HR Management & Compliance, Talent

Telltale Signs Your Employees Are in a Hostile Work Environment

Did you know that one-fifth of Americans recently reported that they work in a hostile environment? And disturbingly, that may not be as surprising to discover in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.


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According to, a hostile work environment occurs when there is “unwelcome or offensive behavior in the workplace, which causes one or more employees to feel uncomfortable, scared, or intimidated in their place of employment.”
Here are six telltale signs that your employees are in a hostile work environment.

1. Discrimination Is Taking Place

Your employees are working in a hostile environment when they feel discriminated against because of their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, abilities, etc. Reports of discrimination can sometimes go far beyond being passed over for a promotion or being ignored on a daily basis, although those are still instances of hostility.
Many instances of discrimination can and do instill feelings of fear and extreme unease in the workplace, where those who are being discriminated against are fearful for their physical safety and psychological health, among other things.

2. Multiple Reports and Complaints of Unwelcome Behavior Are Reported

When you receive multiple complaints at one time regarding hostile behavior, including reports of sexual harassment and reports of discrimination, your employees are in a hostile work environment.
Typically, an extremely hostile work environment will have multiple instances of unwelcome or offensive behavior present at one time, and there will not be many one-off reports that come in one at a time.
This doesn’t mean that isolated instances of hostile behavior aren’t really occurring in your workplace; it just means that the overall workplace may not be hostile as an entire entity if reports are coming in on a one-by-one basis and not in batches.

3. Employee Productivity Is Down, and Absenteeism and Presenteeism Rates Are Up

If your employees are working in a hostile environment, they’re more likely to take more sick days and not work as hard when they are actually present at work. When your absenteeism rates and presenteeism rates increase by a striking margin, this is a telltale sign of a hostile work environment.

4. Collaboration Is Almost Nonexistent, and Communications Are Inefficient

If you notice that employees who once worked well together aren’t working well together anymore, or that teams across your organization really loathe and avoid collaborating on projects together, they’re working in a hostile environment.
You’ll also notice that employees will have problems communicating with one another about projects and tasks in a hostile work environment. It’s very challenging for people to talk to one another in positive ways or at all if they are constantly fearing ridicule or unwanted advances.

5. Employees Don’t Express Excitement in Their Work or Your Organization

If multiple employees (not just one) consistently speak negatively about your organization or their teams, they are probably in a hostile work environment. And if they’re never excited about their work, though they once were, they’re probably experiencing feelings of resentment, confusion, and other negative or hostile emotions.

6. Customer Complaints Start Increasing in Quantity and Severity

If your employees aren’t in a positive environment and don’t feel positively about working at your organization, they won’t be able to positively interact with your customers on a regular basis.
In a hostile work environment, you’ll see an increased rate of customer complaints that keep getting worse and more severe over time. When one month you’ll have a customer say an employee snapped at him or her, the next month you might have an employee who curses at a customer or blatantly ignores his or her concern.
As you work to make your workplace more inclusive and safer for your employees, keep the above telltale signs of a hostile work environment in the forefront of your mind.

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