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Fitting in With The Crowd: Recognizing and Coping With Office Cliques


10/11/2011 5:49:39 PM

By Angela Rose, BioSpace.com

Cliques are a fact of life in high school. If, like me, your high school years were a decade (or two, gasp!) in the past, you need look no further than Hollywood for a reminder. There were the plastics of “Mean Girls” fame. There were the jocks, princesses, criminals, basket cases and brains of “The Breakfast Club.” And let’s not forget the sportos, motorheads, geeks, bloods, wastoids and dweebies of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Though we eventually graduate, grow up and move on with our lives, cliques still tend to rear their sometimes-ugly heads in the workplace.

The Good Cliques
We spend a lot of time at the office. According to the American Time Use Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average adult spends 8.7 hours per day working. We spend less than 4.0 hours per day on “household activities,” including caring for family members and children. Having friends at the office can certainly make the time spent there more enjoyable. When you look forward to socializing with the people you toil with, work feels less like work. Moreover, a group that works well together actually enhances office productivity.

Good cliques may be formed based on a variety of factors. They may form around departments, political or religious beliefs, favorite sports teams and free time activities. This is not a bad thing. Common interests facilitate the achievement of common goals. However, a good clique may morph into a bad clique when the structure becomes rigid, no one new is accepted, and the members become judgmental and uncooperative.

The Bad Cliques
A bad clique is one that excludes all others. They are difficult to join, and can have a career limiting effect if you do manage to become accepted. Often formed around negativity, they may be composed of coworkers who are not necessarily even friends. These bad cliques frequently engage in exclusivity, pettiness and gossip. At their worst, members may even bully or discriminate against coworkers who do not belong. Uncooperativeness, and the withholding of information necessary for the success of others, is detrimental to workplace morale and productivity.

If You’re the New Kid on the Block
Starting a new job can be stressful enough without worrying about cliques. It is natural to want to make friends in your new office, but it is best to observe the social dynamics of the workplace first. Once you have identified the good cliques and the bad, decide where you want to belong –or if you want to belong at all. You may have plenty of friends outside of work and prefer to keep your office time strictly professional.

If you decide you want to integrate with a particular group, don’t expect immediate acceptance. Be patient, and make an effort to reach out to the coworkers you wish to befriend. Once you have become part of the group, maintain a pleasant working relationship with the members of other groups as well. In an economic environment where layoffs or common, or a workplace with frequent turnover, the person you shunned in accounting could end up as your “in” at another company.

The Conference Board research group conducted a survey about workplaces in 2010. Of the respondents, 56 percent said they like their coworkers. Avoid bad cliques, practice acceptance and friendliness like Ferris Bueller, and your coworker may even refer to you as “a righteous dude.”

About the Author

Angela Rose researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for BioSpace.com.

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