A Hostile Work Environment –
Coping With It, Transforming It or Moving On

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A hostile work environment is the opposite of what most of us desire, which is an environment of support, efficiency, cooperation, creativity, pride, teamwork, enthusiasm, dedication, and healthy motivation. If you find yourself in a work environment that feels more like a battlefield than a place of personal and professional thriving, there are a few different ways you can approach the situation.

First let’s look at what a hostile work environment feels like. While there are of course, many variations on any given theme, here are a few common traits of a hostile work environment.

  • There is an exaggerated sense of competitiveness; a kill or be killed type of vibe going on.
  • Secretiveness bordering on a feeling of paranoia. An unwillingness to share any information, either of a personal or professional nature.
  • There is an unwillingness to give or share any credit. Whether or not something was a team effort, each person will do their utmost to make it appear that they were the one responsible.
  • Reluctance to extend friendship, caring or even courtesy to others, whether this comes from a fear of being perceived weak, or a fear of being taken advantage of.
  • Reluctance to show appreciation for anything that anyone else does. Usually this stems from a fear that acknowledging the good in someone else somehow detracts from one’s own value.
  • Reluctance to help others.
  • Eagerness to place blame on others.
  • Tendency to find fault, gossip, or spread rumors.
  • A general feeling of being undervalued, unappreciated or taken for granted.

All of these behaviors stem from forms of insecurity or negative thinking. At the heart of much of this is belief that there is a shortage of recognition, success, or rewards to go around, and that if you don’t race for your share, someone else will get it.

If you are in a workplace that feels like the hostile work environment described above to any great degree, you are probably pretty unhappy there. It is very difficult to feel productive or secure in such a discouraging environment, and even the most robust and self-motivated of us would be challenged to remain upbeat in the face of such negativity.

Dealing with a hostile work environment can basically be done in one of three ways; by learning to cope with it, finding a way of transforming it, or by moving on.

The first way is actually an extremely good step towards either of the others, or a valid method in itself. The best way of coping with a hostile work environment for most people is to find ways of paying less attention to the negativity that is so pervasive, and focusing on anything that is good, anything else, or a vision of an improved environment. This can take some discipline, but it is truly one of the only ways to begin feeling better in surroundings that are so likely to be depressing and discouraging. Simple methods like refusing to be drawn into arguments, avoiding gossip, and putting some love, light and joy into your own little corner of the workplace are about your best alternatives as you seek to cope with a hostile work environment. While you remain physically in this workplace, your external circumstances are dictated to a certain degree by what’s going on with those around you, but no matter where you are, you have the power to choose your own thoughts, and your reactions to the circumstances.

If you wish to try and transform a hostile work environment, the best way starts pretty much as outlined above; by taking control of your own thoughts and attitudes in and around the workplace. However, if you are seeking to transform the whole environment rather than just creating a protective bubble for yourself, you need to think bigger. Spending time envisioning, in vivid detail, an improved situation in your workplace is a powerful tool. In fact, if you can spend more time in this mental version than in the current physical reality, the power of your vision and focus will give you the positive energy that will allow you to take the next step, and to begin acting “as if.” If you begin showing up at work energized, upbeat and ready to work positively with those around you for your own individual advancement and for the good of the team and the company, and you can hold this mood and attitude in the face of negativity for a while, it will be impossible for those around you not to be affected by your enthusiasm. The thing is that for so long, everyone, including you has been infected by the pervasive gloom that has been the dominant mood. If you can hold steadfast to your new attitude, it cannot fail to rub off on those around you. Just as one rotten apple can spoil a whole barrel, one steady flame can ignite a whole forest.

The third alternative for dealing with a hostile work environment is to leave it, and of course, this is as valid an option as any. However, a word of warning if you are considering this choice, is that it is very wise to make peace with where you are before you move on, otherwise, you are moving into your new environment with unresolved angst, which means there is a very real possibility that you will end up in a similar situation, as this is the point of attraction that you are taking with you. This is why so many people go from one bad relationship to another. They know what they don’t want, but they fail to bring themselves to a place where they are clear on what they do want, and go into the new relationship as a means of running away from the unwanted rather than moving joyfully and expectantly towards the wanted.

Before you leave your current hostile work environment take some time to accept that this place has taught you many things, was a vital part of your career/life experience, and has allowed you to gain great clarity on what you want in a future job. Also make a clear outline of what the new work environment you are seeking will offer. State it in positive terms such as “I want a workplace that provides camaraderie and team-spirit.” Remember that if you state it in negative terms, such as “I don’t want to work with mean, petty, backstabbing people,” your attention and focus on the unwanted makes that the most dominant thought in your mind, and therefore the most likely thing to come to you!

Whichever way you decide to deal with a hostile work environment, remember that awareness of the problem, and willingness to do something about it means that you are off and running. Now, with clarity, focus and determination, you are well on your way to experiencing a work environment that aligns with the best of who you are, and everything you want.

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