To quote a line from an absolute movie masterpiece, “Hands up if you’ve ever been personally victimised by Regina George”. I’m sure we’ve all been personally victimised by our fair share of office mean girls in our time, in the past few years on social media I’ve noticed a significant increase in people talking about being bullied at work and if you type “office mean girl” into Google you get 946,000,000 results. In fact workplace bullying has got so out of hand in Australia that in 2013 Fair Work amended the Fair Work Act to be able to intervene in instances of bullying in Australian workplaces, the reality is though, many victims choose to leave the workplace which quite often ensures no action is taken against the bully or the workplace and so the cycle continues.
So let’s have a look at the classic signs of an office mean girl.
She struggles with envy
Bullies bully because they covet what you have & they need to destroy that aspect of you to make themselves feel better. Whether it’s your job, your salary, your abilities, your clothes, your car or all of the above the little green monster makes for a bitter little person. They are willing to go to any extreme to hurt the person that has what they want. For instance, an office mean girl might boycott another employee’s ideas, projects or social gatherings. She will even take steps to destroy her target’s reputation and work-related projects. And she is unable to acknowledge anything good about other people due to her struggle with envy.
She excludes others
Ostracising other women at work is a sure sign of an office mean girl. These women use relational aggression to socially isolate someone while attempting to increase their own status at work. Typically, they are driven by a number of factors including everything from jealousy and a need for attention, to a fear of competition. As a result, they will leave other women out of lunch dates, meetings and after-work gatherings. They may even discuss the details in front of those who are being isolated to demonstrate their power.
She lies, gossips & spreads rumours
Office mean girls are often obsessed with what other people think of them. They consider how everything looks to others. As a result, these bullies target others that threaten their status in some way. For instance, if they believe another woman is threatening their status or position at the office, they have no qualms about attacking her relationally in order to eliminate the perceived threat. These actions can include making up lies and spreading rumors about her work ethic, her office relationships and even her personal life.
She’s a serial bully
These bullies are toxic women who are systematic, controlled and calculated in their approach. On the outside, this office mean girl appears charming and charismatic, but on the inside they are cold and calculating. As a result, they tend to inflict emotional pain on their victims over long periods of time. They also are skilled manipulators. They appear sweet, outgoing and likeable, but this is just another way to manipulate situations to their liking. Girls like these twist facts and situations to make themselves look innocent or to avoid being reprimanded – the counter claim of bullying is a classic example of this type of behaviour.
She struggles with anger management issues
Sometimes office mean girls have poor impulse control. They are quick-tempered, tend to yell a lot and may even use profanity. These women also are prone to using direct insults and direct name-calling. They also may dominate meetings by arguing, criticising, using sarcasm and spewing insults. And they are not above rolling their eyes and coughing to undermine what other people are saying.
She is power hungry
These women want to be the ones in control and calling the shots. But instead of earning that right through respect and teamwork, they often speak disrespectfully to others, insist on having things their way and put other people and their opinions down. What’s more, they use the power and control they already have to their advantage. Sometimes, these women are bosses who are bullies. Other times, they have strong personalities, excellent verbal skills or a lot of influence and they use these things to walk over the needs of other people.
When I knew I wanted to write this post I put the call out on social media for people to share their stories, I knew I’d hear stories of people who’d put up with unacceptable behaviour for months hoping it would get better and I knew I’d hear stories where the organisation did nothing to address the issue, what I wasn’t expecting was for 100% of respondents to tell me they manager did nothing to help them.
I want to share my experiences with office means girls, not to throw shade, but because the psychological effects were pretty extreme and shows what can happen when people are enabled by organisations to behave badly without consequence.
My experience wasn’t just with one mean girl, it was with a posse of mean girls and started on my very first day and lasted for 2 years until I left the organisation. As a senior member of staff and the only subject matter expert in the organisation I was completely unprepared for how I was to be treated. It started with constantly questioning my advice or decisions, even though the employees in question had no relevant experience in HR, over time it progressed to continued gossip, attacks on my character, exclusion from social activities within the office, withholding of information relating to my job, leaving me out of meetings related to me, undermining me until the negative sentiment towards me had spread to a number of employees. And worse, I wasn’t the only employee this group targeted, I once walked in on them having a morning tea they’d organised to discuss a new starter and how she wasn’t really fitting in. It had never occurred to them that they weren’t a very likeable or welcoming bunch, anyone that commenced with the organisation was perceived as a threat to their status and was treated poorly.
Ultimately it got to the point where the affect on my health was too great and I had to leave. I worked with my GP to get healthy again because the anxiety caused by the actions of the women I worked with was overwhelming, in the first month or so I couldn’t leave the house without suffering severe anxiety, I would frequently cry in public because simple tasks weighed too heavily. My son hosted his first Christmas in his brand new house and I spent the day like a zombie, 2 weeks after my departure from the organisation my nephew passed away and the level of anxiety meant we were unable to travel for his funeral. I will never forgive them for what they did to me, what was just a game to them had far reaching implications for me & my family.
The stories sent into me on social media echo my experiences, women who were targeted for being good at their jobs that tried everything for months on end to have management recognise there was an issue to no avail. Every single respondent told of being quite severely impacted, in fact one story involving *Sasha took place over 20 years ago and involved a colleague constantly critiquing Sasha’s appearance, despite the amount of time passed, Sasha still feels self conscience about her appearance and feels as though she is being silently judged. *Janine told me about being singled out by a supervisor over a 9 month period “because she didn’t fit in” despite this particular person having previous form with this type of behaviour management turned a blind eye.
The implications for management as a result of not adequately addressing these issues are far reaching, first and foremost it’s a breach of Workers Compensation legislation, if the victim has voluntarily left after repeated attempts to have management address the bullying they may choose to lodge an unfair dismissal claim on the grounds on constructive dismissal, there is the damage to reputation as a result of constant turnover and the inability to retain quality employees.
People bully because they can get away with it, when you’re a manager or a bystander you have an obligation to speak up and call perpetrators out on their behaviour, businesses can ensure they have clear, concise policies in place to assist with proceeding with disciplinary action. Each of us can control our own behaviour and take ownership of our choices and allegiances. Even if we’re not managers, we can all do small things to support colleagues at work. So the next time you’re in a situation where you see another colleague talked over, not given their due credit, or critiqued unfairly, don’t just sit out on the sidelines. Your voice matters, so don’t underestimate your own power to make the office a better place.
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