How to Deal With a Hostile Work Environment
A couple of years ago, I found myself in a sticky situation at work. Heading to the office each morning was a struggle because the environment was growing more and more hostile by the minute. I was naive and felt victimized by my co-workers but thought the issues would work themselves out over time. However, the entire thing blew up in my face and ended with me leaving the company. Looking back, it’s clear that I had no clue how to deal with the hostile work environment, so I simply didn’t deal with it at all. While I regret this, I learned a tremendous amount from the ordeal and can honestly say that if I were to face another bad office experience, I would know exactly how to handle it. Here’s how.
If a hostile incident occurs at work, take a break and leave the office immediately. If you go back to your desk upset, you may end up writing emails that you’ll regret later. Also, you could start instant-messaging with co-workers about the situation, and this could affect your mental state for the worse. Grab your bag and take a walk around the block to cool off. If you are emotional and feel a good cry could be beneficial, walk into a nearby coffee shop’s bathroom. Got a friend who works in the neighborhood? Call and ask her to meet you.
Send yourself an email with concise details of the situation. Cleary recount what happened and what your actions were. Compile a folder of emails that you may need to refer to when presenting your side of the story. Add dates and times of the incidents when necessary.
The second any sort of ugly situation arises, get on the phone and talk it through with your mentor or a wise and trusted friend. If you’re upset or angry and want to vent, it’s better to do this with a mentor or friend than with your manager, who will be monitoring your behavior. Discuss ways to handle the situation and possible scenarios that could occur with each solution. Prepare yourself to calmly and concisely present yourself to your manager.
Once you’re feeling calm and collected, set up an appointment to speak with your manager. Don’t wait weeks to discuss the hostility as it could just bring about more grief. If your manager is the one who is being malicious, meet with a member of the human resources team or your manager’s superior. It’s HR’s job to make sure everyone is treated fairly, and if you feel unsafe or unwelcome at work due to anyone’s unkind remarks, the department will advise you on how to handle the comments.
When I was dealing with my hostile work environment, it felt like the world was closing in around me, and I spiraled down a dark, negative hallway. Negative thinking is never good for anyone, so do your best to stay positive. Ask yourself, “Will I remember this incident five years from now? Will I still be upset by it?” The answer to these questions is most likely no, so remind yourself: It’s not the end of the world.
Try to maintain a level of professionalism at all times—you are at work. Don’t be too sensitive or too defensive. Don’t be a martyr or victim. Crying at work won’t help with your reputation or resolve the situation, so if you need to cry, call your mom after work and bawl your little eyes out to her, not your manager. If you’re super emotional when dealing with this incident, your co-workers might be hesitant to work closely with you.
Once you’ve spoken with your manager or HR representative, take some time to reflect on what happened. Think about how you handled the situation, and ask yourself, “What could I have done differently to make another outcome possible?” If you’re worried about another situation arising, write down as much as you remember about what happened so you’ll be able to make a claim with HR when more problems come to light.
If you’ve been at the company for more than a year and have tried to remove yourself from the hostile environment, but your efforts are continuously failing, it might be time to remove yourself completely. Begin to search for a new opportunity. Starting at a new office with a clean slate could be refreshing and rewarding.
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