How to Work in a Hostile Environment

How to Work in a Hostile Environment

I bumped into an old friend whom I hadn’t spoken with in years. It was good to catch up on our families and careers.

She told me that work was not going well. She worked in a hostile environment and although she was working hard, she was not doing her best. There was little to celebrate and she was drained.

The more she described her work culture, the more caustic it appeared: personal interests and agendas guided actions and behaviours; there was little trust for and between executives; and people were focused on covering themselves. Many people had disengaged and, like the 80’s Loverboy song, were “working for the weekend.”

I knew my friend was a team player who thrived on stretch goals and collaboration. Her focus was on finding the best answer no matter who came up with it. Not a success factor for her current environment.

She asked me what I would do. Here are the highlights of what I suggested:

  • Assess your situation. Are the benefits you are getting worth the personal costs of working in this culture? Is the net benefit better than your best available alternative?
  • Quit taking it personally (QTIP). Everyone’s performance is impacted by the environment in which they work. The next person who holds your role will be treated the same way. 
  • Create a sub-culture based on the values and behaviours that make you successful. Who among your peers and team want a better culture? Build it within your areas of influence.
  • Map the key stakeholders and plot what actions trigger their behaviours. You can encourage or limit behaviours by activating or avoiding these actions. 
  • Raise awareness of how the current culture is lowering productivity. This is a long-term strategy but  in time it may limit some behaviours. Money talks.
  • Talk it out with friends. It broadens your perspective, provides advice and reduces stress.
  • Know your limits. Define the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Bad behaviour intensifies over time and your confidence will erode. When will you say “I don’t think that is appropriate? 
  • Create new options to assess. The more options you have, the more empowered you will be.
I am planning to talk it out further with my friend.


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