Are Mean Girls Terrorizing Your Office?

<b class="credit"> by Sarah Browne</b>On Wednesdays we wear pink. by Sarah BrowneOn Wednesdays we wear pink.

Workplace Bullying Institute reports woman vs. woman bullying is on the rise.

"I've had it. I can't spend 8 hours a day dealing with these mean girls. It's worse than high school," an exasperated Amanda told her boss. The most frustrating part was the sense that her company was ignoring the unhealthy work environment.

In fact, Amanda had always loved her job. Then one of the mean girls got promoted and immediately began using her new position to bestow favors on her buddies. Amanda kept her cool as long as she could -- until one morning she was booted from a conference room she'd booked for an important client presentation. The mishap made her look disorganized, unprofessional and she was forced to relocate the meeting to her cramped cube. Later that afternoon Amanda discovered the "booked" conference room was being used for a mean girl's bridal shower.

Kelly's office bully worked in the HR department. Every summer it was the same: the woman sniped at Kelly about her clothes, tossing out insidious comments about the outfits being "inappropriate" for the corporate environment. After one too many hurtful remarks and concern for her career, Kelly hired a professional stylist to help guide her work wardrobe. Still, the comments continued. Eventually, Kelly realized the only ones considered "inappropriate" by this staffer were plus-size women.

"I overheard a remark she made to an admin who was wearing a pencil skirt. Maybe size 14. To me, the skirt looked fine. But this woman said with a smirk: "Better not drop anything!" Another assistant strolled by in a nylon blouse so sheer, her red lacy bra was outlined and visible. But she was a size two. That's when I finally figured it out."

A 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute in Washington state reported that woman vs. woman bullying is on the rise. "When a woman is a bully, which happens 38 percent of the time, she chooses a woman target 80 percent of the time," explained Dr. Gary Namie of the Institute. Female bullies also more frequently engaged in under-the-radar behaviors such as sabotage: 53.7 percent of female vs. 39.9 percent of male bullies.

High school may be far behind but many mean girls never grow out of their bullying behaviors.

Do you recognize these four telltale mean girl signs?

Other-directed. Mean girls are obsessively driven by what others think of them. Status, position and appearance is everything. If a colleague gets promoted, gets kudos for work well-done, or lands a plum assignment, a mean girl is apt to feel threatened and respond accordingly. This can translate into lies, rumor-mongering and gossip.

Snipers. These women are skilled in bullying, manipulation and strategy. The HR mean girl who repeatedly made cracks about Kelly's office attire is a snark expert. If questioned about her comments, she'd plead innocence and claim "Kelly's too sensitive." The fact that her snipes were double-loaded due to her Human Resources position made it even more challenging. Kelly was forced to wonder: Is HR trying to tell me something? Or is this a personal attack?

Excluders. Some women never leave the high school cafeteria. Their ostracizing games continue at mixers, meet-ups, luncheons, and cocktails. They'll blatantly chat about an event while standing close to a group that was deliberately not invited. They use social media to create FOMO (Fear of Missing Out),by posting the juicy details. They may even stay connected on Facebook and other platforms simply to increase the sense of isolation among the excluded.

Idea Bullies. There's a swarm of Queen Bees buzzing in the tech world right now. At a recent industry event, TechCrunch's Disrupt Hackathon in New York, hundreds of app-builders, mostly men but "a handful of women" competed for prizes. According to a post by Leslie Hitchcock, one of those women headed a team that built an app to help women organize trips to the nail salon. The app is named "Indulge" and instead of generating applause for its hard-won second place finish, the idea ignited a women vs. women social storm. The gist of the criticism against Indulge was its focus on style and fashion.

Lisa is another talented woman who experienced idea bullying in her office. When she took over the company's corporate blog and successfully expanded its social sharing, some of the office mean girls jumped on everything from her use of Squarespace + to blog topics. One of them set up a fake Twitter profile and criticized Lisa's corporate posts via tweet. What finally stopped their bad behavior was when the company's customers began to defend what Lisa had written, drowning out the nasty tweets with glowing positives.

But this kind of resolution is a rarity. Most employees are forced to take action. WBI claims that 78 percent of bullied employees who come forward end up losing their jobs - they either quit, are 'constructively discharged', or outright fired."

Are Mean Girls agitating it up in your workplace? How have you handled it?