AdviceHey, Bonita!

Work-Clique Worries and Best-Friend Struggles

What is the best way to deal with cliques and borderline favoritism in the workplace?

There are always groups of friends among the staff of any business. I’ve met some of my closest confidants through work. People are gonna clique up and pal around—it’s human nature. It only gets weird when management gets involved and starts demonstrating preferences among their staff. That’s when favoritism—or the appearance of it, at the very least—rears its head and causes problems on the business floor.

Maybe some think it’s easy to discipline or exercise managerial power over their friends, but it’s really not. I found out the hard way when I hired a good friend for part-time work once, only to have them become the worst employee I’d ever had. Thank goddess they quit on the exact day I was going to fire them, because I always choked when it was time to talk through these issues.

I couldn’t help but be gentle with this person whom I knew more intimately than my other employees, and that often meant I wasn’t as direct with my needs as their manager, or I was more forgiving of certain misdeeds. At the time I didn’t think of it as favoritism, because this jerk was driving me nuts, but now I can only call it that, because this person was working a lot less than the rest of the crew while getting the same compensation.

Cliques create a much worse type of favoritism, because when management breeds personal relationships with staff, it communicates an unspoken value judgment and can lead the excluded staff members to feel… well, excluded. A staff is gonna work its best when there’s a spirit of teamwork and everyone is on board with that, and it takes more than just saying it.

If things are too cliquish at your place of work, my first recommendation would be for the staff to start getting together as an entire group. Have game nights or cookouts, or put together a softball team. Not everyone can come to every event, but management should at least be demonstrating the intention of building group camaraderie.

If you think certain staff members are getting away with stuff because of their relationship to management, talk to another manager or that manager’s manager about it. Making friends is part of the human experience, but workplace squads can be detrimental to office morale if team-building is not a priority for the entire staff.

Hey Bonita,

I wrote in over a year ago asking how to deal with my best friend’s girlfriend not liking me. Unfortunately, my bestie was given an ultimatum, and we are no longer friends. It’s sad, but the pain has dulled a little over time, and your advice really helped me. Anyway, my erstwhile bestie and I were ride-or-die for about 13 years—we kind of grew up together.

Now, I have a new best friend, and we’ve grown super close. We’re roommates who hang out every day and are each other’s No. 1 cheerleaders. She’s the extrovert to my introvert, and pretty much the only reason I go out. However, she’s moving out of the country in December. I’m happy for her opportunities overseas, and don’t doubt we’ll stay tight, but am I going about this friend thing the wrong way? Is it unhealthy to have one “everything” friend as your confidant/creative partner instead of several?

I’m sorry that it didn’t work out with your old bestie, but I’m glad my advice was helpful! It’s risky to have just one super-tight friend instead of a literal social network, but it’s also what works for a lot of people. I think you know what works for you—having a ride-or-die instead of a bunch of peripheral types who perhaps you can’t really trust. You’re perfectly able to have friends, but you like to have just a couple at a time. And that’s fine! I have no doubt that you’ll find a new homie or get closer to an acquaintance once she moves away and makes that space available to someone else.

Need advice? Email, use our anonymous form, or find Bonita on Twitter: @flagpolebonita.


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