The Dark Side of Office Cliques

The Danger of Microcultures at Work

Have you ever walked into your workplace and felt like you’ve stepped into a high school cafeteria? Unfortunately, microcultures and exclusivity in the workplace can bring back those all-too-familiar memories. While a sense of belonging and camaraderie among employees is beautiful, the inherent risks of exclusion, discrimination, and decreased collaboration must not be overlooked. These risks become even more pronounced when microcultures form in the workplace, creating exclusive clubs with their own unwritten rules and social hierarchies. This article will examine the detrimental effects microcultures and cliques can have in the workplace and provide practical strategies to promote a more equitable and thriving professional environment.

October 2023

Joan Patrick

Head of Experience

Understanding Microcultures and Workplace Exclusivity


Microcultures refer to smaller groups within a larger organization that exhibit unique behaviors, norms, or shared interests that distinguish them from the broader company culture. They can form based on various factors, from professional interests to hobbies.

For example, consider a company with multiple sales, marketing, and engineering departments. Each of these departments has the potential to form a microculture based on their specific roles and responsibilities. Given the nature of their work, the sales team might cultivate a competitive and high-energy microculture, while the engineering team may form an analytical and problem-solving-focused microculture.

Microcultures, however, are not limited to departments alone; they can also form around shared interests or demographics. Perhaps there’s a group of employees whose passion for cycling inspires them to create a microculture around this hobby. Similarly, some individuals may develop a special bond because they grew up in the same hometown or graduated from the same university.

These tendencies highlight the importance of inclusivity and collaboration within a larger organizational framework.

Workplace Exclusivity

Workplace exclusivity occurs when individuals or groups are favored or isolated based on shared attributes or interests, leading to preferential treatment for some and exclusion for others. This phenomenon can stem from conscious or unconscious biases and has the potential to impact the dynamics within an organization significantly.

Workplace exclusivity might manifest as certain employees consistently receiving desirable assignments or promotions because they belong to a specific microculture or clique. Conversely, individuals who do not align with the dominant group may find themselves excluded from social events or important decision-making processes. These instances of workplace exclusivity can result in a sense of unfairness, demotivation, and decreased collaboration among employees.

Workplace Cliques

Workplace cliques, similar to those you might have encountered in high school, are tightly-knit groups that emerge within an organization. While a close group of colleagues can be beneficial for collaboration and social support, problems surface when these groups become exclusive, resulting in the isolation and marginalization of individuals outside the clique.

Cliques form organically as employees naturally gravitate toward others with similar interests or experiences. Colleagues sharing the same job role or those working on a joint project are just two circumstances in which a clique may naturally form. Cliques can also develop based on personal factors such as hobbies, common demographics, or even shared perspectives on work and life.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with developing friendships at work, problems arise when cliques become exclusive, leading to team divisions, favoritism, or a toxic work environment. Organizations must be aware of these dynamics and treat all employees fairly.

The Dangers of Microcultures and Cliques in the Workplace

How Microcultures Can Lead to a Lack of Diversity and Inclusion

Microcultures have the potential to inadvertently evolve into exclusive clubs, unintentionally marginalizing those who do not possess the group’s defining characteristics or interests. This exclusionary dynamic can stifle inclusion and diversity within the workplace. Firstly, individuals belonging to a particular microculture may consciously or unconsciously display favoritism towards their own, resulting in preferential treatment regarding assignments, promotions, or social interactions. Secondly, the presence of a dominant microculture may inadvertently discourage diversity of thought. Employees who feel like outsiders may hesitate to contribute their unique ideas or perspectives, leading to a phenomenon known as groupthink, which limits creativity and innovation.

Furthermore, the absence of inclusion can leave employees feeling undervalued or unwelcome, potentially leading to disengagement, decreased productivity, and even higher turnover rates. The entire organization suffers when employees perceive their workplace as a collection of exclusive clubs rather than a cohesive team.

To mitigate these negative effects, organizations must break down barriers between microcultures. This entails embracing diverse perspectives, creating opportunities for collaboration across different groups, and encouraging individuals to voice their ideas without fear of exclusion. By doing so, companies harness the full potential of their workforce in a way that drives innovation and leads to more success.

The Impact of Cliques on Team Cohesion and Productivity

Cliques can pose significant challenges to team cohesion and productivity. When cliques form, they often have an “us versus them” mentality, which can introduce tension and division within a team. Such divisions undermine crucial elements like trust, collaboration, and open communication – all vital to a team’s success.

