How to manage workplace cliques

How to manage workplace cliques

It’s not surprising that workplace cliques are similar to high school cliques. But unlike high school, workplace cliques can affect employee morale, productivity, and your company’s bottom line. To effectively manage office cliques it helps to know some of the more recognizable behaviors of clique members.

Workplace cliques can fall into various groups: the cool kids, disgruntled employees, coworkers who are friends outside of the office, company veterans, and cliques based on age, race, or culture. It should be noted that not all clique behavior is harmful.

Coworkers who are also friends and who don’t include other employees in their after work activities is not harmful behavior. But the clique behaviors that are harmful and warrant attention are: disparaging others, exclusion, favoritism, rumor mill feeders, and an us versus them mindset.

While you can’t tell employees who they can eat lunch with, you can implement these protocols to strongly discourage some of the more harmful behaviors of office cliques.

  1. Disparaging others workplace clique

    Different than the rumor mill, disparaging coworkers, bosses, or clients can be the gateway to workplace harassment and bullying. On the low end it may be sharing gossip within the clique about other coworkers’ professional or personal lives. At the high end it may be a targeted effort to damage another person’s reputation with the company.


    • Clearly define what the consequences are for disparaging others privately or publically.
    • Use company meetings to reiterate HR policies about what options employees have for responding to targeted character attacks, harassment, and bullying by coworkers or supervisors.
    • Document accusations and immediately reprimand confirmed offenders.
  2. Exclusion office clique

    In the workplace as in other areas of society the practice of excluding others by national origin, race, age, gender, religion, and other biases is never acceptable. Fortunately, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 offer legal protection against this type of behavior. But exclusion is not limited to these protected groups. Be aware that cliques may also exclude single mothers, people who are overweight, known ex-offenders, and by political affiliation.

    With a workforce that is only becoming more diverse, put the brakes on exclusion behavior now.


    • Take immediate action when there is exclusion based on age, race, gender, religion, national origin, or other statuses (sexual orientation/identification).
    • Use company training to create opportunities for better employee integration, and for coworkers to develop mutual respect for each other.
    • Offer mandatory sensitivity and cultural awareness workshops annually.
    • Draw names from a hat or create a schedule that requires all employees to be part of planning committees for informal company events.
  3. Favoritism workplace clique

    Subordinates and supervisors (intentionally or unintentionally) can engage in clique-like behavior. Typical supervisor favoritism can be playing favorites with employee work schedules or rewarding an average job performance. Coworkers in the same clique may cover for each other when things go wrong or willingly take on other members’ responsibilities.


    • Use a standardized performance review form.
    • Require supervisors to provide individual notes that elaborate on specific performance review scores.
    • Minimize coworkers covering for each other by actively monitoring individual productivity and competency.
    • Investigate whether offhand comments about a supervisor playing favorites are valid.
  4. Rumor mill office clique

    Generally unsubstantiated rumors about the business (unannounced layoffs due to downsizing/closing/being sold, management changes, legal issues, financial troubles, and changes to company benefits) are popular rumor mill grist.


    • Have quarterly transparency meetings to share information with employees about the company’s overall business operations.
    • Caution employees about believing and sharing unsubstantiated company information.
    • Encourage employees to discuss their concerns about the company with supervisors or human resources.
    • Schedule regular manager meetings to discuss specific department information that supervisors can share directly with their subordinates.
    • Ask employees to complete an annual (name withheld) survey about the company.
  5. Us versus them workplace clique

    Subordinates vs. management, sales vs. marketing, creatives vs. techs can polarize a workplace. But with transparency, planning, and “encouraged” cooperation it is possible to keep the peace between these office cliques.


    • Be transparent with employees about the company’s goals and expectations for each department.
    • Charge supervisors with reigning in complaining about the productivity of other departments, employees and/or supervisors.
    • Use HR workshops to assure subordinates that supervisors and management are held to the same personnel policies and standards.
    • Create ad hoc workshops and company events that require employees from different departments to work together.
    • Develop a mentoring program that pairs company veterans and/or senior staff with new employees or with subordinates outside of their departments.

Putting a lid on clique membership

If a clique (e.g., us versus them) feels there’s strength in numbers, it may always try to recruit like-minded members. Which makes keeping a lid on cliques an ongoing priority.  And, unlike the protocols for managing clique group behavior, take into consideration that some employees may not know they are engaging in inappropriate (gossiping) or unacceptable (playing favorites) behavior.

Likewise employees who are not in a clique may be unaware of how they are directly or indirectly affected by clique behavior. Therefore, use these suggestions to guarantee that all employees get the same message about the company’s position on clique behavior:

  • Create an anti-clique behavior directive that defines the company’s policies on cliques and clique behavior.
  • Distribute the directive to employees at an HR workshop. Include clique behavior role-play scenarios and ask employees for feedback about the directive.
  • Have new employees sign the anti-clique behavior directive when hired and require current employees to sign a copy of it at the workshop.
  • Use the workshop to address clique behaviors, but do not publicly accuse individuals or specific departments of engaging in the behaviors.
  • Encourage employees to meet privately with supervisors, HR, or management regarding issues with workplace cliques.