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Chronic Meanness in the Workplace: How to Spot It & How to Help Stop It

Rhonda Clark, Chief Empowerment Officer

The workplace can be a stressful and challenging environment, and it’s important for all of us to be aware of the potential for meanness to creep in. Chronic meanness in the workplace can take many forms, from gossiping and bullying to simply being unkind or dismissive to fellow coworkers. This type of behavior can have serious consequences, from increased stress levels to creating a hostile work environment that have the potential to escalate into more severe situations.

Step 1: Recognizing the Signs

The first step to addressing chronic meanness in the workplace is to be able to recognize it. Common signs of meanness include but are not limited to:

  • Gossiping and belittling colleagues

  • Excluding certain people from conversations or activities

  • Making derogatory comments

It’s also important to pay attention to body language, as chronic meanness often incorporates physical intimidation tactics such as eye-rolling, snide looks, and others to disempower colleagues and fellow coworkers.

Step 2: Addressing the Situation

Once you’ve identified meanness in the workplace, it’s important to take steps to address it. Talk to the people involved and explain why their behavior is unacceptable. If they refuse to change their behavior, you may need to involve management or HR.

Having follow up conversations about the actions of another coworker is also a valuable and necessary step to assure the conflict has been recognized, responded to and resolved. It’s also important to create an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up about meanness. Encourage employees to report any instances of meanness and make sure that those reports are taken seriously and addressed with dignity for those who come forward.

Step 3: Set the Tone

Finally, it’s important to set a positive example. Lead by example and make sure that you treat all of your colleagues with respect and kindness. If a coworker comes forward with a

situation, offer support and reassurance that they are in a safe space to share their thoughts and concerns. Remember change is led by example, and one way to help transform the workplace into a more empowered environment is helping to recognize the

signs and addressing the tough situations.

Other actions that you can take include:

  • Identifying employees and coworkers as humans and not just business tools

  • Utilize, understand and acknowledge the thoughts and feelings with empathy for those involved

  • Encourage open communication

  • Expressing gratitude to employees and coworkers

Chronic meanness in the workplace can have serious consequences, but it doesn’t have to be tolerated. By recognizing it, addressing it, and creating a positive work environment, we can work together to help diminish chronic meanness in our workplaces and communities.


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