Dealing with the Dreaded Office Clique

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Cliques were a thing of your high school days, or so you thought. Suddenly, you realize that you are the odd one out at your job, and you are left feeling as though everyone but you is part of the “in” crowd. But you’re not alone. A nationwide CareerBuilder survey revealed that 43% of full-time workers in the U.S. say there are cliques in the office consisting of tightly-knit groups who exclude others.

Although office cliques rarely have any institutional power and should not directly affect your promotion or pay, the presence of cliques in the workplace and the gossip that they promote can cause psychological stress and add to job dissatisfaction.

Humans are naturally social creatures, and this tendency to form groups with like-minded individuals has been programmed into us since we were toddlers trolling the playground. There’s nothing wrong with forming groups of friends at the office, or anywhere else, except when it alienates others or has a negative impact on professional productivity.

While being part of an office clique may provide a sense of security and an impression that you “belong,” it could have some downsides like being branded with the negative characteristics of the group or being involved in unhealthy habits like office gossip, taking smoke breaks, or doing other activities just to fit in.

Tips to deal with an office clique and to avoid feeling alienated at work:

Spend time with various colleagues, not just with a single group
This allows you to get to know a variety of people at work, and avoid being associated with just a single group. Also, this gives you the benefit of having more support outside of your usual circle, to mingle with people that are different than you and to learn from other departments in your company.

Do not allow yourself to be intimidated or unsettled by an office clique
Remember that office cliques have no formal power. Focus on your job, maintain a courteous professional attitude, and treat your colleagues, including those in and outside of the clique, in a warm and well-mannered way. If you are well liked as an individual within your organization, the office clique will be less likely to wield any influence over your reputation.

Develop relationships with individual members of cliques
If a clique is not warming up to you and you want to diffuse any chances that they may see you as a social outcast, try to develop relationships with individual members. This is much easier to do, and people are more accommodating toward new friendships if approached one on one without the pressure of being surrounded by their peers. Instead of trying to be the new person at the lunch table, ask a colleague if he or she would like to grab a sandwich or coffee outside of the office. This can lead to more genuine connections than the cliques formed within the walls of your office allow.

Maintain a good group of friends outside of the office
Have a group of friends from college? Know great people from your neighborhood or community? Cultivate and maintain relationships with them. This allows you to take a breather from office politics and not depend only on your colleagues at work for socializing and dinners out. When you have real friends outside of work, the pressure to be a member of an office clique is decreased, as do feelings of isolation for those that are not members of a clique.

Your best option is to tread lightly and cautiously when forming friendships in the office. Associate with people who help boost your professional performance and offer good advice. Make sure your boss knows your value and contributions, so that office gossip will not affect your reputation with management.

Have you ever dealt with an office clique? How were you successful? Share your comments below, or tweet us @trackvia with your stories.