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How to make friends and influence people… How to deal with workplace cliques

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I came across a really interesting article the other day on workplace cliques and how to deal with them.  It was American (I’m tempted to say “naturally” but that’s unfair), and it was based on research by the large (in the States) job-board “CareerBuilder.”

It was full of useful comments and advice, starting with the question “how can cliques effect (sic) your job?” before going on to consider “how to handle workplace cliques” and then “know when enough is enough” (and it’s time to leave).  One of the most interesting results of the original research was to ask respondents how they perceive other departments within their organisation and the answers were as follows:

Most Social: Customer Service 
Smartest: Information Technology 
Most Attractive: Sales 
Most Productive: Production & Quality 
Most Intimidating to an Outsider: Legal

All well and good, but, and it’s a big but, the problem is that this research is based on office workers.   At Peace and, I suspect, at most of our clients, whilst acknowledging that lots of us work in offices too, a key consideration is how to prevent cliques developing on site.  With this in mind, here are some constructive criticicms which we hope are useful.

Peace is relatively rare in construction recruitment in having not just a perm team that works with professions like Quantity Surveyors and Structural Engineers, but we also have a trades team that works with all sorts of contracted/temp labour, brickies, sparkies, telehandlers, etc. And it must be said that, in my opinion, one of the biggest problems on virtually every site is that temp labour is often treated as the lowest of the low.  Put bluntly, there is too often a perception that temp labourers (of every kind) are self-employed temps because they that’s all they are capable of and fit for - which, obviously, we are going to disagree with!  

This comes across from the moment we receive a call looking for temp labour.  Usually, this is, “Get me someone," not “get me some really good scaffolders.”  So when one of our temps turns up at a site, it’s not unusual for them to be dispatched to, say “House 12” and left to get on with things.  Then, if anything  - even if it’s nothing to do with that person – goes wrong with “House 12” then it’s because that temp was ****. 

This is so wrong.  In the skills-shortage environment in which we are working today, contractors/temp labourers are even more vital than ever.  Not only that, but the changes in the make-up of the labour force are pushing many people away from more traditional forms of working and into self-employment.  The millennials want to come in and do a job and then go and do another one and so on. The greyhairs want a gig economy where they can earn enough to see them through to retirement but where they are not under the pressures of being permanently employed.  Companies like to have contractors off their payroll because they don’t have the expenses (pension, NI, admin costs, etc.) involved in employing them. The world of work has changed and continues to change.  What’s really frustrating is that, just as in the American study, there are some relatively easy solutions.

Look at your workforce. Where are the star performers, the brickie who can do the most in a day, the experienced roofer, etc.?  Put your new contractors to work alongside them.  Let the temps see the standards you want them to reach.  Don’t send them out to the furthest reaches of the site and then wonder why those houses are behind schedule.

It’s the employer’s responsibility to build a team. Much of the conversation on sites is around football, and football managers are a good example to follow.  Everything is about the team, about bonding, about getting the less talented players better and the really good ones even better still. The social side, the banter and the fun are part and parcel of this, but if Messi himself was treated the way some contractors are on site then I doubt even he would shine.

On the professional side, use psychometric testing where you can to identify personality traits and tendencies and then use that information to build your team.  Square pegs don’t go in round holes, but if you’ve already bought the square pegs then it’s a bit late…

In the office environment, where cliques can dominate to the detriment of your business – meaning less productivity, less work, less revenue and unhappy staff who move on and cost you more to replace – you need to assess your current situation, again arrange testing if you can, set up buddying and move people around if necessary to break up too familiar groupings and, literally, transfer knowledge, skills and personalities.  Ask yourself, are the cliques in my office the cladding that can be easily replaced, or are they embedded in the foundations, in which case more drastic, and expensive, action is required.  But whatever you do, don’t accept the status quo if there are deep-rooted cliques. 

There is nothing whatsoever wrong with being friendlier with some people than others.  Shared interests bring people together and some will respond better in one social situation (e.g. being in the pub) than others.  However, once cliques form and people start to feel alienated it’s not good for your customers and that means it’s not good for your business. Getting your team to work together for each other is not impossible but it does require hard work from HR/management.  Today is a good time to start…

Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment


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