Cliques at Work: Identifying and Managing Exclusionary Behaviors

By Kellie Rondon on Jan 25, 2024
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For leaders, HR professionals and department managers, addressing cliques at work is a significant challenge. Despite the professional nature of the workplace, the emergence of cliques is not uncommon. Recent data underscores the ongoing concern among employees regarding the impact of cliques at work, necessitating proactive management and intervention strategies.

Understanding Cliques at Work

Cliques at work are essentially groups of colleagues who frequently engage in social activities both inside and outside the office. These groups are characterized by shared experiences and inside jokes, fostering a close-knit environment. While socializing is a normal aspect of workplace culture, problems arise when these cliques become exclusionary.

The negative impact of these workplace cliques is felt when they lead to other employees feeling alienated or marginalized. This can have serious implications for workplace dynamics, potentially undermining both morale and productivity. When cliques are not addressed, they can evolve into environments of harassment or targeting of non-members, which is at odds with an inclusive work culture. This creates a hostile work environment, leading to increased complaints and high employee turnover, a situation no employer wants to face.

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A Caveat: Not All Socializing by Co-Workers Implies a Clique

The genetic makeup of human beings pushes them to connect with and gravitate toward those most like them. People often perceive others who share their interests or who are of similar age or cultural background as safe. Some of the deepest friendships form at work among like-minded people who spend a lot of time together. Taking individual personalities and preferences into consideration is important since some people are natural introverts who dislike joining groups or spending their lunch hours with co-workers.

Managing cliques in the workplace can be challenging because supervisors and HR should not dictate who employees can choose as friends. However, they do need to monitor workplace cliques to ensure their behavior does not have an alienating effect on others. Below are some of the most problematic issues presented by cliques at work along with what businesses can do to address them.

how to deal with gossip at work

Addressing Gossip and Bullying: When Cliques Cross the Line

When cliques form in the workplace, they can sometimes lead to negative behaviors like gossip and bullying, which can profoundly affect those on the receiving end. As employers, it's crucial to recognize the responsibility of providing a safe environment, both physically and emotionally. Being the target of gossip or bullying can severely impact an employee's self-esteem, leading to increased absenteeism and decreased productivity.

Recognizing verbal harassment

As outlined by, gossip and bullying in the workplace can constitute verbal harassment. Such behaviors can range from persistent practical jokes targeted at a single person, verbal threats and idea theft, to mocking, rumor-spreading or sharing confidential information. Employers must recognize these behaviors and take decisive action.

Effective strategies for managing workplace gossip and bullying

  • Empowering employees

    Encourage affected employees to address the issue directly with the perpetrators, documenting all relevant details like date, time, and outcomes of any discussions.

  • Utilizing managerial and HR support 

    Employees should feel comfortable approaching their manager or HR if they believe they are experiencing harassment. It's important to remind them of the company's anti-harassment policies and their right to escalate concerns.

  • Confronting the behavior 

    Managers and HR representatives should meet with the clique to discuss their behavior, referencing specific policy violations and setting clear expectations for future conduct. Consequences for continued non-compliance, such as verbal warnings, written warnings, or even termination, should be clearly stated.

  • Addressing managerial bullying

    In cases where employees feel intimidated by their managers, HR should provide a clear policy for reporting and addressing these concerns confidentially.

RELATED: No Room for Workplace Bullying or Harassment >>

Off-Hours Cliques and Cyberbullying: The Digital Extension

With the evolution of workplace dynamics, the influence of cliques at work often extends beyond the physical office space, particularly in the digital realm. In today's connected world, cliques may continue their social interactions online, which can sometimes lead to cyberbullying. This is a crucial aspect for employers to consider when addressing workplace cliques and their impact.

  • Understand the connection 

    It's essential to recognize that the same exclusionary and harmful behaviors observed in physical workplace cliques can manifest digitally. Social media, messaging apps and emails become the new platforms for these interactions, blurring the lines between professional and personal communication.

  • Set clear boundaries 

    Employers must articulate clear guidelines about acceptable online behavior in their employee handbook. This should include policies that prohibit representing the company without authorization, harassing, threatening, or violating the privacy of co-workers online. It's crucial for employees to understand that the company's code of conduct extends to their digital interactions.

  • Report and address cyberbullying 

    Encourage employees to report instances of cyberbullying. This can be done by taking screenshots of the offensive content and bringing it to the attention of their manager or HR department. The management's response should be calibrated based on the severity of the harassment, with potential involvement of HR in more serious cases.

  • Create a safe digital environment 

    Just as with physical workspaces, creating a safe and respectful digital environment is paramount. Employers should foster a culture where digital interactions are based on respect and professionalism, discouraging any form of cyberbullying or digital exclusion by cliques.

By recognizing and addressing the digital aspects of workplace cliques, employers can ensure a holistic approach to managing workplace relationships. This not only addresses the issue of cyberbullying but also reinforces the importance of respectful and inclusive interactions in all facets of the workplace, both physical and digital.

When Employees Harass Co Workers on Social Media

Cliques At Work Can Make the Whole Team Less Productive

Healthy working teams depend on collaboration and input from each member to achieve their goals. In group meetings with one or more cliques present, people may feel intimidated to speak up for fear of a group making fun of them or twisting their words later to start rumors. Team leaders should make clear to employees that they welcome fresh ideas and maintain a process to facilitate one-on-one conversations during which people can be candid.

Another way to deal with workplace cliques is for team leaders to assign employees to groups with co-workers they do not know well. This approach prevents a group that spends a lot of time together outside of the office from becoming so insular at work that they make others uncomfortable.

RELATED: Intimidation at Work, How to Deal with Workplace Bullying >>

The Takeaway

Recognizing workplace cliques and addressing inappropriate behaviors are essential for a healthy workplace. Nipping problems with workplace cliques in the bud helps reduce their negative impact on the entire team, which could otherwise grow stronger over time.

RELATED: Toxic Employees, How One Bad Apple Ruins the Bunch >>

Fostering Inclusivity: Partner with Axcet HR Solutions, Your Trusted HR Outsourcing Company

Handling cliques at work can be challenging, but fostering a culture of inclusivity is essential for a collaborative workplace. Axcet HR Solutions, a leading HR outsourcing company, is here to provide expert guidance and support through our comprehensive PEO services.

Break down barriers and promote collaboration by addressing workplace cliques effectively. Schedule a consultation to leverage our expertise and PEO services. Our experienced consultants can assist you in implementing strategies to cultivate a more inclusive environment, fostering strong teamwork and employee engagement.

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Written by Kellie Rondon

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