Cliques in the Workplace

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Cliques in the WorkplaceUnfortunately, you didn’t leave behind the cool kid’s lunch table when you left high school. In the adult workplace, there are still cliques, there are still mean girls, and gossip can be just as devastating. It might come with new buzzwords, like “water cooler conversation,” but the reality is that humans (regardless of age) are social creatures and naturally want to form groups. However, we’re also competitive and that can come out fiercer than ever in the real world.

As a manager, it’s your job to make sure each of your employees can enjoy a positive environment that allows them to flourish, do their job, and enjoy coming to work.

Like it or not, part of your job is playing social director as well as interior designer. Part of your role is making sure every worker feels welcomed and valued, both from yourself and from everyone else in the office. It’s a tough job being Mama or Papa Bear, but you’re in this position because you have what it takes.

Playing social director

There are many ways to encourage holistic socializing both at work and beyond the office hours. For some offices, this means a standing Friday night happy hour at the bar across the street, but you’ve probably noticed that the same people keep showing up (or not showing up), so you’re really just providing an extra avenue for certain cliques to get together. That can be a good thing, but you’re not making serious strides in encouraging the outsiders to join.

Instead, consider a social function that’s not geared towards the most social butterflies and which doesn’t encourage drinking alcohol. Maybe a lunchtime park cleanup crew, philanthropy group or “club” that welcomes all and tries out a new activity each week or month. You can welcome suggestions by asking everyone to anonymously make recommendations based on something they like, then draw from a hat. Not only will this provide an eclectic range of options, but everyone will also be exposed to a brand new hobby or passion.

Designing spaces

The popularity of the open office plan was created to encourage random conversations, creative thinking and a more social area to get work done. However, for some workers a non-stop open space can be distracting and even induce anxiety. Plus, there are some jobs (such as engineers and writers) that really require more private and quiet time for optimal concentration. Instead of a totally open office plan, aim for an open social area.

Many break rooms features clusters of tables that make forming cliques nearly a requirement. Instead, choose a more open plan such as a circle that requires everyone to sit at the same table or even the option for a “lunch buddy” system that’s voluntary, but matches up employees by random in order to encourage positive work socialization. Yes, everyone’s lunchtime is their own, but if your employees are braving the break room or hungry for a connection, they’ll happily opt into these ore welcoming approaches.

Handling the tough stuff

Very few employees are going to approach you, their manager, about feeling left out or even if they’re being bullied. You need to keep your eye out for red flags and offer regular meetings on the importance of inclusivity. If you notice an employee or group of employees engaging in cliquish behavior, it’s your duty to step up to the plate and discuss this issue with them. They may or may not realize they’re doing it, and many will be happy to be put in charge of reaching out to others.

Sometimes it can seem like being a manager is akin to being a teacher or babysitter because humans are humans, no matter their age. Just remember that it’s your job to facilitate, and if what you’ve been doing hasn’t worked, it’s time for a new bag of tricks.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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