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HWE, Hostile Work Environment

Hostile Work Environment

It’s not what we say, but how we say it that will avoid a Hostile Work Environment

Politics in the workplace, the new Hostile Work Environment

Today I am making some predictions as it relates to the Hostile Work Environment. If you have been pissed off about topics in the past, stop reading and check out one of my favorite podcasts “How I Built This”, with Guy Raz. Guy interviews entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Mark Cuban to learn about their journey. His podcast is filled with great stuff. The common theme that I have noticed in all the podcast are these entrepreneurs sound like great people with positive attitudes. Hmmmm. . . .    

I have blogged about Resume Racism and why candidates get flushed out of the interview process based on ethnicity. That post received the most hate mail and commentary of any posts. I have blogged about tattoos and the unspoken opinions that managers can hold in some corporate cultures. Again, more hate mail. Today is more of the same, so I know what to expect. Bring it.  

HRNasty Disclaimer

Today I take it a step further. Understand that just because I am writing on a topic, it doesn’t mean I think it is OK or fair. My goal is to provide insight so employees know about the unspoken mentalities they work with. More importantly, I provide solutions so employees can overcome these career blockers. I am not commenting on these topics because I am a fan. I am commenting as an analyst.

Within this site, I recommend you stay away from the visible tattoo in the workplace. I don’t make this recommendation because I don’t care for tattoos. I recommend you stay away from tattoos because I know how many executives and decision makers frown on tattoos. The dangerous aspect is that decisions makers know they shouldn’t express their prejudice out loud. Consequently, you will never hear it. You will be judged for your tattoo, but you won’t know it.   

Let the games begin! 

I believe that differences in political beliefs will be the newest source of the Hostile Work Environments. At the rate the country is going, I see it happening in the near future. I started this particular blog post before the election because I saw a lot of passionate conversation ignited in the workplace. I mothballed the post, but with recent world events, I am seeing the passion reignite and thought I would wave the flag.   

HWE? “HRN, WTF is that? You always talk about the CLM (Career Limiting Move), but this is a new one!”  HWE stands for Hostile Work Environment and is a real, legal term. I predict that employees have the potential to feel uncomfortable in the workplace because their manager or someone up the reporting chain holds differing political beliefs. Opposing opinions in the workplace is nothing new, but the ferocity of political opinions has escalated in the last few months. I predict that in some instances managers will talk so strongly about their political beliefs that employees will feel threatened or intimidated. I can see a situation where an employee expresses a strong, emotional political opinion which differs from their manager (or someone in their chain of command) and that employee’s career suddenly stalls. (Read that last sentence again.) I want to provide a way to avoid the CLM’s. I want to avoid managers unknowingly creating a Hostile Work Environment.      

Definition of HWE, Hostile Work Environment

The Hostile Work Environments happens when employee experiences:

  1. Offensive conduct which becomes a condition of continued employment. 
    • If you do/don’t do “X”, you won’t be employed. (If you want to continue to work here, you will go out with me)
  2. Conduct which is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive. The environment is difficult, offensive or uncomfortable for a person to work in. (A manager has a habit of sharing inappropriate jokes, language or opinions in the workplace)

This type of unwelcome conduct is usually directed at race, gender, age, or religion. I predict that at the rate the country is going, the category of “political beliefs” will soon be joining the list.

If a manager continued to voice the following:

I can’t believe someone would vote for that dumbass. Anyone that votes for that candidate is a complete idiot and doesn’t deserve to be a citizen.  (notice the lack of named country or political party)

The idea of identifying and recognizing the Hostile Work Environment was put in place to address MadMen-esque days where women, minorities and other protected classes were treated “differently” in the workplace. In modern times, our intention is to treat people of different ethnic backgrounds, religion, gender etc. in an equal manner. Shouldn’t we treat folks with different political views the same? Isn’t that what America is all about?  

We don’t know how our managers REALLY think

I open the kimono with this blog to provide transparency on the unwritten rules so employees have a glimpse into the mindset of managers and HR. If you think that you are not being judged because of tattoos in the workplace think again. If you think that resumes with ethnic names are called as often as mainstream names that are easy to pronounce, think again. And if we think that managers won’t hold it against you because of your political beliefs, think again. I am not saying ALL managers hold these beliefs, I just want you to know that this is a passionate topic and we should be mindful.

First workplace rule of 2017: Don’t argue politics in the workplace. 

The second rule of the workplace in 2017: You do not argue politics in the workplace!

Remember, one persons passion is another persons argument. 

Most HR people will not admit to the following. In many traditional companies, employees with visible tattoos will have stalled career paths because of the ink. We also know that when a hiring manager has two resumes in front of them and one resume has a name that is easily pronounceable and the other is different, we can predict who will receive the first call. (notice I didn’t mention the ethnicity of the hiring manager)

Extremes exist

The above are extreme cases, but any mild flavor of these examples can be a career breaker. What’s worse is that the employee has no idea why their career stalled. In some instances, the career didn’t even take off. For the record, if this mentality were to take place at a company where I was in charge of HR, I would speak up to leadership. I have spoken to leadership.

I think that the same potential if we have a manager who passionately thinks one way about today’s politics and their employee is passionately holding a different opinion.

Nation divided


The internet is providing our news and updates in a very different way. Sound bytes are changing how we form our opinions.

The nation has been divided in the past on politics, civil rights, wars and other serious topics in the past. I realize that as a country will get through this.

I am not saying it is right, I am saying it can boil down to emotions and human nature.

At an individual level, I just want to raise a flag and give folks insight. For those that think I am on crack, many employees who are in same-sex relationships still feel a need to hide their true self.  

It’s not what we say, it’s how we say it.

I believe we can avoid tough situations around politics and still express our beliefs

Effective Communication Style

If you are passionately vocal about anything, the only people who appreciate hearing your opinions are those who are as passionate or MORE passionate than you. It is usually the folks who are the most passionate on a topic that make it offensive for others.

Gaining support for our ideas doesn’t start by putting others down.

Emotional shouting and raising of our voices will not convince others to listen. It will turn folks off.

When we are TOO passionate about a topic, even folks that are interested in that topic will be turned off. Expressing our passion can take several forms and any one of the below can turn someone off:

  • Talking too fast (When we are excited about a topic, we talk so fast others are not able to keep up, especially listeners who are not as familiar on the topic)
  • Talking too loudly (It is easy to increase the volume to be heard when we become passionate.) I have found that when I really care about something, if I talk softer, folks lean in to listen.
  • Profanity: Profanity to emphasize a point can dilute the message and the listener focuses on the inappropriate use of profanity vs. the message.
  • Pointing figures and the use of the word “You”. (“You don’t understand!” Sounds like an accusation)

If we can turn down the passion and remain calm while delivering our message, we avoid coming across as offensive and increase our chances of an effective delivery.

For Managers

There will be people on our teams that hold differing opinions than our own and we need to respect this. Holding a different opinion on a work process or business idea is different from rousing opinions on politics or religion. There is a time and a place for everything. Work isn’t the place for getting high and mighty on politics. Hostile Work Environment lawsuits happen.      

For Employees

If you have an opinion on politics, I would hold them back in the workplace. I am not saying it is right, or fair. We know prejudice in the workplace happens. Candidates with easy to pronounce names are called more often than those with names we are not familiar with. Employees with tattoos can be stigmatized in some industries. (In some industries, you won’t have credibility if you are tattoo-less).

If you are going to share your opinion, share the opinion in a calm and diplomatic manner. You never know when a coworker without restraint is one step away from letting you know what they really think. And you never know when a manager or executive is biting their lip and making a judgment.  

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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