Cliques at work

  • Employee Conduct
Alan Price - Peninsula's Chief Operations Officer and CEO of BrightHR

Alan Price, Chief Operations Officer

(Last updated )

When people work together for extended periods, they can become close friends. We spend a lot of our lives working so it makes sense that some of the deepest friendships form in the workplace.

While positive relationships can be beneficial to the work environment, sometimes employees can exclude their colleagues and form a clique. Cliques at work can affect employee morale and make other employees feel intimidated.

In this guide, we will explore what a clique is, how it can affect the work environment and how you can manage them.

What is a workplace clique?

A workplace clique is a group of employees that form a tightly-knit group of friends. Although not always a negative, cliques can create problems when employees start to feel left out.

Workplace cliques frequently socialise inside the workplace. However they may also commonly meet outside of work at an after-hours event.

How do cliques at work form?

Employees form cliques when they discover a group of like-minded people with whom they share common interests. Cliques at work can form between employees who:

  • Work in the same department.
  • Share similar life experiences.
  • Have the same hobbies.
  • Share a similar work style.
  • Have a similar length of service.
  • Share the same core values.

How do cliques affect employee morale and productivity?

Cliques can have a detrimental effect on office morale. If a group of co-workers or clique members have inside jokes or begin to gossip behind closed doors this could distract them from their actual job.

When employees feel alienated or left out of the inner circle, they lose motivation. If one of your top performers feels isolated from their other co-workers this could affect their self-esteem.

If your staff lose confidence in themselves or no longer feel valued, they may experience a drop in productivity.

It may also lead to problems managing group projects. Teamwork is an essential part of any business and a company thrives when it is open to outside perspectives. A close-knit group may struggle to listen to or consider new ideas from employees who aren't a part of their clique.

Workplace bullying

You can't punish employees for having close work friends. However, if left unchecked, workplace cliques could become a real issue.

What may start as a few inside jokes could spiral into something much more hurtful like rumour spreading. This behaviour could be very hurtful and lead to claims of bullying.

Not all bullies are the same. While some may be upfront about how they want their victims to feel, others may not be aware of their inappropriate behaviour.

Upper management should work to make everyone aware that spreading rumours and other such behaviour constitutes workplace bullying. It's important to notice the warning signs and act fast. If you notice that good employees are beginning to withdraw from the workplace, speak to them and see if you can get to the route of the problem.

How to manage cliques at work

Managing cliques in the workplace can be challenging. Human resources can't dictate who employees can and can't spend time with outside of office hours.

However, if a particular group of people are repeatedly causing issues for the company then you need to discuss the problem.

Hold team-building activities

One of the best ways to deal with cliques is to create opportunities for new employees to socialise. Consider arranging monthly lunch activities that involve people from different teams or departments.

This can help employees to interact with people outside their usual clique or group. Socialising with different people within an organisation can help to build comradery amongst staff and boost morale.

Lead by example

Make sure that you're not a member of a clique. Lead by example and diversify who you spend time with during the working day. Getting to know your employees individually can help expand your social circle and help make the idea of socialising less overwhelming.

This can also help you to gain wider feedback from your employees and tackle any further concerns they may have. It can also help your workers feel more comfortable about coming to you with their problems in the future.

Meet with clique members

It may be helpful to speak directly with workers in a clique to discuss how their behaviour is affecting their colleagues. You may find that groups are unaware of how their actions are being seen as exclusionary or hurtful.

Avoid any language that may sound accusatory as that may lead to common mistrust. Instead, focus on awareness and explain how others might be feeling left out of their group.

Review your company's values

It may help to remind your employees of your company values. Think of different ways to display them around your workspace or organise  some team exercises to help build new relationships.

This can be a great way to remind your employees about the importance of teamwork and unity.

Develop a mentorship program

Cliques can be intimidating, particularly to new employees. To help acclimate new hires consider creating a mentor program that pairs new employees with experienced staff members.

Having staff mix with new groups can help break the ice between colleagues and promote positive and healthy workplace relationships. Pairing employees from different departments could even help encourage cross-departmental projects.

Enforce company policies

Your company has rules for a reason. If any of your employees violate these policies then you will need to take disciplinary action. If a clique member begins to engage in bullying behaviour or exclude other employees, then you will need to begin disciplinary procedures.

Make sure that all of your employees feel comfortable raising grievances with you about other staff members. Everyone deserves to feel safe and supported while at work. So don't let one group of people ruin it for everyone else.

Get expert advice on managing cliques

Everyone wants their employees to get along, but exclusive cliques are bad for business. When groups begin to exclude their colleagues, you could end up with unhappy staff that are less motivated and productive.

That's why it's so important to manage cliques correctly. While you can't stop groups of friends from forming, you can make them aware of how their actions affect the people around them.

Peninsula offers you 24/7 HR advice and support, to help you deal with cliques and create an inclusive and supportive environment for all of your employees. Contact us on 0800 051 3632 

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