What are the bitchy behaviours and comments that can destabilise women at work?
Published on March 28, 2013 by Meredith Fuller in Working with B*tches on Psychology Today
My book ‘Working With Bitches: Identify the 8 Types of Office Mean Girls and rise above workplace nastiness’ has just come out this week.
I wrote my book for the thousands of women I have seen in my careers counselling practice, and consulting work in organizations. Hard working, earnest, committed, professional women were stunned, shamed, humilated, or gobsmacked by the antics of some bitches at work. Usually, they hadn’t realised that their growing lack of confidence, questioning of their competence, and dread at the thought of getting out of bed each day to front up, was linked to this insidious, spiteful behviour. They found it difficult to talk about – believing that they should be immune to snide comments, unaffected by someone else’s naughty behaviours, and not concerned by non-verbal nastiness. But it hurt.
Over the next few posts I will outline the 8 Types that have been identified and some support techniques or recommendations. All of the case material in the book is true.
Here are some anecdotes:
Denise turned up at work with a new haircut. “My bitchy co worker looked me up and down, then said, lingeringly ‘oh…and are you, er, happy with your new, er…hair style?’ Or she’d start a conversation with, ‘oh, I really hate to have to tell you this, but…’ then launch into nastiness. I finally realised what she was up to, so I would respond with, ‘then don’t tell me’ and walk off quickly.”
Denise recognised that her professional skills had nothing to do with her hair, but she was about to present to the Board, and was flustered by the intent behind the comment.
Another woman was stunned when her admin assistant wasn’t happy about typing up client data bases.
“When I enquired how she was going, she said ‘I refuse to do this shit.’ Whatever I delegated wasn’t good enough, and it became a battle to get the work done. One day she was late back from lunch by two hours. I called on her mobile, and she said that her car had broken down. I asked when she would be back, and she yelled ‘when I want to get there!’ She decided that she would go shopping while waiting for the RACV. I was concerned and suggested she needed to return to the office as soon as possible. Could she get a bus or tram? You see, this happened every week. She would disappear for four or five hours and blame everyone else but herself. The other days of the week she tried to have her lunch break at 4pm, so she could go to the gym. I explained we needed her until 5pm, and she had to take a lunch break at lunchtime when someone else could mind the phones. She kept calling me a bitch because I prevented her from exercising. She also handled the petty cash and I queried why she was taking money to pay for her coffees. She insisted that her old boss let her do it, so I was a bitch for raising it. “
Many women struggle with demanding careers and complex lifestyles in our changing work world. Organisational shapes and job descriptions are altering; this shape shifting brings uncertainty and anxiety. Relentless restructuring, mergers, retrenchments, and closures offer both excitement and terror, potential abuse and accolades, collegial and adversarial relationships. The rapidity of change may also mean that a colleague or subordinate is elevated to our Direct Report, friends we sponsor into the company may cause resentment, and HR practices may not respond to our grievances.
Some women may be subjected to unethical behaviour, feral office politics, or exhaustion from unreasonable workloads, or the anxiety of remaining vigilant around a volatile manager.
Stressed women may suffer interpersonal and intrapersonal difficulties in silence.
As ‘good girl’ loyal professional women, I suspect that we are heartily sick of trotting out our politically correct platitudes about all of our wonderful co-workers and marvelous managers while privately enraged about the few who are manipulative, competitive, angry, or mean. Perhaps we are jaded, cynical, or frightened – but we may remain silent because if we dared to open up about what is really going on, we expect we’d become dog meat.
21st century survival and mastery is reliant on enlivening and enriching relationships. We can’t allow Mean Girls to attempt to destroy other women. It is time to voice the suffering, obtain support and help, and call the process.