A hostile work environment can be just as stressful as an abusive relationship because of how much time you spend at work. When you are subjected day in and day out to the emotional toxicity of a hostile workplace, you learn to hate going to work. Knowing how to survive and stay free of stress is always a challenge in a fast-paced business environment, but it is even more critical when you have to deal with an abusive work environment.
Hostile Work Environment Definition
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects certain classes of people from discrimination in the workplace. Unwelcome pervasive and severe comments or physical conduct about or against someone based on their sex, gender, age, disability, race, color, religion or national origin creates a hostile work environment. This includes unwanted comments about a person's gender identity or sexual innuendos even if there is no physical touching involved. This also includes racial epithets, jokes or comments used to demean, belittle or discriminate against a person of a protected class under the laws, not only by managers, but by co-workers as well.
Rise Above It
The most important thing you can do for a healthy state of mind is to develop an attitude that rises above a hostile work environment. Don't allow yourself to be caught in the web of abusive behavior or gossip. Distance yourself as much as possible from your co-workers or managers who practice this kind of emotional toxicity. Remember that you are a professional at work to do a job. Treat your co-workers in the way you want to be treated and don't stoop to their levels of behavior.
Dealing with Harassment
Even though you've developed a "rise above it" mental attitude, that doesn't mean that you become a doormat to the abuse, especially if you are the target. Your employer is legally responsible for ensuring that employees enjoy a "hostile-free" work environment. Approach the situation with honesty and clarity. Speak up for yourself or someone else who may be afraid to do so, especially if the abuse offends you. If dealing with the offender directly doesn't work, then you need to report him according to your organization's internal procedures. Keep a log that includes dates, times, witnesses and events to make it easier for you to remember the details.
Follow the Chain of Command
When you were hired, your company provided an employee handbook that details the procedure you are to follow when you need to report this kind of abuse. Most companies have you report this behavior to your immediate supervisor. If your supervisor is the offender, then you need to go directly to the human resources department. When you speak with human resources, be professional, direct and honest. Bring your record of the details so that you can file a formal complaint. If your company fails to resolve the situation or do anything about it, then your next step is to contact your state's labor department or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission directly.
When to Quit
When the abusive behavior pervades all levels of the company, you need to get your resume ready and begin looking for another job. It's not in your best interest to continue in a toxic work environment. Discrimination is like a disease, if left unchecked it spreads. If you feel you've done all that you can, and you don't think the situation is going to change, then it's time to leave. Your personal health and well-being are more important than continually being stressed out by abusive behavior. Once you've secured a new job, give your notice.
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.