Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The lay of the lunchroom

You remember them.  The "cool" kids.  They sat with other cool kids by the quad.  The artsy kids sat with other artsy kids near the art studios, and the band geeks ate together in the band room.

Although we are now disguised and generally live amongst each other just fine, the workplace, with its regularity in schedule and cast of characters, is the perfect breeding ground for that which many of us dreaded in high school*: cliques.

In adulthood, cliques take a slightly different, more camouflaged and generally less catty form.  Let's define them here as small groups of people within a large group, who share a common bond among themselves and create an insular bond with each other, to the exclusion of others.  This exclusion isn't general, but in specific to the topic of bond that the group has developed.

Cliques can develop around just about anything.  A common location.  A favorite sports team.  A life situation.  A favorite hobby or genre of music.

How do cliques affect the workplace?  Cliques in adulthood are rather harmless.  In this great giant world of people that we interact with everyday, it can be comforting, especially in a work environment, to have others to share with.  In this aspect, cliques can build employee morale by strengthening bonds of friendship beyond what your day-to-day work.  This works best when there are either a) very few cliques, which blend in with other employees well or b) a lot of cliques, to the point that everyone is in one.  It also matters how the clique operates -- if they're super-exclusive or not.

How can you tell if you're in a clique?  Do you have a small, select group of friends that share a common thread that you regularly share with, more so than you would with other employees?  Do you and your friends clam up or change subjects when another employee who doesn't share your bond approaches?  Do you plan twin-day, pony-tail day, or any other themed day in which your clique and your clique alone participates?  Then you are probably in a clique.

What should you do if you're in a clique?  It is only natural to form friendships with those you have something in common with.  Pat yourself on the back for making friends.  That said, befriending those that are different than you can be a learning and growing experience, and although you may share an employer, there is most likely a great diversity among the employees.  And don't rub it in around others not in your's just not nice.

What if you're not in a clique?  No worries.  Unless your workplace is prone to clique-fights and you feel unsafe without a posse that has your back, not being in a clique is perfectly normal.  Continue socializing with all employees as usual.

In my workplace there are a few cliques, just about all completely innocuous.  There are the mommies (which are growing in number by the minute it seems), the drinkers, the creatives, those that live in the same town...many times whole departments can seem clique-ish.

Does your workplace have cliques?  Do you see any issues to them and how do you deal with it? 

*Or in my case, what you saw in high school movies.  My high school wasn't that clique-y as far as I knew.  But what could I tell from the band room in the corner of campus?
**The blurry pic above is my high school campus, as seen on Google Maps.  A lot has changed since I graduated nearly a decade ago...


  1. Oh high You're right, cliques definitely don't go away with age. I used to be pretty good at opening up invitations to everyone, but lately I've just gotten too comfortable with a small number of friends - not necessarily a bad thing like you said, but I could be a bit more inclusive at times.

    xoxo Maria

  2. I'd say I'm in a clique at work, made up of people who lunch together on our outside patio. Some of us are closer than others, of course, but all in all I've found that it's been very helpful here. Sometimes you need people to help you out on things at work, and being their friend also makes it more likely that they're willing to help, or easier to deal with those times when everyone is stressing out for a deadline, etc. I think it can be harmful if people are too exclusive, however, and make others feel unwelcome or build resentment towards you/coworkers. Sometimes I get slightly annoyed at some of the other cliques that are present, only because: in my position, I need to know what's going on in all aspects of a huge study we work on, and some people are really good friends with my boss so they go to him with issues when they really should be going to me (he's not really supposed to be dealing with that level of detail). So I only get frustrated in the "I wish they would be comfortable enough with ME to come to me instead" kind of way, not in the "I wish they weren't so close" sort of way (if that makes any sense at all!!) :)

  3. @ Sara - Yeah, I think the main downsides in adulthood is that they can seem annoying, but not hurtful the way they may have been in high school. I guess you could say I'm in a clique myself, but there's only two of us in it (lol). On my own, though, I try to have lunch with a variety of people every once in a while, building friendships on more of an individual level instead of in groups. That fits my comfort level a bit more.

    @ maria - I feel ya on the comfort thing. I think there are times for being comfortable, and other times for being inclusive.

  4. I'm not in any cliques. Their is the guy click around sports and the girl clique around kids and drama (usually ghetto-style). So I just don't fit in either group. Plus I am older than most of the "clique" type people; another reason for them to shun me.

    Don't you think it could hamper your career (by way of guilt by association) to hang out with low achievers (such as people who do the minimum to get by, have attendance, attitude or substance abuse issues)? I think in this regard adult cliques could potentially be classed as harmful.

  5. @ lorrwill - Great point about low achievers...I think I was approaching cliques from a purely social aspect, but the professional aspect is also important.


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