If you thought cliques were a high school thing, think again.
A nationwide CareerBuilder survey finds that 43 percent of workers say that their offices are full of cliques: tightly knit and exclusive groups of co-workers who socialize both in and outside of the office. The survey asked 3,000 full-time U.S. workers about how cliques affect the office culture of their workplaces, and 11 percent said that they feel intimidated by cliques at work.
In fact, one in five said they have done something they're not really interested in or didn't want to do just to fit in with a clique at work — this includes attending happy hours (50 percent), watching TV shows or movies so they could discuss with coworkers the next day (21 percent), making fun of someone else or pretending not to like them (19 percent), pretending to like a certain food (17 percent) and even taking smoke breaks (nine percent). Meanwhile, one in seven said they hide their political affiliation, 10 percent don't express their personal hobbies and nine percent keep their religious affiliations to themselves to avoid being excluded by cliques in the workplace.
So how do you survive a cliquey workplace without having to pretend to be someone your not? Here's your seven-step survival guide.
Be sure to introduce yourself to everyone at work. After all, they won't invite you to social outings if they don't know that you even exist. Make it a point to approach people in the office who you don't already know, and make the effort to get to know each of them — either by chatting at the office or going out to lunch or coffee.
The more you get to know everyone in the office, the more you'll be included in different clique activities. This way, you won't have to feel like you belong to (or are striving to belong to) just one clique, but you'll be the person whose company everyone enjoys.
No matter what you think of different cliques in the office, always keep an open mind. If you immediately write one clique off, you might miss out on an opportunity to get to know potentially really great new friends. Don't make assumptions about a group just because they seem to be exclusive at first. Do your best to get to know everyone without making preconceived judgments, and they might not turn out to be so cliquey after all.
You don't need to do everything at work just because other people are doing it. If everyone is going to a happy hour, but you really don't feel well or you're just exhausted, it's as simple as saying no. While you might fear missing out, there's always next time. And you can't burn yourself out by trying to appease everyone else or fit in with friends groups at work when you've got enough on your plate.
There's never a place in the office for gossip, despite how much it tends to happen. If you're hanging out with a clique who gossips a lot, it might be best to start hanging out with other people in the office. You don't want to be associated with the gossipers for a number of reasons; you'll risk your job, and you'll end up excluding yourself from other friend groups when no one feels comfortable hanging around you.
Be kind to everyone, always. Don't try to fit in with one group by putting down another. Don't exclude people at work just because others in your clique don't like them. If you're not kind to everyone, you'll burn bridges in the office. And, besides, we need each other to lift one another up at work, not put each other down.
If you don't feel like you belong to a clique and you're feeling left out of plans, make your own plans. You be the ringleader for a coworker happy hour or social outing of another kind. And then invite everyone in the office. You don't need to just invite some people, because you don't want to be exclusive just like they've been. You want to make everyone feel welcome.
Whatever you do, don't sweat the cliques at work so much. At the end of the day, you're at the office to get your work done and build your career, not to make friends. While having friends at work is a bonus, your priority should be your productivity and performance. If you don't end up vibing with your colleagues, be kind and be professional. But don't force friendships that just aren't there. You don't need them.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.