Female Bullies at Work: 7 Signs of an Office Mean Girl

Businesswomen arguing at the office

GretaMarie / Getty Images

When it comes to the mean girl phenomenon, it is not limited to the tween and teen years. Sadly, mean girls from middle school and high school often grow up to be mean women in the workplace. Only their behavior is often more subtle and sophisticated than it was in high school. This can result in many women feeling like their workplace is high school all over again.

Yes, it's true that most workplace bullies are men. However, while male bullies tend to be equal-opportunists (they bully other males and females in equal numbers), most women prefer to target their own. According to the 2017 Workplace Bullying Institute survey, female bullies target other women nearly 70% of the time.

You will inevitably run up against mean girls in the workplace, no matter how old you are. For this reason, it's important that you know how to identify them. Here are the top seven warning signs that a woman you work with is a mean girl.

They Exclude Others

Intentionally excluding someone from a group is a sure sign of an office mean girl. These women use relational aggression to socially isolate others while attempting to increase their own status at work. 

As a result, they will act as a clique, leaving other women out of lunch dates, meetings, and after-work gatherings. They may even discuss the details in front of those who are being isolated to demonstrate their power.

They're Envious

Women usually target other women based on their own insecurities. For instance, an office mean girl may consciously undermine your ideas because they feel threatened by your talent or ability. Or they might boycott your social gatherings because they hate the fact that your life and career are progressing and they’re stuck.

They're unable to acknowledge anything good about you or anyone else because they think that someone else's success reflects their failure.

They Take Credit for Others' Work

Maybe they're just too lazy to do the work themselves. Or they may think they're not getting enough recognition for their work—or that you're getting too much credit.

Whatever the reason, know this: Their irritating need to constantly take credit for everything stems from a place of deep insecurity. And because they have such a strong desire to get to the top of the corporate ladder, they will do anything to get there, including using other people.

They Spread Rumors or Gossip

Women are most competitive in environments where resources—including men, bonuses, and promotions—are limited. They don't think there's enough to go around and they'll do anything to take out or tear down "competitors."

For instance, if they believe another woman is threatening their status or position at the office, they have no qualms using their arsenal of indirect aggression tools to make their lives miserable. This can include making up lies and spreading rumors about her work ethic, office relationships, and even her personal life.

They Are Manipulative

On the outside, the office mean girl appears to be charming, helpful, and empathetic, but in reality, she is cold-hearted and calculating.

They collect as much information about you as possible. Information that they later use to pit people against each other, manipulating them and their insecurities. As a result, they tend to inflict emotional pain on their victims over long periods of time.

Women like this twist facts and situations to make themselves look innocent. This also makes it harder for others to believe the target if the target complains.

They Struggle With Anger

Sometimes office mean girls have poor impulse control. They are quick-tempered, tend to yell a lot, and may even use profanity. These women also are prone to using direct insults and name-calling. 

They are not above rolling their eyes and coughing to undermine what other people are saying. When that doesn't have the intended effect, they may start yelling, criticizing, name-calling, and belittling.

They're Power Hungry

These women want power and control. They want to be the ones calling the shots. But instead of earning that right through respect and teamwork, they often speak disrespectfully to others, insist on having things their way, and put other people and their opinions down. What’s more, they use the power and control they already have to their advantage.

Some of these women may be bosses. Others may just use their strong personalities, excellent verbal skills, influence to walk over other people.

A Word From Verywell

If you are dealing with an office mean girl, it is important to make the most of your current position, that is until you can find a better place. Make sure you respond professionally and keep documentation of what is happening in case you need it. But in the meantime, be sure you also get out and meet other people in your industry.

Try to build bridges and network as much as you can. And then when the opportunity presents itself, make the move. You cannot expect to deal with an office mean girl indefinitely, so be on the lookout for a better place.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Namie G. 2017 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Workplace Bullying Institute; 2017.

  2. Wiedmer TL. Workplace Bullying: Costly and Preventable. The Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin. 2011;77(2):35-41.

  3. Wiedmer TL. Workplace Bullying: Costly and Preventable. The Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin. 2011;77(2):35-41.

  4. Reynolds T, Baumeister RF, Maner JK. Competitive reputation manipulation: Women strategically transmit social information about romantic rivals. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2018;78:195-209. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2018.03.011

  5. Killoren R. The Toll of Workplace Bullying. Res Manag Rev. 2014;20(1).

Additional Reading