We may think we left the Mean Girls treatment behind when we graduated high school. But, in reality, that same behavior continues well into our professional years in the form of workplace bullying.

Yes—it’s true. Corporate Mean Girls are out there. As a former executive director of a national women’s empowerment group, it’s a painful observation.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), both men and women bully, but the majority of bullying is same-gender harassment—which, due to standard anti-discrimination laws and workplace policies, remains mostly legal, and thus very difficult to address and resolve.

Females Target Females with Workplace Bullying

While you’d think women would stick together in the all too often male dominated corporate environment, the sad truth is that, more often than not, women target women. In 2007, the woman-on-woman workplace bullying prevalence was 71%; in 2010, it was at 80%. The American workplace is growing more toxic for women, and at the hands of their fellow women.

From a societal perspective, girls learn to be critical about each other from early adolescence, and it’s particularly vicious among working women, from playing favorites to badmouthing colleagues.

According to WBI:

  • Female bullies target other women in 80% of cases.
  • Bullying is 4 X more prevalent than illegal harassment (2007).
  • The majority (68%) of bullying is same gender harassment.

Bottom Line Impact of Workplace Bullying

As more women earn post-secondary degrees, enter and stay in the workforce, and rise through the ranks to executive level positions, the current situation is likely to persist. According to Chief Executive, “Executive bullying creates an unhealthy work environment—rife with micro-management, information hoarding and self-interest.”

While executives that exhibit this behavior may be successful in the short term, the positive results are often short lived and often result in:

Reduced productivity

According to CEO Magazine, Stanford University’s Bill Sutton has suggested that productivity could decline up to a 40% when workers are distracted by bullying. Aside from the distraction, bullied employees also feel a loss of motivation, which means they are likely to avoid putting in extra effort or working extra hours.

Employee turnover

A report released by Noworkplacebullies.com suggests that up to 30% of bullied employees will resign from their jobs, and 20% of those who witness bullying will also leave the organization.

Lost company reputation

Companies who develop a negative reputation will have a harder time recruiting quality employees. In a recent survey by Glassdoor Talent, only 58% of respondents would be willing to work at a company with a bad reputation—but, it would take at least a 50% pay increase for them to make the move.

How to Prevent Workplace Bullying

Here’s the good news, you can help reverse the trend and set the tone moving forward.

  1. Set and enforce a high ethical code of conduct. Codes of conduct cover both lawful and ethical behaviors, including abiding by a company’s core values. Holding corporate leadership to high moral behavior that complements company values can improve its reputation as well as employee morale and effectiveness. The code of conduct should set and enforce a “no bullies rule.”
  2. Create a charter. Holding top executives to account by creating a specific charter of behavior provides a specific set of expectations for peers. It can be as simple as a series of words (collaboration, commitment, communication) or a series of phrases that are derived from the corporate mission (customer satisfaction and expectations, growth and profitability, individuality).
  3. Collaborate transparently. Encourage cross-department communication, give credit to team project “victories” and milestone, and encourage and value opinions from team members that might differ from others.

Here’s the better news. Transparency in a ‘no tolerance for bullies’ corporate code, or as Barclay’s former CEO Bob Diamond called it, the “no jerks” rule, can work to a company’s advantage—improving or solidifying a company’s reputation, attracting high quality employees, and improving morale and productivity.