Do you have Mean Girls at work?

Bobbie J Fox photoBy Bobbie Fox
Attorney, SCF Arizona
Do you remember the high school bully? Someone who is relentlessly pointing out perceived flaws, name calling, making embarrassing comments. Laughing at you, not with you. For some, that wasn’t high school; that was yesterday at work.

Bullying can take a similar form at work: extreme micromanaging, personal verbal attacks, disrespecting or embarrassing someone in front of coworkers, or being just plain mean.

Women are the workplace bully 40 percent of the time. Their bullying is directed at other women 80 percent of the time. In other words, mean girls are mean to other girls at work.*  Men are the bully at work 60 percent of the time, so to be fair to both genders, men are mean at work as well, but are typically “equal opportunity” mean. The male bully is mean to everyone regardless of gender.

Why should an employer care if there is bullying at work?

  • Your employee will leave. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 64 percent of people targeted by bullies end up leaving their jobs. If not addressed, you may lose a valuable employee, and incur a significant cost to replace her.
  • You could get in legal trouble. Bullying is not illegal in Arizona, but bullying behavior can certainly lead you down the path of a discrimination lawsuit. Imagine a lawsuit where your defense is that yes, the incident happened, but the boss is a jerk to everyone, not just women and minorities. That probably won’t sit well with a jury, who are employees as well.
  • It affects the bottom line. An unhappy employee can be an expensive employee. Bullied employees may be injured workers and could experience psychological issues and stress, which could cause him to take leave or have attendance issues. According to Mercer’s Survey on the Total Financial Impact of Employee Absences, employer’s cost of absences was 12.2 percent of payroll in 2010. An employer who has just 50 employees and who pays salary and benefits at $60,000 on average would spend $366,000 on employees who are not even at work. At 500 employees, the employer is spending $3.7 million on people off work. There are also many indirect costs, such as overtime incurred by the employee covering his job duties, or the cost of a temporary worker.
  • It’s the right thing to do. If everyone is treated with respect in the workplace, you will have fewer problems, fewer lawsuits, and hopefully productive workers. Bullying is underreported, so train your supervisors to be aware and address disrespectful behavior.

Read ‘Mean Girls at Work: The two-headed snake — and what to do about it,” a follow-up post

To learn more about bullying, visit the Workplace Bullying Institute’s website:

*(NOTE: I can use the term “girls” because as we all know, a woman can use the term “girls” to refer to other women without consequence. If you are a guy, don’t try this. It could get ugly. Double standards are the subject of a future post.)


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