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What Are the Causes of a Hostile Workplace?

by Lisa McQuerrey

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Program defines a hostile workplace as an environment in which staffers are being sexually harassed or discriminated against, and their work performance is subsequently impacted. These behaviors can be triggered by a variety of different factors and can be detrimental to the work environment.

Bad Management

If managers are unable to effectively guide staffers, create an environment of respect, and carry out corporate policies and procedures to create a positive workplace, hostility can arise. This can result from poorly-trained or unqualified managers or it can be the result of apathy or communication problems among supervisory staff. Managers are responsible for identifying and mediating conflict and bullying in the workplace, and a continued failure to do so has the potential to set the company up for legal implications.

Poor Training

When employees are unqualified or not appropriately trained, it can result in a variety of problems. For example, untrained staffers may not be well-versed in best practices in the industry, or might not understand what constitutes inappropriate workplace behavior. This can lead to a free-for-all workplace where bad attitudes and behaviors go unchecked.

Undefined Expectations

Varying degrees of conflict and hostility can develop when employees don’t fully understand their job responsibilities, or their colleagues' roles. For example, if a supply manager doesn't know a secretary doesn't have control over paying his vendor invoices, he may become angry and resort to name-calling or laying blame because he feels she's not doing her job. All positions in an organization should be fully defined so staffers know what is expected of them and of others. Undefined parameters can lead to resentment and infighting.

Lack of Resources

When there are not enough necessities to go around in an office, like supplies, equipment and operating funds, it can create tension, unproductive competition, and even inter-departmental and interpersonal problems. For example, if an advertising manager is preparing a major client sales pitch, and discovers the human resources manager used all of the shared company logo presentation folders for an in-house training program, tempers can rise. Contentious situations like this can result in bickering and inappropriate behaviors that can cross the line from conflict into full-blown hostility or even violence.

Conflicting Personalities

Every workplace has a range of personality types, but when there are major disagreement between staffers about ideals, work processes and even personal ethics, clashes result. This can become especially contentious if a clear chain of command is not identifiable and in control.

No Formal Conflict Resolution

When a workplace doesn't have an official conflict resolution or dispute mediation policy in place, small problems can get big over a short period of time. Differences between staffers may not get addressed, with serious issues not becoming obvious until morale decreases, turnover skyrockets and productivity levels are significantly reduced.

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