Feb 18, 2014

    It pays to be a member of office cliques

    THERE'S no doubt that tapping into a work social group can be especially difficult once you head into your 30s, 40s and 50s and take on hobbies and interests - and perhaps a spouse - that demand your time.

    It might feel near impossible if you have extra family responsibilities, such as taking care of elderly parents or small children.

    But workplace experts say it's critical to stay a part of the group, and even make connecting with others at the office a priority alongside your formal job duties.

    How a worker fits into a firm culturally accounts for almost 90 per cent of their performance on the job, according to RoundPegg, an analytics firm which focuses on corporate culture.

    "Too often people wait until they're stuck or the organisation restructures and then they realise they're not part of any network - formal or informal," said Ms Jane Horan, a Singapore-based expert on organisational development and inclusion.

    The main reason: There's a less frivolous side to all the socialising with colleagues that goes on at work and after hours.

    Office cliques aren't just a way to pick up on the latest workplace gossip. They provide a vital source of information for ambitious employees who want the inside track on how to move up in their careers and who want to stay on top of the pulse of the company.

    Here's a look at what you can do if you feel excluded:


    If you're new to a company or have relocated recently, find a well-connected "informant" that can help introduce you to the company culture, said Associate Professor Lee Yih-teen of the IESE Business School in Barcelona.

    "If you can build up a friendship, you can integrate much better", which is especially important if you've moved abroad, said Prof Lee, who studies multinational organisations.

    Try to assimilate within a group by getting to know people individually and then drawing connections, suggests Ben Waber, president of Sociometric Solutions, a management services firm in Boston.

    For example, if a colleague tells you about a project she's thinking about, and you learn that another colleague is interested in the same thing, connecting the two could help you more easily assimilate into the group.

    Be patient, not presumptuous, about forming bonds. And don't invite yourself to an event. "It puts colleagues in an awkward position and they might actually say no," said Ms Vivian Scott, an employee at a global technology company.


    When family commitments continually get in the way of happy hours, company dinners or sport events, it can be especially challenging to bond with colleagues on a social level.

    Ms Scott, who eventually left the company she worked for to pursue a private mediation practice and later write a book, Conflict Resolution At Work For Dummies, suggests hosting an event on your own, such as a barbecue at home, rather than waiting for an invite from someone else.

    "Bring in your own interests," she said. And maximise your time by attending only work events that draw the most people, she added.

    In some locales, this may prove more difficult. For example, staying out late in Japan is a must, but workers in Switzerland can be distant to outsiders and post-work drinks may happen less often.

    "There are different degrees of what's considered normal," said Prof Lee, who spent seven years in Switzerland after living in China. He was surprised by what he felt was a cool reception from colleagues.


    Be purposeful about how you spend your time at work and designate which group or department you're looking to get to know better.

    As you socialise with that group, don't simply talk about work but share some details about your personal life to help foster deeper connections.

    Building those connections will make it easier to communicate during high-stress work situations. For example, a superior who knows you have small children or an elderly parent may be more accommodating when asked for a last-minute sick day.