How To Stop Mean Behavior By Women At Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about mean behavior: Every time there is a new girl they seem to shun her, make rude comments, leave her out, etc

There are a couple of girls in one of our departments who seem to have the “mean girl” syndrome. Every time there is a new girl they seem to shun her, make rude comments, leave her out, etc. Our department is growing and we will be adding more and more staff. I pulled the girls aside and told them that their behavior is unacceptable and that I want everyone to feel welcomed in our department. They denied everything and seemed shocked that people would say this. How can I ensure that this type of behavior stops? Also, why do women in the workplace treat each other this way. What happened to woman sticking together?

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

I don’t know that women have ever really stuck together! They sometimes band together against someone or against a boss, but rarely do people of either gender truly stick together, unless they have a common cause. That’s the value of building a strong team–loyalty and support is more likely. Dr. Gorden often refers to WEGO–the concept that working together for a positive result builds individuals and the team. Maybe you can use this concern to increase activities to reinforce the value of all employees in the team–meetings, projects, and open communications.

I don’t agree with the tendency to label every unpleasant conflict as bullying, but the behavior you talk about IS bullying behavior and it should be stopped. Here are some steps to take:

1. First, of course, is to observe closely and intervene the moment you see or hear something that is inappropriate. Don’t wait to see if it happens again, stop it right there, even if it’s in front of others. The next part of that is to take action severe enough that the employees would rather behave correctly than be punished. Find out what organizational action can be taken. Certainly it should be reflected in their evaluations and if they receive merit raises, it should be reflected there as well. Employees are expected to provide the complete picture of good work for their assignment. That includes performance AND behavior. Often people who are mean or nasty never have anything significant happen, so there is no reason to act better. I often use the adage: “We don’t own your attitude, but your paycheck rents your behavior.”

2. The next step is to provide support for new employees, to counteract any potential problems. Consider assigning a Guide for the first month of employment. The Guide will be responsible for orienting the employee, making sure he or she is included, giving helpful advice and generally being a resource. The Guide doesn’t have to become a friend and should not take the place of a supervisor. Instead the Guide is a coworker who is supportive during those first weeks.Also commend or thank others who are helpful and welcoming. This will show what you value.If you need to talk to the problem employees again, consider this approach:1.) Decide what behavior is expected in relation to interactions with employees of any tenure, including what behavior is NOT acceptable.You seem to have done that at least in part. But often we focus on what is not acceptable without providing the acceptable alternative. In the case of the two women you are dealing with, consider listing specific things you have observed or heard about. Next to those things, list the appropriate behavior that should be done instead.2.) Be clear about what will happen if you see it or hear it. Know what sanctions you will be allowed to take and stick with it.3.) Consider having them say back to you how they will treat all employees, including new employees. Get a commitment from them about it.Include other employees in your focus.

If you have heard about unpleasant actions from them, put responsibility on the ones reporting it to you. Instruct them that the next time they hear or see something of that nature, they should courteously speak up and express their disappointment, as well as their dislike of that kind of behavior. Otherwise, the problem employees play to an audience and may feel their actions are enjoyed or approved by other employees.

Every employee has the responsibility to create and contribute to a civil work place.The bottom line is that unpleasant, mean-spirited behavior by employees requires vigilant observation and action by supervisors. Never let it happen even once, without sharp correction that leaves no doubt that it was not acceptable.Best wishes to you as you take a leadership role in this issue.

Tina Lewis Rowe