How to Successfully Handle Workplace Cliques

How to Successfully Handle Workplace CliquesApproximately 80% of employees (at all levels) experience or have experienced workplace cliques and 40% of employees feel that their supervisors/managers do not address these cliques and allow them to run rampant (Jagoda, 2013).

Do you remember the cliques that infiltrated your high school? The “Nerds,” “Cool Kids,” “The Rebels,” “The Cheerleaders and Jocks,” and the “Popular Kids” – is it coming back to you? I thought so. Almost every “highschooler” belonged to a group aka “clique,” am I right? Some wanted to be part of a particular clique, while others, unfortunately, were forced into them, sometimes kicking and screaming. I bet you thought that all of the craziness of high school, cliques included, disappeared once you graduated from it, however…Surprise! It has been reborn…at your place of employment. Yep, the cliques that you thought were behind you once you graduated from high school have reappeared at your job. Yay! Truth-be-told, workplace cliques, in general, are not always a bad thing (unless you are part of the “Mean Girls or Guys” clique), but unfortunately it can be. Eeek!

So, workplace cliques are not always a bad thing? That is right! Why not? Well, everyone wants to feel that they belong, whether it is in their personal life or at work. Cliques form from a need to belong…and connect with others on a deeper, more personal level. And, let’s face it, sometimes workplace cliques are needed just to get through the work day with your sanity still intact. On the flip side, cliques, especially mean workplace cliques can cause a hostile work environment, possibly leading to harassment and/or bullying scenarios. In addition, cliques can make those, who are not included in them feel…rejected, awkward, and left out. Truthfully, it’s hard to watch a group of co-workers laugh, joke, talk, and whisper in a huddle and not feel like the workplace pariah.

Moreover, cliques, good or bad, can affect who gets hired…and fired. For instance, if Mike is popular at work (i.e. all of the supervisors and most of his co-workers like him because he is handsome, smart, charming, and results-driven), then his friends aka his “clique,” Jeff and David, also have a good chance snagging a prime promotion should one become available just because the supervisor assumes that they will perform like their friend, Mike. Fair? Absolutely not! Possible? Definitely! According to Patrick Fagan, a behavioral specialist writer from Psychology Today, people prefer members of the same clique when promoting employees. Thankfully, workplace cliques do not have to trigger your anxiety or interfere with your quality of life, nope, there are things you can do that will help you navigate through the, sometimes, troubling waters of workplace politics.

So, what is the best way to successfully handle workplace cliques? Well, listed below are some handy tips on how to positively deal with these exclusive groups.

How Powerful is the Workplace Clique?
If you want to know whether you should join a workplace clique the first thing you should do is ask yourself “Will joining this clique help me at work?” In other words, “Will it benefit me to join or try to join this workplace clique?” If so, it may just be beneficial to align yourself with the group. Why? Well, in some cases, workplace cliques run their departments. More specifically, some workplace cliques develop work strategies, determine the direction of the company, and decide who gets raises and promotions. Crazy? I know, but definitely true in some cases. On the flip side, workplace cliques can be detrimental to your success at work by using their power to bully, intimidate, and/or sabotage those in the clique and those outside of it.
And although, these type of dominating workplace cliques yield considerable influence and “power” at the workplace, you may also want to stay clear of them. Why? Well, you don’t want to fall into a negative group think mentality and you don’t want to unintentionally anger a member of the clique so that the entire clique focuses on making your life miserable. If you don’t feel comfortable joining a workplace clique, that is A-Okay. You can always spend your time at work excelling at your job, developing positive relationships with co-workers, and looking for ways to aid in the company’s success.

Is the Clique Encouraging Negativity at Work?
Truth-be-told, some workplace cliques can lead to co-worker conflicts, bullying, gossiping, and exclusionary tactics. These types of behaviors often cause hostile work environments and high levels of distrust. For instance, one employee (in the clique) may deliberately hide or withhold important data, which then causes another employee (not in the clique) to get written up for missing a deadline. As a result, these types of deceptive practices can cause the company to lose money. If the negativity in your department concerns you or affects your ability to successful perform your work duties, it is important that you notify your supervisor or manager.

Your supervisor or manager will most likely address the clique’s behaviors that are encouraging negativity. In addition, if you notice the presence of workplace negativity, counter it by offering an overabundance of positivity. In other words, instead of joining in with the gossiping, bullying, criticism, etc. give each member of the clique and those excluded from it a compliment…and smile. They say positivity is contagious, so maybe if you spread yours it will be enough to show the others how petty and childish they are being.

Have You Ever Confronted a Clique Member Who was Being Unkind?
Yes? No? I know it is hard to confront someone, who has a whole “clan” behind him or her – backing the member up and defending his or her honor. This is especially true if you are on the shy or timid side or if you abhor confrontations. But, if there was ever a reason to stand up for yourself and others, it is when you see someone mistreating someone else at work. It is important that you speak up immediately after witnessing bullying/intimidation/mean-spirited behaviors.

Why? Well, because it is right thing to do, and because it reduces the chances that the clique will repeat those hurtful/hateful behaviors in the future. In other words, mean cliques feed off the fear and anxiety of others, so when you stand up for yourself and others, you send a clear message to its members that, that those types of behaviors will no longer be tolerated. It is important to understand that negative workplace clique behaviors can lead to workplace violence, so stopping these types of behaviors can deescalate the situation before someone gets seriously hurt.

Are You Promoting a Healthy Self-Esteem?
Although many cliques encourage negative behaviors like gossiping, belittling, and intimidation, you don’t have to engage in those types of tactics at work, whether you are in a workplace clique or not. So, instead of spending your time putting others (who are not in your clique or circle of friends) down, why don’t you work to build your co-workers up? Compliment them and remind them how special they are and how your jobs are linked. Remember, you all have the same goal – to do your best and help the company succeed.

You are a team, regardless of whether you are in a workplace clique or not. So, why not do things to boost the self-esteems of every member in your department. In other words, every time a co-worker accomplishes something or shares good news, go over and congratulate him or her. And, when you notice a co-worker is down and/or dragging uplift him or her with a joke or compliment. Taking time out to acknowledge and praise your co-workers will not only improve workplace morale, it will prompt employees to perform their duties to the best of their abilities.
Do You Maintain a Positive Attitude at Work?

Lastly, one of the best ways to handle a workplace clique, especially one that is toxic, is to remain positive at all times. As I mentioned before positivity is contagious, therefore, it is important that you allow your positivity to shine through when you are around negative people. Do not stoop to their level. Focus on your job, congratulate your co-workers when they accomplish things at work, and smile as much and as often as possible.

Have you ever heard the saying “Kill them with kindness”? Well, that is a good rule to follow when dealing with workplace cliques, especially the mean ones. Don’t let mean workplace cliques destroy your happiness and sunshine. Keep your head up and distance yourself from negative people. Be true to yourself and you will be able to handle anything a negative workplace clique throws your way!

Boeing. (2016). Cliques and exclusionary behavior in the workplace. Retrieved from
Fagan, P. (2014). Conceding cronyism in the workplace. Psychology Today. Retrieved from
Jagoda. (2013). Workplace conflict infographic. Conflict Tango. Retrieved from