Think back to your high school days. Remember how the athletes would only socialize with other athletes, the drama kids would hang out with other theatrical types, and the academics would fraternize among themselves? Unfortunately, the legacy of cliques often endures in the workplace in the form of insular groups of colleagues who socialize only among themselves inside and outside of the office. In fact, a survey on the topic by CareerBuilder found that nearly half of all workers reported that cliques populated their workplace.
It is important to note that tight-knit social structures can occasionally have a positive effect on the workplace. Studies have shown that employees are significantly happier at their jobs if they have formed office friendships. Strong social ties in the workplace can also improve morale, facilitate the sharing of ideas, and create positive channels through which employees can release their frustrations if the going gets tough.
Unlike a team, where employees have bonded together to achieve a common objective, cliques are, by their very nature, exclusive. They function and maintain their position within a workforce by allowing certain individuals to enter the circle while leaving others out of it. As a result, cliques have an innate tendency to turn toxic and make staff members feel alienated and ostracized. They can cause a workforce to stop functioning cohesively, giving way to bullying, harassment, and gossip. Employees belonging to cliques also run the risk of being guilty by association if they fall in with a group of low performers.
Signs of toxic cliques in the workplace:
- Members of a group being promoted, given perks, or being assigned desirable tasks despite a lack of qualifications;
- An absence of dissenting voices at team meetings, indicating pressure to conform;
- The spread of rumours and gossip around the office;
- Employees being shunned from group lunches and other social activities; and
- New employees not being welcomed and integrated into the team.
Cliques often create division and feelings of isolation, which ultimately have a negative effect on the organization's bottom line. As such, companies should proactively work to eliminate cliques from taking root.
Is a clique of employees affecting your workplace? Download our Action Plan to learn about recommended strategies to counter an organizational clique culture.
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