The term “hostile work environment” actually has a legal definition. It’s a form of harassment demonstrated by severe and pervasive conduct that permeates the work environment and interferes with the employee’s ability to perform at his or her job.
But sometimes your huge workplace issue is simply about an annoying colleague who makes your life at work a living hell (think of Dwight Schrute from The Office), or just the overall infectious negativity of your office. While companies usually have clearly defined policies and procedures in place for reporting and escalating true workplace harassment, they don’t usually offer you a handbook for dealing with jerks or bad vibes at work.
Luckily, we have a few tips for surviving an unpleasant work situation.
1. Address the issue directly
This should always be the first course of action, no matter what the situation. It may not be easy, but you should try to resolve issues yourself first. If you go directly to HR or to your boss to report Michael from Sales who steals office supplies off of your desk every week, their response will most likely be, “Have you addressed this directly with Michael?” Even if your complaint is about something more severe, like your boss using language you find offensive every day during his morning meeting, you must first tell him that it offends you and that you want him to stop before escalating the issue.
2. Take a break
If being in your office for 8+ hours a day feels like a prison sentence, do yourself (and your mental well-being) a favor by taking some time for yourself each day. Go on a short walk, listen to some music, meditate, drink a cup of tea -- anything that physically or mentally removes you from your surroundings temporarily will help you dispel negative energy and stay sane.
3. Keep a record
When issues arise involving other employees, keep a written record of what is happening complete with exact dates, times and detailed notes. If you confront someone, be sure to write down what happened. Remember that going to your manager or to HR with a complaint against someone you work with is pretty serious, so you will want it to be well documented.
4. Find allies
Chances are, if you work in a toxic environment, you are not the only one suffering. Talking over issues with a like-minded colleague whom you trust can be helpful. However, remember to focus on finding solutions to your common problems instead of simply venting about work, which you might not want to do with coworkers because it can lead to gossip and more negativity. That’s why finding allies outside of work is important, too. Hashing things out with an old classmate, a seasoned career mentor, or even your mom can take loads off of your chest.
5. Avoid negative colleagues
When someone really gets under your skin with incessant negativity, try not to be in his or her presence at work if it’s not necessary. This might mean taking your lunch at a different time or in a different place, or asking for your desk to be moved. However you can swing it, less face time with the office jerk will mean fewer stressful interactions for you to deal with.
6. Escalate the issue appropriately
If an issue still persists that is keeping you from doing your job well, find out the appropriate procedure for escalating it. If your company has no policy in place for reporting complaints, go directly to your boss. Remember to stay positive, state the facts only, and present any documentation that you have collected.