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Office Cliques Affect Productivity and Worker Happiness

Office Cliques Affect Productivity and Worker Happiness

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, Online Career Tips

Cliques have been a human institution ever since a few lean and hungry cavemen formed a hunting party to look for dinner. Later, Julius Caesar’s so-called friends got together to hatch a plot to assassinate the Roman ruler.

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Today, most of us are familiar with the cliques that form in high school. The “in” teens join together to guard their self-imagined uniqueness by dressing alike and keeping everyone else out. In college, these cliques are called fraternities and sororities and use the Greek alphabet to advertise their special status.

All of these cliques were formed to create an exclusive group. But in business, everyone is supposed to work together for a common goal – company growth and profitability. So why are there so many cliques in the workplace and how can they be eliminated?

Eliminate Business Cliques to Improve Employees’ Feeling of Safety

“At the core, cliques at work take shape when people don’t feel safe,” writes Pete Hinojoso, Director of Sales Leadership Development at Insperity, a marketing and HR strategic solutions company in Kingwood, Texas.

“People tend to gravitate to others who understand them and where they feel safe. That isn’t a bad thing,” Hinojoso explains. “Sometimes a smaller group is where they’re comfortable.”

Employees who continuously feel overlooked for their work “will quickly form a group, typically creating a stronghold based on their feelings of being mistreated or neglected,” he says.

Hinojoso notes, however, that for newcomers to the company, “cliques can be a company culture killer.”

In fact, a survey by the Economics Department at the University of Warwick in Britain found that workers who were happy on the job were 12 percent more productive.

Everyone Needs Friends at Work

Paul Houle, a professional speaker who has advised hundreds of large corporations, says cliques are the result of everyone needing friends at work. “Even if we don’t have a best friend at work, we want people to hang around with, share stories with, joke around with and have fun with,” he explains.

Silicon Valley companies are thought leaders in reducing the need for office cliques. “Companies like Google, Zappos, LinkedIn, Facebook and many others even go so far as to let their employees ‘goof off’ together because they believe it adds to their strategic advantage,” Houle says.

He warns, however, “Cliques usually have a dark side. They can be alienating, discriminatory and sabotaging” so business managers “need to keep an eye on the social side.”

Houle has five tips for building a non-clique culture:

1. Set the tone: Share your vision about workplace expectations when it comes to how people will be treated.

2. Educate your people: In today’s multi-cultural workplace, there can be those who are not sure how to interact with others from a different culture. Their uncertainty can make them isolated or associate primarily with other workers who are like them. A workshop on workplace diversity could help.

3. Mix up your people when you can: Create projects or various tasks that give your employees an opportunity to work with people with whom they might not usually interact.

4. Keep your door open: Let your workers know they can talk to you about any workplace issue. If you think some workers are too shy to do that, then maybe a comment box will help bring things to your attention.

5. Look for the informal leaders: This is not about a job title – it’s about a personality. If you can get these people to help bring your employees together and make your organization more inclusive, that can be a very powerful tool in building better collaboration.

As Heidi Lynne Kurter, a Forbes contributor, writes: “Managing people requires being in touch and managing the outcomes of situations.” If a clique begins to form, take the opportunity to interact with the group and invite others in. “Leaders should be proactive in reaching out to employees to gain their insight on how to create a more inclusive culture,” Kurter adds.

Finally, take a tip from Sherri Gordon, a bullying prevention advocate and author: “While it is important that there be unity among all workers, you want to be careful not to punish employees for having close friends at work. Be sure you know the difference between a clique and a group of friends before you step in and break them up.”

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