EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 20, 2013

Mean girls aren't just for junior high school

By Terri Schlicenmeyer

---- — Seventh grade was a long time ago, but the sting is still there: acne, boys, angst, drama, puberty, having one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood, and teasing from cliques and ... mean girls.

You thought you left junior high behind. So how did you end up back there when you landed your dream job? In the new book “Mean Girls at Work” by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, you’ll find out, and you’ll learn how to deal with it this time.

Logically, you want it to be true: women support one another in the workplace. But you know better.

When the authors of this book were asked to give a seminar on “women haters” in the workplace, they were surprised to find a “room full of transfixed professional women.” The issue, they quickly learned, was big; a real problem. They also learned through subsequent research that, generally speaking, mean girls are cruel “workplace bullies” determined to take other women down. And there are several levels of meanness.

The meanest of the Mean Girls think they have to be that way to survive; to them, other women should be “eliminated” from the workplace. Very mean girls are tough, insecure, and quick to jealousy. Passively mean ones are those who “accidentally” forget to tell you about that important meeting. Then there are women who don’t mean to be mean, those who don’t know they’re being mean, and the ones who make you want to be mean yourself.

So, aside from crying in your cubicle, what can you do about Mean Girls at work?

“Don’t Go There,” say the authors in each chapter. There are things you shouldn’t do, and lots of things you should: know that, sometimes, you can’t win. Keep a “cool distance” from toxic co-workers. Don’t take mean words to heart. Understand that Mean Girls are inherently unhappy with themselves.

And if all else fails, sharpen up that resume. You’ll need it.

Adolescence was hard and you were glad to leave it behind. Who knew you’d have to revisit it?

Yes, it can be argued that this book is commonsensical, but I think that if you’re a recent college grad, just got promoted, or you’re starting a second career, it’ll be helpful nonetheless.