We’re not in high school any more, but most workplaces suffer from one of its teenage evils: Culture cliques.
And they’re usually a problem for HR.
This isn’t exactly the Breakfast Club cliques — a smattering of brains, beauties, jocks, rebels and recluses. But companies still have plenty of their own informal groups with similar interests and personalities — and they usually keep others out.
In fact, almost 45% of employees say there are cliques in their workplaces, according to a study from CareerBuilder.
“Clique culture can hurt their sense of belonging to an organization, making them feel as if they are not a part of it,” says Jared Pope, CEO and Co-Founder of Work Shield. “This can demotivate employees, impacting their productivity and overall performance. Organizations that allow the cliques to occur or continue will certainly face higher turnover with decreased productivity. In other words, the toxicity of office cliques is real.”
What culture cliques look like
Cliques at work don’t look all that different than teenage cliques, the CareerBuilder survey found. Turns out, people who felt they had a place in the high school hierarchy identify themselves with a similar one in the workplace.
For instance, employees who say they were class clowns, geeks, athletes or teachers’ pets admitted they are part of an office clique that’s relatively similar nowadays. And those who said they didn’t identify with a clique in high school are the least likely to be part of culture clique at work.
Naturally, some people aren’t interested in socializing with colleagues, much less become a part of any informal or formal group. But cliques can be damaging, and HR likely wants to take some steps to eliminate them — or at least eliminate any harm they can do.
“In addition, clique behavior, particularly that which discriminates against specific employees, could be considered harassment or discrimination,” says Pope. “For the organization, any type of misconduct, even office cliques, could increase their risk for costly future issues that can impact the organization’s bottom line.”
You likely can’t completely eradicate culture cliques. After all, you aren’t your employees’ parents and can’t tell them who they can and can’t hang out with. But you’ll want to take some steps to handle culture cliques. Here are five ways:
Dig into the reason for cliques
“To weed out cliques, it’s important to identify why they are happening,” says Pope. “Is it due to the office setup? Is it because of schedules? Or is it because of something more harmful, like disliking one employee?”
That is the worst case scenario — cliques taking the form of bullies.
Part of the solution will be observation. When you’re aware of a clique, watch and listen to what bonds them. Is it something innocuous such as athletics, books or similar-aged kids? Or is it something more sinister such as pretentiousness or bullying?
The other part of a fix could be employee engagement surveys. Find out which employees feel part of the organization and connected to other employees — and who doesn’t — and see if there’s a link between office cliques or not.
Then you’ll have a better idea on what you want to weed out.
Take it to the front line
Turns out, front-line managers are susceptible to the lures of office cliques, too. Nearly half of those in the CareerBuilder survey said their boss was part of a clique with other employees.
You might be able to turn the tables on that and get managers to become a driving force to crack open cliques.
For instance, ask them to assemble people from different areas and backgrounds who don’t normally work together or socialize to take on a project. Then they can use teambuilding activities to help the group — including the front-line manager — get to know and like people outside of their normal circle.
Make some moves
Again, you can’t tell people who they can and can’t gather with. But if you identify a clique that has a toxic effect on your workplace, you can make it a little more difficult for the group to gather as often.
“HR leaders can determine the best course of action to remove the clique, whether it is rearranging the office setup, switching schedules around to diversify the teams, etc.,” Pope suggests.
Give employees tools
Regardless of what you do, culture cliques will pop up. And if they affect other employees negatively, you want to ensure those outside the ring of fire have a remedy.
So encourage “a sense of belonging through all employees – whether this is through workplace activities, policies and processes that are inclusive to everyone, or by ensuring employees are able to effectively report incidents like toxic clique culture to their employer,” Pope says.
Create, offer and promote avenues for employees to report issues and concerns — and include routes for anonymous reporting if they prefer.
“These tools can help identify which cliques may be a bigger problem or those that could also be a force for good,” says Pope.
Encourage the forces for good
Some culture cliques can be a force for good. Perhaps you have a like-minded group and what they do is create a more inclusive workplace. Or maybe you have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that welcome everyone and promote belonging.
“It’s possible that there are cliques that may be a force for good, but it’s important to clearly identify what the clique is working toward, formalize the group into a committee or task force and then also make it known that anyone in the office can join the group,” says Pope. “The key is communication and transparency, as well as inclusiveness.”