Office cliques: good or bad?

by Tammy Buckley13 Nov 2013

A survey by CareerBuilder found 43% of workers said cliques populated their work environment. But are these groups all negative? Could there be potential positives of having friendly groups within the office?

Dr Helena Cooper-Thomas, senior lecturer at Auckland University’s School of Psychology, explains that because the idea of a cliques may differ for each individual they are not necessarily a bad thing.

“However, if you think of a clique as a group that is based on exclusive membership (in versus out), with excluded members teased or denigrated, this isn’t a good thing,” Cooper-Thomas told HC. “In contrast, if clique just means group of friends who share information and make work enjoyable for each other, then I think that’s fine.”

Relationships can be a source of enjoyment and well-being at work she adds, with a lot of work done through either informal or formal networks.

“Information is passed on, resources are traded, etc. This can again be seen as negative (“the old boy’s network” that excludes women and probably minorities) or positive (friendship networks). Indeed there is evidence that work engagement, which refers to full absorption and dedication to work and that is associated with better performance at individual and organisation levels, can be passed from one colleague to another, so the network can be useful in this case,” Cooper-Thomas said.

HR Shop founder and HR professional Samantha Gadd agrees cliques can be positive and negative.

“If people have a group of people at work who they particularly enjoy spending time with or whom they can learn from easily then this could be seen as a positive. Certainly cliques can be negative, particularly if those not in the clique are discriminated against because they are 'different',” she said.

Cliques often develop when employees have a reason to spend a lot of time together such as having shared break times or there is a reason they may want to bond such as a lack of leadership or dissatisfaction in the workplace Gadd said, and are not limited to any one type of organisation.

To minimise the impact of cliques Gadd said HR can implement work practices which are inclusive and designed to get a wider group involved in activities or work projects.

“Also team type activities may help build relationships wider than the immediate clique. HR should work towards diversity in the workplace which may reduce strong negative cliques having too great an impact,” Gadd recommended.

Thomas-Cooper added that where cliques or networks are exclusive or mean/bullying/negative to others then it is up to senior managers/executives to stop this.

“They need to lead by example by being inclusive, and also immediately put an end to any negative behaviours, however small. Establishing good standards for behaviour, and not accepting misdemeanors, is critical to having a constructive workplace culture,” she said.

Gadd suggests the following steps to manage negative office cliques:

  • Identify what, if any negative impact the clique might be having on the working environment
  • Review work practices - is there anything which might be able to be modified to reduce impact of clique - i.e. workspace, break times, team make up etc.
  • Encourage collaboration within the team and wider than the clique which in turn may help develop relationships wider than the clique
  • Celebrate diversity
  • Longer term - review recruitment policy to ensure diversity


Most Read