Mean Girls at Work Have a Preferred Target

The technical definition is "low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm." For those who have experienced it, "workplace incivility" sounds like a toothless euphemism. Thanks to a new study, we finally have some data about who's really the meanest in the office.

Researchers from the University of Arizona checked in with men and women about how their colleagues treat them. "The questions were about co-workers who put them down or were condescending, made demeaning or derogatory remarks, ignored them in a meeting, or addressed them in unprofessional terms," according to a press release. What emerged was a clear and universal case of "queen bee syndrome": Women reported more abuse than men, and they reported the most incivility from other women.

There are lots of probable reasons for this, included scarcity mentalities about job status and breakdowns in communication, but the report should be a red flag for any workplace. Behavior doesn't have to be transparent bullying to crash morale and even health in the office — and send employees seeking greener pastures.

Some other depressing results came out of this study. For one, gender roles play a large part in who gets targeted and who gets praised. Men, for example, are rewarded for being "assertive and warm," but women who exhibited assertive or dominant traits are the first targets of workplace incivility.

The data also represents an opportunity for action. Pay attention to patterns in your own office. Figure out if you're having a communication mismatch, or if someone really does have a problem with you. Find a mediator if necessary. You have a right to a workplace that supports you. Don't be afraid to demand it.