Recognizing the Office Hierarchy: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

When I was in college, I got a part-time job at an insurance agency. My job was highly low-level – filing, answering the phones, and typing (yes, typing) envelopes.

Before this time, I had worked primarily in offices in my small hometown, or in jobs laden with other college students. This was the first job I’d held in an office populated by people who were accepting tiny salaries in return for long-term employment that would pay their electricity bills and rent.

I was young. I was naïve. And so I immediately gravitated to the go-girls in the office – the ones who always seemed to be having fun, went to lunch in cool places, and had hip inside jokes about the other employees.

The go-girls, by the way, were not all girls. Nor did my terminology for them reflect their sexual preferences. The go-girls were about nightclubs, partying, and getting away with doing as little work as possible.

I thought they were very glamorous.

Of course, they were not glamorous. They were fun, but they were miserably bad employees, and they made life wretched for those who were not in their circle. They complained a lot, and once you were part of their clique, it became almost impossible not to also complain. It was like being sucked into quicksand – you just couldn’t resist.

I did work hard. I came in after my morning classes and did my slave labor relatively flawlessly, but I did join in the face-making behind the backs of the drones and make little comments about them. Also, oddly, I refused to comply with my employer’s requirement that I use his car rather than my own when I went to the bank each day to make his deposit.

Actually, I don’t know why he wanted me to use his car. It was a very expensive car, and I was not a noticeably good driver. I’m sure there was some reason of insurance, with him being an insurance agent and all – but still. I don’t feel bad for sneaking around driving my own car. There. I’ve said it.

I do feel bad – to this day – for my participation in the office chaos that was the go-girls. It was more than unprofessional: it was childish. I mean – I was a child, more or less. However, I was hired to behave as an adult.

Avoiding office cliques is the single best thing you can do to ensure your rise in your company. Remember the kid in high school who could float seamlessly between cliques? That was the person who could make anyone comfortable in any situation.

There are a lot of those kids running major companies today.

While it’s tempting to join a clique – you’ll have someone to eat lunch with every day, if nothing else – it is a very dangerous political move. Most cliques thrive on their exclusivity, which means that someone is going to be left out of the fun. In addition, because such circles of friends often rely on a sense of superiority over others on the team, it’s highly likely that the clique you pick is going to do a little gossiping and a little name-calling – neither of which are considered professional behavior.

The best rule of thumb for making friends in the office is to be pleasant and kind to everyone. You may have to seek out a lunch partner, but you won’t have to face the displeasure of a recently promoted colleague that you participating in dissing.

Dave Saunders helps people stand out and “Be the Brand” as a personal branding and marketing specialist. Manage your career online: Create, Enhance and Share a better resume, free at

1 Comment

  1. Nicolas Audette on February 29, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Great article, very inspiring!  

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