When employees prioritize their clique over the interests of the broader team or organization, it can detract from pursuing company goals. Likewise, individuals outside the clique may feel less motivated to contribute to team objectives if they perceive that clique members receive preferential treatment or if their own contributions are undervalued.

The Role of Microcultures and Cliques in Workplace Bullying and Ostracism

Microcultures and cliques within the workplace can inadvertently create an environment that is conducive to workplace bullying and ostracism. This occurs when the dominant group within the microculture or clique uses its influence to marginalize, belittle, or exclude others who do not belong to their group. These behaviors are not always overt and can take the form of subtle behaviors like constantly ignoring someone’s contributions during meetings, intentionally excluding certain individuals from social events, or spreading rumors.

Workplace bullying and ostracism have severe consequences for the mental health and well-being of individual employees. It can increase stress levels, diminish job satisfaction, and even contribute to depression and anxiety. This may result in higher rates of absenteeism, increased turnover, reduced productivity, and possible damage to the company’s reputation. Thus, organizations must proactively recognize and address workplace bullying and ostracism that stem from microcultures and cliques.

Strategies to Prevent the Formation of Harmful Microcultures and Cliques

The Importance of Promoting a Culture of Inclusivity

Building an inclusive culture is more than just an ethical responsibility; it has become a strategic necessity for organizations seeking enhanced productivity, increased employee satisfaction, and ultimate success. Moreover, an inclusive culture is one where individuals feel valued, respected, and at ease in expressing their authentic selves. When such a culture is fostered, the negative impact of microcultures and cliques can be minimized.

Inclusivity is a powerful tool that invites a wealth of perspectives and ideas, thus fueling innovation and creativity. It also serves as a bulwark against feelings of ostracism among employees who may not identify with specific microcultures or cliques. This inclusivity boosts morale and diminishes turnover rates by establishing a sense of belonging among all employees, regardless of their backgrounds or belief systems.

An inclusive culture enriches the organization’s intellectual diversity and contributes to a more harmonious and collaborative workplace. It ensures that every voice is heard and valued, thus promoting a sense of unity in diversity. Such an environment forms the bedrock of a dynamic organization capable of adapting to an ever-evolving business landscape.

Strategies to Break Down Barriers and Encourage Integration

There are numerous strategies to discourage the formation of detrimental microcultures and cliques within an organization. Consider introducing team-building activities that transcend departmental and personal interest boundaries. Initiatives like cross-functional projects or team-building exercises can help members from different microcultures interact and collaborate, thereby dismantling any existing barriers.

Incorporating a mentoring or buddy system can also prove advantageous. Pairing up employees from diverse areas or hierarchies within the company can dissolve silos and encourage mutual empathy. This approach facilitates workforce integration and allows for knowledge sharing and professional growth.

Lastly, establishing policies promoting fairness and equity can have far-reaching benefits. This includes creating transparent procedures for promotions and assignments, ensuring everyone has equal access to opportunities. That success or rewards are dispensed based on merit rather than affiliations with a particular group.

Leadership’s Role in Addressing Microcultures and Cliques

Leaders bear a significant responsibility in addressing the issue of microcultures and cliques, setting the standard for behavior within the organization. As role models, their actions and attitudes should epitomize the principles of inclusivity, which extends to their interactions and decision-making processes. Leaders must be keenly aware of existing microcultures or cliques and take proactive measures to prevent these groups from propagating exclusion or bias.

Leaders should also strive to be accessible and approachable to all employees, not just those in their immediate sphere or department. Policies that promote open communication, such as open-door policies and regular engagement with employees across all levels, can significantly contribute to a more integrated and inclusive culture.

In addition, leaders are tasked with providing training and resources centered around the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. By enlightening employees on the potential harm that cliques and exclusionary behavior can cause, leaders can cultivate a deeper understanding of, and commitment to, an inclusive workplace culture.

Commitment to inclusivity within the workplace must begin at the top and filter down to every level of the organization. Therefore, it’s not just about dissuading the formation of cliques or addressing their symptoms but also about nurturing empathy among all employees.


In conclusion, microcultures and cliques within work environments significantly shape our professional landscape, allowing individuals to find like-minded communities within larger organizations. These groups not only provide a sense of camaraderie but they also promote teamwork and productivity. While microcultures help encourage diversity of thought and innovation, they also have the potential to reinforce exclusivity and limit exposure to different perspectives. So, the next time you notice a cafeteria clique forming, remember: the responsibility falls on all of us to ensure the workplace is a platform where everyone’s voice is heard, not an exclusive club with VIP members.

Find more blog posts with similar tags

Filter blog posts by tag