Humans long for inclusion. For people on the fringes, feeling left out constitutes banishment of the worst kind; an acknowledgement that it’s a waste of time to even attempt making one’s point when a “favorite’s” version of events (which the supervisor solicits frequently) prevails.
Coworkers band together for the purpose of power, protection, and for the sheer strength in numbers that comes from acting as a single unit (behaving as a pack) presenting their opinions in unison, known simply to others by the ambiguous “they” moniker. Individual players who stand alone, without the benefit of mob backup that pipes up on command endure unprotected. When challenged, clique members circle the wagons, knowing that if a fellow “mobber” goes on the offense, cohorts will provide ammunition. Clique members sit closed lipped when a gang member disrespects someone else, for the sake of maintaining group unity.
Mobbers’ behavior is no doubt an effortless way to slide through the workplace unscathed. These individuals reside in Kohlberg’s stage 2 moral framework (in which group conformity overrides sticking out one’s neck). As cliques gain in power, so too do their one-sided followers – more concerned with currying team favor than positive regard for the feelings of other people. Some may even choose clique membership because they enjoy making others feel uncomfortable.
In workplaces where bosses employ exclusionary strategies, some feel rejected from the managerial fold – looking wistfully at subordinates who receive an inordinate share of the perks, attention, private tete at tetes, and recognition that appears to evade other people. Researchers have found that leaders who forge strong LMX (leader member exchange, or strength of relationship between manager and employee) with only a subset of workers – as opposed to engendering a more democratic use of their time – experienced higher turnover within diverse work groups (Nishii & Mayer, 2009). Residing on the company outskirts keeps people guessing, whereas individuals in the boss’s inner circle possess insider information. Not surprisingly, harmony and positive interpersonal relations preside when employees experience roughly equivalent degrees of LMX (Sherony & Green, 2002).
As a manager, how to be more personally involved with the body politic?
*Alice Bumgarner notes that unless there is unreported harassment (or, an employee is doing something illegal), workers should for the most part be talking to one another. Don’t make yourself a middleman when it’s more organizationally efficacious for workers to go straight to the horse’s mouth. See Managing conflict at Google
*Actively seek to promote positive relations with all employees. Do you spend quality time with only a handpicked few? Is it obvious that select people are privy to what you share about other workers? Getting to know individuals off site (e.g., lunch or coffee) may promote a less stilted culture.
Pet owners enjoy employees who nod bobble-headed, smiling and agreeing like lackeys, servile flatterers, and toadying sycophants rewarded for such. You as manager will be more effective if you actively solicit and listen to everyone’s perspectives.
References and associated websites:
- Facing the angry mob at work
- The dangers of playing favorites at work
- The truth has two faces
- Nishii, L. H., & Mayer, D. M. 2009. Do inclusive leaders help to reduce turnover in diverse groups? The moderating role of leader–member exchange in the diversity to turnover relationship. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94: 1412-1426.
- Sherony, K. M., & Green, S. G. 2002. Coworker exchange: Relationships between coworkers, leader–member exchange, and attitudes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87: 542-548.