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What Factors Increase Hostility on the Job?

written by: ciel s cantoria•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 5/26/2011

Many employers and HR managers deal with workplace hostility without ascertaining its root cause. Most courses of action include oral reprimands, warning letters, suspensions and terminations.Yet the problem doesn't go away but worsens into loss of productivity, lawsuits and job turnovers

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    An Analogy: How Anger and Aggression Can Affect a Workplace


    What are the contributing factors to hostility in the workplace? A single manifestation of hostility in an outlet or office can be likened to a crack or fissure in the foundations of its structure. Filling in the space between the crevices is not enough because it does not address the underlying reasons that caused the crack. It could be any of several explanations, such as substandard quality of materials, deterioration due to termite infestation, faulty engineering calculations and even some scientific phenomenon occurring beneath the ground surface.

    The same holds true in the foundations of a business organization; the real reasons for a display of hostile attitude could stem from any of the contributing factors that promote hostility in an environment. In order to effectively manage feelings of resentment, anger or aggression, employers or HR managers should isolate their root causes.

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    1. Absence of Genuine Corporate Commitment to Attain a Hostile-Free Environment

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    A company that professes commitment to resolve aggression or harassment issues should do so by implementing its policies in the best ways possible. Otherwise, a chink in management’s integrity and sincerity in dealing fairly with untoward employee attitudes or even customer behavior can spur the development of conflict and discontentment in a business setting.

    These could be manifested by any or all of the following:

    • Lack of information disseminated about company policies on prohibited conduct in a work-setting could embolden an employee to act aggressively. Although ignorance of the rules is not an excuse, the general lack of knowledge that untoward behaviors are prohibited puts the receiver of harassments at a disadvantage.
    • By not knowing the proper channels and persons to report incidents of bullying, show of disrespect, harassment in different forms, discrimination, retaliation and such similar actions enumerated as prohibited conduct by the company, an employee could act with equal aggression as a means to defend oneself from continuous abuse. In some cases, an employee suffers in silence and develops stress-related health disorders. Others simply tender their resignation and look for alternative employment.
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    • Giving judgments and administering disciplinary actions without properly investigating complaints--coming from a supervisor or subordinate, from a co-worker or peer, or from a customer--could prod an unjustly aggrieved employee to act in anger or with hostility. It could also lead to disinterest in working productively or promote a sense of insecurity that would further increase the negative attributes being hurled against the employee. Such an employee could be adjudged as a poor performer that would lead to dismissal. If the situation worsened, the employee eventually would act irrationally, which could result in violence or lawsuits for being illegally terminated.
    • Inconsistencies in imposing disciplinary actions tend to disillusion a complaining employee about the soundness of the policies and process within the organizational system. Cases of discrimination or illegal termination or accusations of favoritism are only some of the known consequences.
    • Finding fault for every business failure without delving into the roots of problems causes employees to veer away from taking responsibility. As they become the perennial scapegoats for every wrong managerial decision or for wrong executions, they become more prone to shows of hostility and acts of insubordination.
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    2. Culture-Fit and the Lack of It

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    The term culture-fit is about putting rounded pegs into round holes as opposed to the analogy of trying to fit square pegs into round holes. Take note that the word rounded was used instead of simply stating round, because we have to consider the fact that not all talents who manifest creativity can easily fit in a workplace that is team oriented. For all intents and purposes, this type of job aspirant can still be considered as a square peg for lacking the ability to get along with a group of peers who are as equally talented and creative as he is.

    A new recruit’s interest, skills and experience may be aligned with the company’s vision and goals; but if one insists on imposing an attitude of individualism regardless of the workplace culture, his employment can only lead to job dissatisfaction. The inability to recognize the importance of team effort, total disregard of the team’s dependence on his output, and lack of receptiveness for receiving instructions as well as negative outlook toward criticisms are factors that create anger and hostility in the workplace.

    The team’s productivity therefore becomes susceptible to errors, while errors will result in lag or work delays that could put the company’s reputation in a bad light. It could also affect the cashflow in the event that errors require additional funds or the customer’s payment is withheld as a means to get the job done according to one’s specifications. By and large, a team that is constantly working under a cloud of discord becomes less productive --- resulting in loss of patronage and eventually loss of business.

