Good employees are what drive an organization and nurture the growth of a business.
But what happens if your workplace is plagued by a hostile work environment due to the actions of a supervisor, manager, or a handful of employees?
Studies show that one out of five Americans experience hostile or threatening work environment, making it not quite uncommon for employees to face such scenarios.
The immediate effect of a hostile work environment will be evident through decreased employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity rate - all of which lead to increased resignations or even lawsuits in some cases.
And as an employer, the last thing you’d want for your company is to acquire an image of an undesirable workplace with a poor employer value proposition (EVP), making it extremely difficult for your company to attract good talent.
Read on to learn more about hostile work environments and get clarity on related questions like the following:
- What is a hostile work environment?
- What behaviors are considered criteria for a hostile work environment?
- What are the different types of discrimination that create a hostile work environment?
- What leads to a hostile work environment?
Hostile Work Environment Definition
While employees experiencing an occasional bad work day and some work-related stress or anxiety is normal, experiencing it consistently and on a severe level accounts for a hostile work environment.
A hostile work environment can be defined as a workplace that makes employees feel harassed, threatened, and uncomfortable to an extent where their performance at work and well-being is jeopardized.
But, although things such as unpleasant or rude bosses, obnoxious colleagues, lack of perks, and timely promotion are some factors that can affect employee productivity and business performance, these don’t legally make a workplace hostile.
According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious)” aren’t considered illegal.
For Instance, if a coworker makes non-discriminatory but inappropriate jokes at a colleague, or if a manager overworks their team, such conduct might not qualify as illegal.
So, what constitutes a hostile work environment?
In legal terms, EEOC states that a hostile work environment results from harassment based on color, religion, race, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, or pregnancy), age (40 or older), national origin, or disability.
The following 4 factors must be assessed to determine if a workplace is hostile in legal terms:
- The frequency of the misconduct
- The severity and pervasiveness
- If the misconduct is physically threatening or humiliating
- If it interferes with a worker’s ability to perform work
Also Read: What are the signs of a toxic workplace?
What Behaviors Are Considered Criteria for a Hostile Work Environment?
While the signs of a toxic workplace include employees feeling dissatisfied, lack of resources, inadequate growth opportunities, and job security, a hostile work environment makes the employees feel threatened and fearful, with complaints about bullying and discrimination.
Given below are some signs and criteria that make up a hostile work environment:
Sexual and/or Racial Harassment
One of the worst workplace scenarios that create a hostile work environment for employees is sexual and racial harassment.
Vulgar comments, unconsented sexual advancements at a workplace, and unwelcomed verbal or physical sexual cues are some examples of a hostile work environment.
Studies show that about 38% of women and 14% of men have reported experiencing sexual harassment at work, accounting as one of the leading causes of workplace hostility and costing companies an average of $2.6 billion or $1,053 per victim due to loss of productivity.
Meanwhile, passing racial slurs, making derogatory remarks based on a specific race, and poking fun at a colleague’s ethnicity constitute racial harassment.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces several federal laws, like the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that make sexual and racial harassment at work a punishable offense.
Every workplace should have strict policies that discourage any form of harassment to maintain a healthy work environment.
Discrimination and favoritism at work can come in various forms and creates a hostile work environment for employees.
Workplace discrimination can be based on:
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation or identification
For instance, if an employer consistently hires, discharges, or is biased toward employees based on factors other than skills and qualifications, it harbors a hostile work environment where workers are treated unfairly and unequally.
Furthermore, the gender pay gap is an ongoing issue with female workers being paid 20% less than their male counterparts for the same role.
Repeated Aggressiveness and Victimization
Repeated instances of supervisors, managers, or senior executives being verbally aggressive and passing degrading comments to workers for not being able to perform said duties also account for a hostile work environment.
Publicly humiliating and victimizing employees can hamper their performance and bring down their morale, gradually making them loathe work and feel fearful or threatened.
Although such behaviors might not be illegal, they can severely affect the company’s work environment and attrition rate.
Also Read: How to know when it is time to leave a job?
Causes of Hostile Work Environment
A hostile work environment is not created due to a few individual instances but is caused due to a build-up of multiple recurrent toxic behaviors that are swept under the rug.
Among others, lack of open communication is the number one prompter of hostility in the workplace.
Surveys show that 3 in 10 workers don’t trust their employers to treat them fairly and promote a healthy work culture of communication.
This leads to another cause of a hostile work environment, i.e. inadequate company policies and lack of strict actions against employees who create hostility in the workplace.
Employees often don’t speak up about their toxic experiences until it becomes overwhelming or until the damage is done, as they don’t trust the organization to take the required actions.
Besides bullying, workplace gossip is another major factor contributing to a hostile work environment.
While gossip may appear harmless on the surface, it has the potential to infiltrate the company and create a toxic work culture.
Listed below are some other causes of hostile work environments:
- Bias practices or favoritism
- Obscure and vague goals and values
- Stressful work environment
- Absence of grievance cells
- Unjust appraisal system
- Lack of a separate HR department
Also Read: How to find a job you love in 2022?
Key Points from the Blog
- A hostile work environment can be defined as a workplace that makes employees feel harassed, threatened, and uncomfortable to an extent where their performance at work and well-being is jeopardized.
- In legal terms, EEOC states that a hostile work environment results from harassment based on color, religion, race, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, or pregnancy), age (40 or older), national origin, or disability.
- Sexual and racial harassment, any form of discrimination, and bullying are some examples of a hostile work environment.
- Studies show that about 38% of women and 14% of men have reported experiencing sexual harassment at work, accounting as one of the leading causes of workplace hostility and costing companies an average of $2.6 billion or $1,053 per victim due to loss of productivity.
- Repeated instances of senior executives being verbally aggressive and passing degrading comments to workers also account for a hostile work environment.
- Lack of open communication, inadequate company policies, and lack of strict actions against culprits are some of the causes of a hostile work environment.