive a hostile work environment

Build Bridges With a Co Worker You Don’t Like

How to survive a hostile work environment

Effective Strategies to Fix a Toxic Workplace

How to survive a hostile work environment

Use Counseling to Overcome Workplace Challenges

How to survive a hostile work environment

Most employees spend more than 40 hours a week at their job, not counting any time spent commuting. If you’re spending half your waking hours doing something, it should be something you enjoy – or at least something that doesn’t suck the life out of you.

When you’re in a toxic workplace, it can be difficult to find the motivation to go to work and you’ll hardly ever be happy when you’re there. You might derive satisfaction a perfectly executed project, but a supervisor could quash that happiness with petty criticism. If you’re in a toxic workplace, you’ll know it instinctively, but here are three tell-tale signs.

1. Lack of Communication
Employers aren’t clear on job expectations, and team members fail to communicate important information that helps you to do your job. If complaining is the primary mode of communication, you’re in a toxic environment.

2. Managers Play Favorites
Do a few high performers have the right to walk all over everyone else? Do policies, procedures, and penalties apply only to those who haven’t gained the managers’ favor? From family businesses where the owner’s son is given special privileges to workplaces where one clique seems to get all the attention, benefits, and rewards, lack of equality can create a toxic workplace.

3. Everyone is Mean and/or Unhappy
If you work in a place where everyone is mean, negative, or always complaining, it’s time to get out. This environment can range from sexual harassment to hostility or passive-aggression, which may be more difficult to pinpoint. But, no matter what it is, you don’t have to live with it. If you work in a toxic environment, it’s time to move on – even if you don’t have another job lined up.

How to Say Goodbye with Your Head Held High
Once you’ve made the decision and mustered up your courage to quit, come up with your exit plan. Do you have savings set aside that will permit you to have a little fun while you job search? Can you cut expenses, find a roommate, or figure out some other way to live on less? Can you freelance for a while?

Once you’ve come up with a plan, give two weeks’ notice – no more, no less. Do not tell your boss you’re looking for a new job before you give notice. He can’t hire anyone else yet, because you haven’t left, and it will only create more awkwardness in a toxic workplace.

Learn from Your Favorite TV Characters
If you go home at night and wish you had an office to go to like some of your favorite TV characters, you may be surprised that you can actually take lessons on career success from these silver screen leaders.

Rayna James of “Nashville” recognized the toxic environment at Edgehill Records and set off to create her own record label. She knew when it was time to move on and become her own boss, and did so without looking back.

Another strong leading lady is Alicia Florrick of “The Good Wife.” She knew it was time for a whole new career and started at the bottom in a law firm to make a big difference in the world. It wasn’t easy, but it paid off as she moved up in the firm and then launched her own successful practice, relying on her intelligence, perseverance, and connections for success.

Raymond “Red” Reddington of “The Blacklist” also maintains an extensive network of people he can turn to. When you’re ready to leave your job, turn to your own networks (discretely, so your current boss doesn’t find out) for job leads.

Leave Gracefully
It might be tempting to leave the HR department a long list of what’s wrong in the workplace, but it won’t help change the toxic environment, and it certainly won’t win you any friends. Don’t burn any bridges and don’t waste the emotional energy rehashing what was wrong in the office. Just move on.

Submit a letter of resignation that simply states your final date of work, and the position you’re resigning from. It’s a nice touch to include a “thank you,” as well. Dig deep to find the positive things you got from your job – even if it was just the paycheck – and thank your boss for the experience and opportunity.

Don’t Feel Guilty
You’re loyal and that’s good. But your first loyalty is to yourself, specifically your sanity and your values. As long as you’ve given your two weeks’ notice, you’re doing the right thing. You may feel a huge weight lifted as soon as you deliver that resignation letter, which will alternate with normal waves of happiness and fear over the next few weeks. You’ve escaped your toxic workplace and your next career adventure awaits.

How to survive a hostile work environment

For many people, work can be like a second home. You spend the majority of your waking hours dedicated to your work. Your co-workers and team may likely be the people you interact with most in your life, after family or a spouse.

