Workplace Cliques Have Consequences

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One of the first things new employees encounter when they enter the workplace is an intensive effort by other employees to recruit them into a clique. Those who hold a negative view of the organization will pull the new people aside to warm them about whom they can trust and whom they should watch out for. They provide new people with a biased history of how to act and who to pay attention to.

At the same time cliques with a positive view will attempt to recruit people who are anxious to do well. Thus the new employee is immediately torn as to which clique to join. To the newcomer it feels much like a return to junior high school.

Whenever ambiguity exists and there is no formal way to determine which direction to follow, employees form cliques in an effort to gain support for their way of thinking. Employees who are part of a clique feel involved and included. Those who are not, feel excluded.

The decision to join a clique can have serious consequences. If management views a clique as disruptive, its members will be labeled accordingly. The consequences could be fewer promotions or dismissal when a reduction in force is called for. On the other hand employees who join cliques that management views as “good” are rewarded with promotions and increased job responsibilities.

Management can take steps to curb the formation of energy draining cliques. These steps must begin when the employee is first hired.

Management should focus on welcoming new employees. This works best when a new person is assigned a workplace guide who can show him or her how to get things done. This indoctrination process should begin the moment of hiring. The workplace guide should meet the new hire on the first day at the front door, and then make certain someone takes him or her to lunch for the first few weeks.

The new hire’s supervisor should also stay involved and be accessible so that the new hire has someone to go to when he or she is faced with uncertainty.

New hires need to be encouraged to say when they are confused. By admitting they need clarification, new hires are better able to garner useful information from credible sources. Admitting to being confused allows the new person to explore the basis of the ambiguity and get clarification thus counteracting their need to join a clique.

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