How to Survive a Hostile Work Environment

Four Methods:Finding Ways to CopeDocumenting your ExperienceWorking with AlliesSeeking Help

While it’s common to have a bad day at work or differences of opinion with coworkers or supervisors, dealing with a hostile work environment often presents more of a challenge. These work environments are often characterized by unfairness, abuses of power, emotionality, and other types of inappropriate behavior. These unprofessional workplaces lower productivity, increase stress, and can even impact your health. This article offers suggestions on coping with these situations, documenting your experiences, finding allies, and seeking help.

Method 1
Finding Ways to Cope

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    Control your actions and reactions. While you can’t control the way your coworkers or supervisors behave, you do have power over your own actions and responses. You don’t want to emulate the bad behavior or negativity exhibited by the people around you.[1]
    • If you start to feel upset, don't lash out. Instead, take a break and a deep breath.
    • Think about something positive outside of work that will help get you through the workday.
    • Act professionally and with integrity
    • Continue to perform the job you are being paid to do to the best of your abilities.
    • A supervisor or another company will likely find your admirable behavior under difficult circumstances impressive.
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    Approach this situation as an opportunity for self-growth. Although it can be difficult to identify positive aspects of a hostile work environment, viewing your work situation with the goal of learning important lessons can help you cope.[2][3]
    • For example, are there specific leadership qualities this experience is teaching you about?
    • Is there something you do on a daily basis that makes you feel proud?
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    Separate yourself from the negativity. If you feel yourself getting frustrated or depressed, it’s a good idea to try to take a few moments and escape the negativity. Here are a few suggestions:[4]
    • Take short breaks outside.
    • If you can’t leave the office, walk around inside the building.
    • Wear headphones, if permitted, and listen to music or something you find relaxing.
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    Improve your surroundings. When you are dealing with a hostile and unpredictable work environment, it can help you feel more calm and in control to improve your surroundings.[5]
    • De-clutter and organize your workspace.
    • Bring a family picture, a plant, or something to remind you of home.
    • Post quotes that you find positive or encouraging on your desk or walls.
    • The changes you make do not have to be drastic or extreme.
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    Treat your time away from work as sacred. Try not to spend your time away from work worrying about what is occurring at the office or what might occur when you return. This will provide you with some much-needed time to unwind and distance yourself from the negative environment.[6]
    • When you are not at work or on the clock, avoid checking work-related emails and voicemails.
    • Although it might seem therapeutic to vent about work with friends or family, don't use all of your free time rehashing what occurred during the day.

Method 2
Documenting your Experience

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    Research company policies. Most companies have specific guidelines about harassment, discrimination, and inappropriate workplace behavior and etiquette. It’s a good idea to review these policies so that you can evaluate whether they are being followed.
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    Follow company procedures to address workplace grievances. Review employee handbooks or training manuals to see if your employer provides specific instructions for addressing workplace grievances. If these are in place, document your efforts to conform to these procedures.
    • Evidence that you followed these instructions strengthens your case in the event that you have to seek the help of higher-up employees or outside assistance.
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    Document your claims. If you have to address the issue of a hostile workplace environment with supervisors, human resources, union representatives, or attorneys, you will need to provide specific evidence to support your concerns.[7]
    • Save relevant emails and written correspondence.
    • Take notes during meetings and phone conversations.
    • Keep a log or diary detailing the date, time, and circumstance of specific encounters or incidents.
    • Work with other affected or involved employees to draft statements and reports detailing grievances or incidents that occur.
    • Keep the records you collect in a secure place where coworkers or supervisors won’t have access.
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    Ask for assistance. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a colleague, a supervisor, or a member of human resources. They can provide valuable information and advice on how to improve the workplace environment.
    • Coworkers you approach might feel the same way, and talking with them about the situation will help everyone feel less alone.
    • While it might feel daunting to contact supervisors and human resources staff about a hostile work environment, it's their responsibility to address employee concerns and resolve problems that have a negative impact on employee productivity and the work environment.

