Dealing with a hostile environment
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Throughout the decades, workplaces have undergone a series of significant advancements that enabled employees to perform their tasks efficiently and conveniently. Additionally, workers now enjoy more rights and are entitled to more comprehensive benefits.

However, these improvements don't mean that every modern workplace promotes a positive culture. Many employees may still find themselves working in an environment where hostility and aggression abound.

Having a good workplace culture is crucial to enjoying a fulfilling life because individuals spend a big chunk of their days at their workplace. It is therefore safe to say that people's working environment directly affects their quality of life. 

With this being said, working can become taxing and stressful when hostility among colleagues exists. While many who are part of a hostile workplace may choose to endure the circumstances, there is always a limit to how much one can bear.

If situations in your office become dire and extreme that it starts to affect your physical and mental health negatively, this is a huge sign to take more significant actions. Here are several things that you can do to effectively deal with a hostile working environment:

1.    Identify the issue

Before taking action, it's critical to assess the situation and determine the level of hostility present in your workplace. Are your colleagues just naturally unfriendly towards most people or do they show aggression against you?

Next, it's important to identify possible causes for their belligerent behavior. This is not to imply that you are doing something wrong which merits their hostility. Knowing the reason will simply allow you to determine the next step to take.

For instance, if their hostility is motivated by prejudices against your personal attributes such as race, color, or religion, this is a more serious issue. Moreover, legal action may be required if there is harassment and discrimination involved. However, if the matter is caused by a misunderstanding, it may be resolved internally.

2.    Confront the parties involved

There are times that people are unaware that what they are doing or saying is hurting other people. Of course, this doesn't excuse their behavior but if this is indeed the case, a direct confrontation may be enough to address the issue.

Telling the colleague or senior responsible for the toxicity to stop can be a good resolution if one has enough courage to do so. Keep in mind that there's nothing wrong with confronting a person as long as it is done properly, privately, and politely. However, in the case that the party you confronted retaliates against you, it's crucial to inform a higher-up.

3.    Report the matter to a higher authority

Reaching out to the HR department or even the bosses themselves may help with the situation. Do not hesitate to do this because it is the duty and responsibility of all employers to provide their employees with a safe and comfortable working environment. Hence, you have the right to ask to be protected from any kind of negative treatment brought upon by other people in your workplace.

4.    Get help from a legal professional

In the instances that the first and second step fails to resolve the situation, it may be time to consider getting assistance from a lawyer. As stated previously, workplace harassment can be legally punished.

According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, any form of inappropriate conduct in which a person is discriminated against or harassed due to race, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability or sexual preferences (only in some states) is subject to legal action. Moreover, depending on how severe the harassment is and how it affects one’s work should be taken into consideration.

Seeking help from an experienced and competent attorney would help a lot in the journey to attain justice through proper legal steps that will not endanger your own safety and credibility.

5.    Stay informed

In 2018, a research on workplace harassment called the "Hiscox Workplace Harassment Study" proved that hostile work environments do exist, and harassment often goes unreported and is treated as water under the bridge. It has many patterns, with the harassers mainly being stronger and sitting in a senior position which makes them think that they have the right to berate those under them. 

However, it can also come from other sources like customers and clients. Snide comments, cursing, yelling, and improper jokes are common forms of harassment. Accordingly, it's important to be well-informed of your rights so you will be able to protect yourself better in the workplace.

The Bottom-line

If you find yourself in a hostile work environment, you can take various steps to improve the situation without resorting to resignation. Do not be passive to abuse and harassment.

There are a lot of ways to develop a proper solution, as well as receive the apology and compensation you deserve.

Know your rights well and protect them actively. It will not only make a difference in your own career but can also motivate others who are in the same situation to fight for their rights too. Furthermore, it can serve as a warning to people who commit harassment in the workplace and possibly make them stop voluntarily. 

Just as a journey of a hundred miles starts with one step, a spark of justice can lead to a chain reaction and create a safer, happier work environment for everyone.

About the Author

Viridiana Valdes - Experienced Marketing Specialist at Shegerian & Associates with a demonstrated history of working in the law practice industry. Skilled in Business Process, Negotiation, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Management, and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). Strong marketing professional with a Strategic Marketing focused in Marketing from Panamerican Consulting Group and Universidad Rafael Landivar.