Do Cliques Form in the Workplace?
Short answer: yes, cliques do form in workplaces. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and if you disagree that they don’t, then that probably means you’re in one.
According to Forbes, 43% of workers say that their office has cliques. These cliques are usually harmless and just a group of very close-knit co-workers, who socialise in and out of work.
A clique is term commonly used in the school playground, so it seems quite juvenile to use the term in adulthood. However, I’ve been in my fair share of cliques, and outside of them too and when I asked on Twitter if Cliques existed in adulthood 100% of responders said Yes!
Being outside of a clique is not the most comfortable place to be, particularly if the clique is made up of your core co-workers, i.e. the people who’s desk are next to yours or who are in your core team. However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be outside of a clique either.
How do cliques form?
Firstly, people in cliques are doing nothing wrong as they’ve simply formed a natural friendship that extends outside of the workplace. However, cliques can be notoriously ostracising – even unintentionally – and for those outside of a clique, but within a core co-working group, it can be lonely and uncomfortable.
Imagine a group of co-workers who met up for a drink on a weekend and invited the entire team – the clique – except for one or two other members of the group. That’s an uncomfortable position to be in for the outsider. Also, since social media makes it nearly impossible to keep such events private these days, whilst it may seem innocent initially it can be perceived as toxic towards a co-worker(s).
Remember when you were a kid and your parents used to make you invite your entire class to a birthday party? The reason was so that no one felt left out from an activity that would obviously be spoken about within the class the next time everyone was together. It’s the same at work, however juvenile the description may appear, the same lesson applies.
Comparison and imposter syndrome
It’s a fact of life that humans look for security, that’s why these cliques appear in the first place. But humans are also highly comparative and extremely prone to imposter syndrome, particularly within workplaces.
Imagine you’re a person outside of a clique and watching these get-togethers, long lunches or general socialisations without being invited in. These situations will trigger comparison and imposter syndrome, as that person will feel left-out, unlikable and wrong for the current position they’re in regardless of their work or social skills. If they can’t even get their co-workers to like them – even if the co-workers do, and simply haven’t noticed how left out the other person is feeling – then they’re likely to feel that the position, or even the career, is not for them as they’re ‘unaccepted’.
This is why managers and larger companies often instigate team-building activities, or purposely place team members that don’t usually work together into groups for other activities. These activities are to discourage cliques and alienation’s forming within a team.
Cliques lead to demoralisation
If you ever feel left out or alienated you need to discuss it with your boss or line manager. Not in a ‘whiny’ way – which is how this kind of conversation is often perceived – but to make sure that the manager is aware of your feelings, and also to put your mind at rest that the company works on a meritocracy system rather than via personal politics. If you discover your office works on the latter then you know that this is not a healthy work environment and can make the relevant decisions needed for a comfortable career.
It’s unlikely, but there is often an interpretation of cliques that lead workers to believe they’re unlikely to be promoted, praised or given recognition because they’re not part of ‘the clique’. This again, is a symptom of imposter syndrome but it needs to be addressed for mental health purposes as well as career growth.
Tips on how to deal with cliques at work
If you feel that cliques are forming in your workplace, or you are feeling alienated from your co-workers, don’t beat yourself up thinking the worst i.e. that they dislike you or feel like you’re not worthy etc. This is just imposter syndrome setting in. It’s more likely that they don’t realise that they’re a part of a clique in the first place, or that you’re feeling left out.
Approach them, don’t wait for them to approach you. It’s likely that they don’t know how you’re feeling, and with a little effort on your part you may feel more included. Whether you become part of the clique or not, that’s a different matter, but feeling more included at work is what is important here.
Most cliques have a natural ‘leader’, for want of a better term. In school they’d be described as Mr/Miss Popular, but in the workplace they’re simply the natural leader. If you know who this person is, then work on not feeling intimidated by them. Just because they’re the ‘leader’ doesn’t mean they’re turning anyone against you, dislike you themselves or think less of you. It’s likely that they are just confident and extroverted, and also that they’ve been working within the company or in their position for a long time. Relationships naturally form in the workplace around mentors first, before they tend to turn into full-blown groups/cliques.
Try to spend more time with others in your workplace, outside of your core co-workers if possible.
If you work for a larger company it is likely that there are many people you could become close too. Potentially others in teams similar to yours or people in a similar job type, or even new recruits who need mentoring or initial assistance.
Be open and approachable and you’ll find your people, as it may be that the ‘clique’ is made up of people that aren’t your people. Simple as that.
Cliques don’t affect your abilities as a worker
If the clique is toxic of ‘bullying’ in anyway that is not acceptable and should be reported immediately. But otherwise, it’s just a natural formation of co-workers that is harmless and should be thought of as nothing more than a group of friends, who you may or may not want to be involved with on a social level.
It may not feel pleasant to be around cliques to begin with, but after a while you’ll know whether or not it impacts you or your work and you can make career decisions based on that. But, without a doubt, cliques do exist in the workplace and should be expected even on minor levels.