hostile work environment

5 Signs You’re Entering a Hostile Work Environment

From the moment you walked into that new office, you felt it – something is off. Low morale, strained communication, a general air of malaise… The atmosphere of a workplace is a huge factor in the success of its employees. Hopefully you’re able to identify whether this new position is a good fit – for your experience, for your personality, for your working style – before you accept an offer. Look for these indicators that you’re entering a hostile work environment and avoid sentencing yourself to several years of discontent at a new company.
hostile work environment


In an ideal workspace, employees share an understanding of the balance between socializing and efficiency. It may be easy to write off small-talk as a “time-wasting” activity, but in actuality, it’s an indicator that colleagues are able to connect and empathize with one another. Whether it’s just a quick recap of your senior accountant’s weekend, or a question about the latest project brief that Maria from Product sent out, it’s imperative that colleagues feel comfortable talking and discussing the big and the small issues at work. If you’re entering a new office where everyone works in complete isolation, silent and austere, it’s a sign that they may not be comfortable interacting with one another – that’s a deal-breaker, ladies and gentlemen.

Strict Schedules.

Some more modern firms have adopted various “flex” programs – flexible working hours, flexible vacation days, and more. These are certainly more common for startups and young companies, but they aren’t exclusive to nascent organizations. Punctuality is a sign of respect for another’s schedule – to show up 20 minutes late to a meeting is to express that your own time is more valuable than the other attendee’s. But when your new company values stringent working hours – say, penalizing employees for arriving to work at 9:04 instead of 9:00 – over actual work quality, this might mean that your company places an unnecessary level of importance on more trivial matters. Good senior managers should focus on results, productivity, and the performance of their employees. If you feel that this workplace places too much emphasis on small issues, like taking a 48 minute lunch-break instead of the full 60 minutes, you may be joining the ranks of an excessively punitive company.

Screaming and Shouting.

Silence can be frightening in a new workplace. But what’s even more worrisome is a culture where coworkers and managers raise their voices at one another. Screaming matches will never achieve anything in the office. And if employees are comfortable enough raising their voices at one another, this points to a sort of anarchy within the organization. Workplace cultures differ from company to company, that’s for sure – but certain elements of decorum should be present at every office. Treating one another with respect, and controlling one’s temper – these are an absolute given. To see or notice anything else should be an enormous red flag, no questions asked.

Scolding and Shaming.

Though feedback is a major part of the job description, some managers are incapable of effectively delivering constructive criticism. This may be more difficult to detect from an outsider’s perspective, but a culture in which coworkers mock or insult each other, rather than working together to achieve a common goal as peacefully as possible, will never generate the best results. Regardless of power structure, hierarchies, or seniority, there is never a proper occasion in which one employee should ridicule another. If you hear from a current employee that they’ve been embarrassed or disrespected by another colleague, you can be fairly certain that this sort of behavior is tolerated, or maybe even normal. Some problematic employees can be handled or disciplined, sure. But consider how comfortable you’ll be in a work environment where you feel constantly berated.

Severe Scrutiny.

Micromanagement is an absolute no-go when it comes to maintaining office efficiency. Sure, some employees might need some additional guidance or prodding to perform at their best. But these should be handled on a case-to-case basis, and if you get the impression that your colleagues, supervisors, or employees are the kind who study and pick apart any project in the company, you’d best avoid this kind of workplace. Attention to detail is extremely important. However, in some offices, coworkers don’t trust one another to do their job, and to do it well. This hints at an undercurrent of competition, of aggression, and mistrust. It might behoove you to seek employment elsewhere.

'5 Signs You’re Entering a Hostile Work Environment' have 9 comments

  1. February 10, 2017 @ 11:35 pm Andreea Simona Cotofana

    I’m tired to work for free!


  2. February 21, 2017 @ 6:59 am Capt. Bkalaba

    I once worked in this environment where we shared deep mistrust, however that never derailed me instead soldiered on.


  3. February 21, 2017 @ 12:52 pm Vanessa

    Great article! The majority of the symptoms described in the article are exhibited in my current workplace 🤔


  4. February 21, 2017 @ 2:06 pm Burned

    Other signs:
    Look for “lepar colonies” where difficult or unwanted employees are stashed. Plans to shuffle offices are used in similar fashion to oust unwanted employees by moving them to undisirable locations or with other undesirables. If employees are isolated in abandoned areas , as in one extreme case, run!!!!
    As you tour the office listen to the conversations. Gossip and back biting are no nos. take a look at the parking lot after 6 pm… if it’s crowded consistently you know you are working for disorganized or demanding bosses who require long hours.
    If HR seem to be At odds with management or their has been a high turn over just walk away. You may get hired but the manager will find underhanded ways to ruin your career to get the employee they wanted.
    Closed door conversations and raucous rude good ole boy talk where profanity is used as a bonding mechanism shows disrespect and exclusivity. Ask each upper manager what they think your job entails because if they don’t agree you will wind up in the crossfire working long hours to please all of their demands. I could write a book on this. Check the online employee comments.
    No work place is perfect so prepare for challenges anywhere you go.
    Best advice: only work for trustworthy honest straight shooters.


  5. February 21, 2017 @ 3:58 pm Suhel

    A very good article and completely true


  6. February 21, 2017 @ 5:37 pm Richard

    I was reading your 5 tips on a hostile work place and all 5 fit my current work place. I am currently looking for new employment and realized all 5 were exactly what has happened to me at my work. Thanks to this I now have more motivation to seek a better work environment and better myself .


  7. February 21, 2017 @ 6:02 pm Damon Gray

    Right in point. Most people suffer in silence. I would love it help and share my experiences and some materials I’ve used to defend against workplace negativity. Connect with me on linked in or facebook.


  8. February 21, 2017 @ 6:07 pm Steven Sanderson

    Thank you for sharing this great article, as I can identify with all of the “Five Signs You’re Entering a Hostile Work Environment” from a couple of companies I’ve “unhappily” worked for until I broke free to join better companies. Looking back I realize I should have been more observant up front to have avoided those companies altogether, so this article really helps crystalize some key things to look for.

    I would add just one more warning sign which is “foul language”, whether it be swearing or just caustic/angry language, as it sets a very unprofessional tone where employees quickly lose respect for their peers and/or management when they can’t control their language and act professionally. It’s like when you go to a physician for any issue you usually feel he/she and their staff are positive, professional and there to help you. The same should be true of our work environments.


    • Margaret Quigley

      February 22, 2017 @ 2:33 pm Margaret Quigley

      Thanks for sharing your point! There are many different working culture, and it’s important to find one that works for you. Some work climates are more informal, but in reserved working cultures, foul language can have a negative impact on trust, respect and attitude.


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