Office Cliques and Politics


Were you under the impression that you left cliques behind after you graduated high school? That when you reached adulthood and began your professional career those childish behaviors would be a thing of the past?

Wait…you didn’t think so? Well, according to a survey by CareerBuilder, you are not alone. 43% of people surveyed said their workplaces have cliques. A clique is any close group of co-workers who socialize in and possibly out of the office, and are exclusionary of others. Whether that exclusion is deliberate or perceived, the end result is the same; a loss of morale and engagement by those who feel excluded. As we enter this season of holiday parties and increased sociability, are you noticing groups of people making plans for social events, happy hours, or other get-togethers while there are some co-workers who seem on the outside of the circle? What can be done to address this, not just now, but throughout the year?

How Do Cliques Form? As human beings we are social by nature and look to align ourselves with people of similar interests. This is normally not a problem. Friendships in the office can be beneficial. When employee camaraderie remains professional, co-workers can help mentor each other and foster a culture of collaboration and productivity. But when a group starts excluding others, either by ignoring them, or gossiping about others not in the group, a clique is formed.

Dangers of Cliques in the Office Place: Cliques aren’t looking to collaborate with everyone, they look to advance their own goals and agendas. Gossip and other overt forms of bullying are perhaps more easily recognized or people are more willing to report these types of interactions. But make no mistake, exclusion of a co-worker is a type of harassment and should not be tolerated in the office. A study done at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business reported that exclusionary behavior in the workplace can be more damaging to employee health and morale than harassment or other forms of bullying.

Clique Busting: So what can be done to address office cliques? Team building exercises or creating committees of people who ordinarily don’t socialize together to accomplish a task can help people get to know others who they normally don’t socialize with. Having clear policies in place addressing not only workplace harassment, but detailing what exclusionary behavior looks like can aid in educating employees about acceptable behavior in the office.

A congenial and friendly workplace where co-workers get along while working together is great. But it is important to recognize when socializing becomes exclusionary and is a detriment to the office culture and productivity. It goes without saying that people are free to socialize with whom they’d like in their free time, but especially at this time of year, it is good to remind people to be inclusive and considerate of their co-workers.

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