How to Deal With Mean Girls at Work

Republished with permission from See Girl Work an Evio Community Partner
How to deal with mean girls at work


While you were in high school, you may have witnessed (or even been part of) this phenomenon yourself.

Girls using backbiting, ostracizing, rumour spreading, name-calling and manipulation to inflict serious psychological harm on other girls. Girls using social media to attack others online using gossip, harassment, hurtful comments and even slut-shaming.

In the movie, Mean Girls, viewers watched firsthand the ways in which girls form cliques, navigate the social ladder and use relational aggression to hurt and control others. But high school is over. You’re an adult now. So why are you still dealing with mean girls at work?

Although our school days are over, it’s no secret that “mean girl” behaviour carries well into adulthood. Ah, Devil Wears Prada, much? Mean girls are definitely not limited to the tween and teen years. More and more, mean girls are growing up without ever changing—infiltrating the workforce.

Just as in high school, mean girls at work seed gossip, undermine their peers, they unrightfully take the credit, they’re unhelpful, and they’re super passive aggressive. They leave other women out of lunch dates, meetings and after-work gatherings. They sometimes even discuss work details in front of those who are being isolated to demonstrate their power.

In the fight for gender equality in the workplace, it seems logical to think that women would be on the same page, providing support for each other. One scroll through Instagram and you’d think we’re all BFF’s fixing each other’s crowns.

But let’s be serious. Mean girls are not just in the movies and they’re not just for high school. Mean girls at work are real—they’re catty, competitive women undercutting each other in the office. To spot mean girl behaviour at work, observe how a woman interacts with other women in the office and pay attention to how she feels about herself. 





If someone is directing toxic behaviour toward you at work, don’t take it personally. Mean girls are often jealous of others’ accomplishments—especially other women. The sooner you realize that there’s nothing you’re doing to deserve their bad attitude, the easier it will be to let their conduct roll off your back.



When someone gives you a dirty look or critiques you in front of other co-workers, the natural instinct might be to counterattack, and give an eye for an eye. But when it comes to mean girls at work, the best approach is to take time to cool off, so you can react in a professional manner.

The combination of anger and email can be deadly. But do not leave your own email trail of meanness. Release those negative feelings by talking to a trusted friend or advisor outside of work. Then look for a way to solve the problem professionally—without getting into a personal battle.



Too frequently we define ourselves by other’s opinions of us. As a result, we act out of those impressions—and that’s how mean girls gain their power. Publicly taking a pass on unwarranted judgements will baffle and annoy mean girls at work while empowering yourself. Choose the mental state that is more beneficial.



Get into the habit of keeping track of your actions with mean girls at work. Write down the date, time, location and a summary of what occurred. Write down the names of any witnesses and ask them -- in confidence -- if they are willing to act as a witness on your behalf. Keep any notes or emails that you receive from the mean girl in question. A track record of bullying behaviour will strengthen your case if you decide to present it to your human resources department.



If mean girl behaviour at the office progresses, you may need to take a more direct approach and advocate for yourself at work. Confront your co-worker in a way that makes it clear you only want to understand why they are treating you that way. Focus on the facts to avoid getting emotional or defensive. Mean girls typically hate being confronted about how they act.



An article in The NY Times cited that a good 40 percent of workplace bullies are women: “And at least the male bullies take an egalitarian approach, mowing down men and women pretty much in equal measure. The women appear to prefer their own kind...”

Why are we picking on our kind? Would love to know your thoughts about dealing with mean girls at work in the comments section below.

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