Considering the amount of time people spend together in the workplace, it’s only natural for friendships to form. Whether it’s due to common social interests, similar personalities, or mutual respect for professional abilities, people will inevitably create bonds with each other.
Positive friendship groups—those based on inclusion, encouragement, camaraderie, and teamwork—can improve the work environment and, in turn, boost productivity. However, negative and toxic office cliques can have damaging effects, both on the wellbeing of staff and the overall health of a company and its culture.
Why office cliques form
While it can be easy to point blame at individual people for forming cliques that exclude others and cause toxic atmospheres within a company, such groups are often a symptom of a wider issue within a business. Cliques typically form when people share collective feelings of frustration, unhappiness, and mistrust.
This could be due to a mistrust of management, discontentment with how they are treated within the company, a belief they are not receiving the praise and respect they feel they deserve, or feelings of being neglected and overlooked.
Of course, sometimes negative cliques can form when unsavory individuals band together, but even in such instances, the company should assess why there was an environment in place that allowed for such anti-social and disruptive behavior to flourish.
How cliques harm work environment
There are many ways cliques can adversely affect the work environment, so it’s important to recognize these traits to stamp out any toxic problems.
They choose the clique over the company: Cliques often put the interests of their group before those of the business and other members of staff. This creates clear problems for company productivity and the ability of all employees to work cohesively.
They ostracize others: All friendship groups, including those created at work, have inside jokes and shared stories, but it crosses over to ostracization when concerted efforts are made to make individuals feel unwelcome in the clique’s conversations and activities. Everyone doesn’t have to be best friends, but making others uncomfortable and excluded within a company environment only breeds negativity.
Gossip is prevalent: The worst types of cliques can take great pleasure in contributing to the office rumor mill. Gossip in the workplace can be damaging to the mental health of the subjected person and therefore have serious consequences for the company. If an employee is going through a difficult personal problem, like a divorce or bereavement, the last thing they need is a group of people taking pleasure in their pain.
Conformity is key: Cliques form when people find common ground, and when a group is empowered by its conformity, it can discourage others from speaking out and disagreeing with work-related discussions even when they feel they have better ideas and strategies. Such dynamics hold employees back from fully contributing, thereby denying the company the prospect of better solutions to potential problems.
Bullying takes a subtle approach:Unlike high school, bullying takes on a more subtle and manipulative stance within the workplace. Whether it’s constantly undermining the work of others, sabotaging work efforts, or projecting an image of superiority, office bullying can display itself in numerous ways. Making other employees dread going into the office is damaging to a company for obvious reasons.
Ways to dissolve negative office cliques
As the famed motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist.” If you recognize that there is a clique problem within your company, there are solutions to both stamp out the problem and create a better work environment that doesn’t allow such dynamics to re-emerge.
Create an open dialogue: Managers and supervisors need to ensure there is a company culture that encourages honest and free discussion. This applies to employees who might be part of a clique and those who feel ostracized. If people have formed a clique based on feelings of resentment aimed at the company, it’s typically because they don’t feel their concerns will be heard or taken seriously. At the same time, the workplace environment must make employees feel safe raising incidents of alienation, knowing that any problems will be dealt with accordingly.
Hold workshops: Holding workshops that educate employees about the different types of harassment and discrimination that can take place in the workplace is a great way to address a problem without singling out individuals. There could be instances where employees are not fully aware that their behavior leaves others feeling ostracized, so conflict-resolution and communication workshops can help a workforce address any issues collectively.
Try team-building exercises: Setting up team-building exercises that naturally force others to work together can break down plenty of barriers. Host these during work hours so they do not impose on employees’ personal time. Corporate philanthropy, for instance, is an extremely beneficial method of team building. Organize to help a local charity or community project and ensure the groups are appropriately arranged. By removing staff from the work environment and placing them in humbling surroundings, it can cause a big shift in interpersonal dynamics.
Establish core values:Every company should have a set of core values that every person adheres to. If required, display these values prominently around the office and ensure each member of the business—from the CEO to the intern—puts them into practice. By making the core values the foundation of the company, staff will realize the importance of not behaving in a way that contradicts those principles. If those values are not followed, managers are within their right to take necessary action.