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What Makes Hostile Work Environments?

A man in an office shouting
Are Your Employees Working In A Hostile Environment?

Last month we investigated how pay rate affects employee retention, and how it is not just pay rate that keeps employees happy. This week we are looking at how the workplace environment can play a major part in employee retention, happiness, and productivity.

A hostile work environment can be any environment where you work, whether in a commercial or industrial setting, warehouse, or office floor. These are the places in which where you can expect a hostile environment.

The main factors that can create a hostile work environment are workplace layout, noise pollution, colouring & lighting. These factors are what can create and encourage hostile work environment examples.


Workplace layout

The workplace layout can be a very crucial impactor of a hostile work environment.

  • Biophilia (Desire or tendency to commune with nature, Biophilia)

Biophilia can have a profound effect on your workplace's productivity and comfortability. An example of a hostile workplace could be a workplace with a lack of Biophilia; the reason this could be deemed as a subfactor is simply down to how its currently being used as a strategy by companies to create better wellbeing. The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied “found that the presence of plants inside a building increases occupants' feelings of wellbeing by 40%", consequently adding to the increased productivity.

  • Furniture

Is your back hurting at work? It's time you re-evaluated the workplace furniture you use and its suitability to helping you avoid pains or strains which prevent you from working optimally.

Furniture plays a big part in whether your workplaces environment is hostile; a choice of furniture that's not fit for purpose or use can negatively affect the workplace environment. Consequently, this can make employees less satisfied, take increased sick days become unhappy and not work optimally. All which feed towards an example of a hostile work environment.

For example, a 2018 report found that “a large proportion of the 600,000 or so workplace injuries recorded every year in the UK, can be rooted back to outdated and unsafe office furniture" this significant toll on workplace injuries has a profound effect on workplace productivity.

Furthermore, "40% of workplace injuries come in the form of sprains and strains" so an investment in ergonomic furniture could reduce the risk of injuries and promote increased comfort, increasing productivity and decreasing stress.

  • Office Colours

Colours have a profound effect on creating or stimulating a hostile workplace environment. Colours can trigger physiological reactions and may cause. a hostile work environment, making employees to feel threatened, uncomfortable, stressed, and distracted via under stimulation or overstimulation.

"Color is a powerful communication tool and can be used to signal action, influence mood, and even influence physiological reactions." This makes it important to understand how to utilise these factors to improve the environment of the workplace and avoid it becoming a hostile work environment.

A colour that could stimulate and become a hostile work environment example colour is red; it exemplifies passion, excitement, strength, love and energy (emotional amplification) which are all motivators of productivity, so how could this create a hostile work environment colour? Very simply, by creating an over-stimulating environment. This applies to all colours and their psychological backgrounds, gaining a good balance of both stimulation and non-stimulating creates a workplace that stimulates and calms employees.

Offices worldwide have workplace areas dedicated to driving these emotional motivators, whether it's a calm green room focused on reducing stress and anxiety or a space to create motivation and creativity with bright and bold colours; however, everything is done with a balance in mind.

It’s worth asking yourself if your offices are overstimulating? Or under, with too much white? Is that the hostile work environment or counterproductive environment that is being currently promoted within your workplace?


Noise Pollution

Noise pollution is an example of a hostile work environment as "executives and employees report near-constant noise in their workplace, and many say they lack quiet space for meetings or to focus". Noise pollution can cause physical harm and cause lasting damage to employees directly and indirectly around the workplace.

Noise pollution is so significant that "three-quarters of employees say they need to take walks outside and 32% listen to headphones to focus and block out distraction". Noise pollution within the workplace also makes employees "more likely to say they may leave their job in the next six months" - these are examples of hostile work environments.

The more severe noise outcomes of noise pollution in the workplace can include losing hearing. The "maximum noise intensity to which humans should be exposed during the 8 hours of the working day is 80 dB to prevent hearing loss." However, non-industrial workplaces can differ between 40 - 110db, raising the concerns a lot of employees are at risk of noise pollution. Do you have a no earphones policy or have the radio playing in the office? It might be worth revisiting whether this hinders or helps your employees.



Hostile lighting is another potential example of a hostile environment factor, "80% of office workers" make it clear that having good lighting in the workplace is essential, a further 40% claim they currently work in poor lighting.

The effects of this on a workforce can be seen by decreased mental wellbeing, the number of sick days taken by staff, and non-optimised working hours increased when tasks and jobs are not completed at the speed they could be.

However, it could be from an indirect source, the lighting is too bright, or there isn't enough lighting to start. It is also worth noting that the issue may not directly arise from the physical lights of the office but reflections of windows or other reflective surfaces around the office as these also can affect what is labelled as the lighting in the workplace.

With these hostile work environment examples and ideas of what could impact your workplace staff and efficiency of completing tasks, you can now enter the workplace ready to make recommendations and improvements to the workplace environment bettering yourself, colleagues, or employee's health and wellbeing.


About the author

Kier Sheehan

Kier loves an adventure, whether that’s through trying new and exotic food or cooking up a social media strategy. With a love of communications and a positive approach to any task, when he’s not working Kier can be found teaching skiing or travelling the world.