Yet it’s impossible to be effective and feel fulfilled in a toxic workplace environment. Even if you work from home, a negative work environment can transcend physical walls. The intangible qualities that make work a healthy or unhealthy place can impact everything from your personal life and health to your self-esteem.

The increased stress of working in a dysfunctional office can lead directly to job burnout, particularly for Sensitive Strivers.

In my book TRUST YOURSELF: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work , I explain that Sensitive Strivers are high-achievers who are also highly sensitive. This refers to about one in five professionals who is driven and ambitious, but also thinks and feels everything more deeply.

Why Toxic Workplaces Affect Sensitive Strivers More

  • Your deeper sensory perception means you can sense – and more bothered – when things are “off”
  • You feel things intensely and can be easily hurt by criticism or harsh behavior from toxic people
  • You put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform and assume a sense of responsibility to make sure everyone around you likes you and is happy
  • You’re attuned to everything happening (including people’s reactions), which can lead to constant vigilance that is emotionally draining
  • You may have been told you’re “too sensitive” or take things “too personally” so now you’re afraid to speak up and assert yourself
  • You become overworked and overstressed, which further burdens you’re already overloaded nervous system

8 Signs of a Toxic Workplace

How can you identify if you’re trapped in a hostile workplace? Here are eight telling signs you may be working in a toxic office environment.

1. You’re told to feel “lucky you have a job.”

If you’ve ever heard this statement from your boss, it’s a major red flag. This scare tactic is a means of threatening you into staying in a marginalized position and is symptomatic of an organization that thrives on bullying behavior and control.

2. Poor communication.

Do you feel like you’re left out of the loop regarding important information? A pervasive lack of communication characterizes most toxic workplaces. You may get little to no feedback about your performance, and when you do, it’s negative and harsh — not the constructive type.

You may be doing the work of two, three, or four people, yet it’s not unusual for your boss or colleagues to take credit for your accomplishments.

3. Everyone has a bad attitude.

If you walk into work and everyone around you is miserable a la “Office Space,” then you may be trapped in a hostile environment. In this type of office, there is no enthusiasm; no one coming in with smiles on their faces and no one ever says “I love working here.” A high turnover rate among employees is a good sign that people are fleeing very quickly, most likely because of their unhappiness and poor morale at the office.


Turn your sensitivity into a strength and regain your confidence at work

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If cliques dominate your office, it can feel as if you’re back in high school all over again. You may be anxious and paranoid that your colleagues are talking about you. Toxic, cliquey co-workers are most likely to be found hovering around the water cooler whispering in each other’s ears. They make what should be friendly workplace competition seem hostile and dog-eat-dog. There’s always rumors or gossip floating around the office; misunderstanding, favoritism, and infighting are the norm.


Do meetings feel like a waste of time, inevitably blowing up into disorganized chaos where nothing is accomplished? Are the company’s operations disjointed and failing? Toxic workplaces are full of confusion, arbitrary deadlines, lack of focus, and a general malaise that “this is the way it’s always been done.” If new policies or regulations are constantly getting added, or if management is never around to help solve problems, these are symptoms of a larger problem stemming from poor leadership and low morale.


This type of boss is always trying to control your every move and you feel as if he or she is just waiting to pounce on you for messing up. Toxic bosses usually seem unwilling to listen to others and feel as if their way is always the right way. Your boss loves wielding his or her power and showing others that they’re in charge. He or she probably isn’t willing to lend a hand to help in tasks or give you credit for a job well done. If you feel as if your boss would expect you to come to work even if you were on your deathbed, you might be experiencing a tyrannical and toxic boss.


If you’ve approached management or HR several times regarding a lack of recognition and growth opportunities (such as promotions, raises, and challenging assignments), and have seen no changes, it may be time to leave.


When your intuition says something is amiss, trust it. Physical symptoms you develop, such as sleepless nights or a racing heartbeat, can be your sensitive nervous system alerting you of danger.