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Toxic Work Culture Series: Practicing ISMS Promotes Toxicity

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

As we continue CPR's Toxic Work Culture series, today we will consider the practice of favoritism, nepotism, racism, and, yes, sexism. Suffice it to say, neither of the four isms is appropriate for the work environment. Many may say that racism and sexism are inherently wrong, but they are not too sure about the dangers of favoritism and nepotism. The truth of the matter is that all four "isms" wreak havoc in a workplace environment that is perpetuated through cliques. Cliques are likely more homogenous giving way to no diversity in ideas, values, and thinking, which stymies creativity in the workplace. Scrutinizing the need for cliques, one will see the lack of confidence and insecurities of individuals who use cliques as a security blanket. Let's examine cliques more closely.

Cliques can form between groups of like-minded individuals. A clique is a group of people with shared interests or other features in common who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them. In a work environment, cliques spend time at meetings, projects, lunch, breakfast, breaks, and even after-work events. Typically, employees draw to one another with individuals that may have (1) similar personality types, (2) duration of time at the company, (3) same department, and (4) similar life stages, hobbies, religion, or political affiliation. Like co-dependents, this natural human process brings comfort and security to a person or group. Cliques also bring a level of validation as well as exclusivity. If left unmanaged by the leader, cliques will morph into an exclusive club that omits others. A clique is a driving force that may lead to:

  1. loss opportunities for growth and competition

  2. It creates low morale and low retention.

  3. It leads to poor productivity.

While as a leader, you cannot force friendships and how your employees elect to spend time off, you must monitor the ongoing activities within your organization and lead by example. Ensure your management style does not ascribe to any of the four isms. In addition, you can best lead your team by demonstrating the importance of teamwork, diversity, and inclusivity without cliques. Avoid hiring family and friends unless they meet or exceed the credentials needed to perform the role. It is essential to underscore how favoritism and nepotism may contribute to a toxic work environment. CPR recommends the following:

  1. Meet individually with members of the clique to ascertain the "ringleader."

  2. Communicate the policy of non-cliques within your organization

  3. Hold team-building and network activities.

    1. Create opportunities for various employees to work and socialize together. Select different employees for events, like planning monthly lunch activities or developing a community service project.

  4. Consider forming groups of people from different departments or of differing employment levels when assigning projects. If you notice cliques, separate them from the project to transmit the message of a "no clique" policy]

  5. Model the behavior you want from employees

  6. Form relationships with clique members

    1. Try to get to know the members of a clique individually. When they are not all together, approaching them can be less overwhelming.

  7. Maintain relationships outside of work

  8. Review company values

    1. Spend time focusing on the company's values, especially teamwork and unity. Post them around the office and consider a unique initiative to explore these values through training, role play, and recognition of employees who demonstrate them.

  9. Develop a mentorship program

    1. To help acclimate new employees, create a mentoring program that pairs new and veteran employees.

  10. Enforce company policies

If cliques at work violate company policies by excluding certain types of people or engaging in unacceptable behavior, like spreading rumors, enforce the appropriate disciplinary actions described in your company's handbook and stomp out the problem before it forms a root. Your employees should say as a mantra NO to TOXICITY. Also, join hands with CPR every Tuesday, where we hashtag #stompingouttoxicworkplaceculture.

Warm Regards,


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