There, I said it. I've even used the B-word on my own occasionally. And I'm not talking about using it when it comes to ambitious, driven women, I'm talking about down right bitchy women. I think you've all seen them too: women who probably were mean girls in high school and likely won't ever grow out of it, therefore becoming the conniving workplace bully.
I've been pretty lucky in many of my work experiences. For instance, in my last job there were three people who were all equally responsible for the revenue of the company. And, these three all happened to be women. Train wreck waiting to happen? Not in this case. Instead of stabbing each other in the back in order to only achieve their individual goals, they bent over backwards to help each other achieve success. But that doesn't always happen.
Because there is a dark side. I've witnessed women bending over backwards to do the opposite -- put co-workers in a negative light so that they look like the superstar. And it's not just women stabbing other women in the back -- men can be easy prey for mean girls too if they sniff a perceived weakness or feel threatened by them. (All names have been changed to protect the B's.)
I've seen Betty "rat out" Sally any time she was late to work, or talk about a minor mistake Sally made directly to their boss.
I've witnessed Lauren create fabricated stories to her co-workers about how impossible her imposed deadlines were from her boss, thereby generating lots of negativity towards her manager.
To make herself look like a superstar, I've seen Janet lie to her co-workers to get something she needed done by telling them that her boss needed it as soon as possible.
I hired Kelly's boss (a woman), and asked Kelly to set up and share her office with her new boss when she arrived. Kelly obliged by taking up most of the office for herself, finding the smallest desk she could find for her new boss, and shoving it in the corner of what was left of the office.
These all run the gamut on the "B" scale, but they can wreak havoc on any organization and its productivity. As a leader your number one mission is to stop this behavior before your employees think it's acceptable behavior.
Confront it – If someone is constantly "ratting out" a co-worker, as a leader you need to ask the employee to stop. Note: I'm talking about minor infractions here, not money laundering or anything like that! Ask them what they think they're getting out of this behavior to show them that it is only reflecting negatively on them.
Redefine Your Values – I have one friend who prints their company values on a card, and asks all employees to put it in their wallets and memorize them. If anyone goes against the values, one of which is showing respect for your co-workers, you can be let go. At VerticalResponse it's in everyone's yearly goals. Respect for your colleagues, customers and competitors.
Remove It – If you simply can't get rid of the negative activity, get rid of the source. It's just not worth it for your team to watch you accept this behavior. It is a drag on morale and ultimately your bottom line.
And before I get a million comments, yes, men can be the B-word too, but that's for another column...
Last updated: Apr 8, 2010
JANINE POPICK is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse, (a Deluxe company), a leading provider of self-service email and event marketing, online surveys, social media, and direct mail solutions. The company was ranked No. 2,802 on the 2012 Inc. 5000. @janinepopick