Method 3
Working with Allies

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    Identify co-workers who might feel similarly. Hostile work environments usually have a negative impact on more than one person, so it is likely that some of your coworkers feel the same way.
    • Think about colleagues who have mentioned encountering similar behavior.
    • Are their colleagues who have been present during the same situations you experienced.
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    Discuss the workplace environment. Talking with coworkers who have similar concerns helps you feel less isolated.
    • It’s a good idea to have these conversations outside of the workplace so you are not behaving unprofessionally, and supervisors cannot claim you are wasting work time.
    • Although it might be tempting to share your frustrations with a colleague, remain professional and don’t resort to name-calling. This will undermine your case.
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    Work together to generate solutions. Your coworkers might have helpful insights and good ideas to resolve the situation.
    • For example, is a coworker on good terms with a supervisor or human resources staff member who might be able to help or offer advice?
    • If multiple employees have a problem with a supervisor's behavior, agree on a way that everyone should respond. This will send a consistent message to the supervisor that their behavior is unacceptable.
    • Focus on identifying some of the main concerns shared by employees, but also discuss specific solutions to resolve these problems.
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    Form a united front. If you decide to take more formal action to improve a hostile work environment, forming a united front will be more impressive to supervisors and company management. Multiple employees working together to resolve these issues will be more effective than one person making a complaint or stating a grievance. Here are a few suggestions for group actions you might consider taking:
    • Write a letter addressing the group’s concerns about the work environment, and ask coworkers interested in participating to sign.
    • Organize a group meeting with management or human resources to articulate concerns.
    • Compile records that support and document the group’s concerns.
    • If your company or workplace is associated with a union, consider making a group presentation to members.

Method 4
Seeking Help

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    Talk with your supervisor. If previous attempts to deal with a hostile work environment have failed or you feel the situation is too serious to wait, set up a time to meet with your boss and discuss your concerns. To demonstrate that you are a team player and not a problem employee, try to address these issues in a way that is positive and diplomatic.
    • Don’t place blame or sound petty.
    • Instead, recommend concrete steps you would like supervisors to make to address your concerns and improve the workplace environment.
    • If you feel like your boss is responsible for the hostile work environment, it might be a good idea to talk with human resources personnel in your office or company.
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    Meet with human resources personnel. A human resources employee or representative can serve as a mediator and help resolve the workplace issues.
    • Remember, it’s to your benefit if you express your concerns in a calm manner and do not place blame.
    • Provide the documentation you've collected to support your claims.
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    Ask to be reassigned or relocated. If you feel that a change of department, supervisor, or branch might improve your work situation and productivity, talk with human resources about this option. A small change like this could make a significant difference in your situation.[8]
    • Requesting the change in writing also serves as an important piece of documentation that you are trying to be proactive and resolve your situation in a professional manner.
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    Send a letter from an attorney. Meet with an attorney to discuss your concerns and ask them to send a letter articulating your grievances to your boss, a human resources manager, and the company’s legal department. [9]
    • Since many companies do not want to deal with potentially costly lawsuits or negative publicity, they might work harder to correct the problems and address your concerns about the work environment.
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    File a hostile work environment claim. If the letter from an attorney does not result in the changes you had hoped or you would prefer to file the lawsuit, meet with the attorney to explore the possibility of filing a hostile work environment lawsuit. To qualify for a claim, you need to prove the issues you encountered or observed at work were not isolated incidents, but rather occurred regularly, were intentional, and interfered with your ability to work.[10][11]
    • If the problem behavior constituted harassment, particularly sexual harassment, you do not have to demonstrate that it occurred regularly.[12]
    • Federal laws define harassment as unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, national origin, or genetic information.[13]
    • A licensed attorney will be able to help you determine if your workplace or work situation qualifies as being hostile from a legal standpoint.
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    Leave your position. If attempts to resolve these issues are unsuccessful and you feel that remaining in your position is no longer an option, it might be time to move on. Find a company that respects its employees and creates a more welcoming environment that is conducive to productive work.[14]
    • It can be empowering and productive to begin networking and researching alternative career options or positions ahead of time.[15]


  • Make every effort to remain professional so that you do not appear to be part of the problem.
  • Familiarize yourself with your company’s organizational structure so that you know who to contact about your concerns.
  • Review your company’s policies regarding appropriate and inappropriate workplace behavior so you can follow recommended guidelines and present your case to supervisors, human resources, or legal representation.
  • Check out this wikiHow article for information on how to prove a hostile work environment from a legal perspective.
  • A licensed attorney is the most qualified person to determine if your workplace or work situation qualifies as being hostile from a legal standpoint.

Article Info

Categories: Workplace Conflicts Coping and Issues