Managing Workplace Cliques

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The author of the article cited in this week’s Tip states cheekily but with truth that unfortunately, cliques aren’t just a problem we thought we had left behind in high school. A clique is a narrow, exclusive group of people usually held together by a common and often selfish interest or purpose. Similar to the social breakdown of high school students, workplace cliques are tightly knit groups of coworkers who socialize during and after work. Many cliques form because groups of coworkers have similar job responsibilities or work in the same department. They typically include employees with shared statuses, experiences, and/or traits. Going to lunch every day with the same group of friends isn't necessarily a clique. Cliques are characterized by their exclusionary practices and their tendency to pressure both group members and those outside the group to follow their lead. Exclusionary behaviors include but are not limited to: giving others the silent treatment, shunning or ignoring others, banding together politically in the organization, stifling or badmouthing the ideas of others, spreading rumors, and forwarding the agenda of internal clique members at the expense of others outside of it. These can result in aggression, anxiety, depression, loneliness, anger, diminished productivity, turnover, and even burnout.

Hills provides a few suggestions for managing cliques: encourage an inclusive culture; don’t ban friendships; befriend employees’ informal leaders; choreograph meetings (eg, rotate seating arrangements); refresh teams on varied assignments; inject new blood into existing teams; reinforce and reward inclusion; confront toxic behavior immediately and head-on.1

Pharmacy managers may or may not have enough people under their direction to form cliques, and cliques might simply take the form of people logistically and temporally working together. Moreover, the manager should promote friendship/camaraderie, and not everyone is going to always get along with everyone else. Still, some cliquish behaviors becoming exclusionary and move beyond social friendship when they begin to engage in overly self-protective and exclusionary tactics. If not confronted, employees are left to think that this sort of thing is not only tolerated but is part of the culture in the organization or department overseen by the manager.  

Additional information about Human Resources Management Functions and Leadership can be found in Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e. If you or your institution subscribes to AccessPharmacy, use or create your MyAccess Profile to sign-in to Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e. If your institution does not provide access, ask your medical librarian about subscribing.

1Hills LD. Managing cliques and exclusionary behavior within your medical practice team J Med Pract Manage 2014;29:373-377.

Go to the profile of Shane Desselle

Shane Desselle

Professor of Social and Behavioral Pharmacy, Touro University California

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Go to the profile of Shane Desselle
Shane Desselle 6 months ago

Have you observed such behavior at your work? Anything done about it?