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    3. Misuse of Emotional Labor as a Strategic Tool

    800px-US Navy 100518-N-0659H-002 Shaunna Brooks, left, Anthony Anderson and Jim Murray, customer service center agents, sort through selection board packages at Navy Personnel Command 

    Employees acting as front-liners for service-oriented establishments like call centers, cruise ships, restaurants and hotels are required to act cheerfully or continue to act solicitously to customers as part of their job responsibilities, when confronted with a dissatisfied customer. A term used to refer to this type of employment skill is “emotional labor." However, recent studies have shown that employees who are constantly subjected to a tirade of verbal abuse and even violence coming from highly dissatisfied customers are susceptible to becoming agents of hostile responses and actions in their places of work.

    Suppressed anger and frustrations are factors that contribute to diminution of self-esteem among employees. This could likewise impose a considerable amount of emotional stress that produces different results, which includes workplace aggression.

    Some individuals have stronger personalities and are capable of manifesting a subtle form of aggression called “customer sabotage." In order to alleviate their pent-up emotions and frustrations, employees have been proven to retaliate against what they perceive as interpersonal injustice. Defilement of food products and uploading of photos at social websites as a means to embarrass certain customers are only some of the widely publicized examples of customer sabotage.

    The concept of emotional labor is accepted by employees as part of their tasks to assuage complaining customers. However, it comes with the understanding that management will do something to address the issues and to prevent such complaints from recurring.

    The misuse of emotional labor is manifested by entities that do not put in place a system where customers’ complaints can be aired and acted upon. As a result, employees are subjected to daily doses of harassments, by way of verbal abuse and humiliation coming from customers. A company that does not address complaints, whether or not they are valid, creates an unhealthy workplace environment for its front-liners, as they are the recipients of anger and even violence coming from customers.

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    4. Innate Social Hostility as a Contributing Factor to Antagonistic Behavior


    One must recognize the theory about hostility--that it’s not a simple response instinct but an innate driving force already keyed-in as part of the brain’s function. It's important to understand that man originally came from natural surroundings that required the species to develop survival skills. Other theories explore excessive violent tendencies and their association to brain trauma suffered from birth, head injury or tumor.

    Certain neurotransmitters are said to affect an individual’s sensitivity to aggression-stimulants, which explains why some are quicker to react negatively. The propensity to violence possessed by the brain is aggravated by an individual’s exposure to elements of danger, injustice or brutality. Accordingly, social hostility is said to be innate but is manifested in different degrees. Its development depends on the overload of interactions, which shape and mold a personality trait for offensive aggression.

    Hence employers and HR managers should take note of multiple circumstances that can make an individual more prone to manifesting a heightened degree of hostility over others. Their presence in a single background or history should be carefully assessed. These include but are not limited to:

    • Upbringing in an environment where one who wields power has the advantage to enforce his will or force others to relinquish theirs.
    • Exposure to role models in social groups, in which individuals who reap rewards and admiration are those that make use of violence to forge a leadership status.
    • Viciousness validated as the developing mind becomes more exposed to brutality and forcefulness in:

    (1) Television and different media content, including virtual interactive games.

    (2) Unjust punishments received as parental disciplinary actions.

    (3) Peer pressure, as a condition for group acceptance.

    (4) Low self-esteem that develops into a rule-breaking behavior in order to hurdle challenges.

    (5) Living conditions like domestic violence, overcrowding, food shortage, territorial or turf wars and other cognitive processes that make violence the primary influential factor.

    The presence of one or two elements during the growing-up stage does not necessarily make the individual socially hostile by nature; but a trail of personal history which repeatedly leads to these same conditions creates a likely potential.

    As a recap, it can be surmised that the contributing factors to hostility in the workplace, arising from various methodologies, problems, and practices, can be scientifically managed and maintained at tolerable levels--that is, if the ills of an unhealthy workplace, like those presented, are given ample considerations.

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    Reference Materials and Image Credit Section:


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