Office Politics: Navigating the Minefields

in Business Management
Office Politics

Office politics impact employers and employees alike, so it is important to understand how to navigate the minefields in order to ensure a positive work environment.

Laura was excited to begin her new position as a Supervisor and decided to meet with her two team members individually to get a better sense of the group dynamics and current team operations.

What she hadn’t expected is for one of her new employees to dish the dirt on the entire department including another supervisor, one of Laura’s peers.

For the subordinate the problem she hadn’t foreseen was that Laura and the other supervisor had a lot in common and got along very well, creating difficulties between Laura and her staff member. When it came time for lay offs, guess whose name was at the top of the list.

Office Politics

Though the term “office politics” at first appears to refer to white collar positions, the idea of conflict and competition between coworkers is an age old problem in every work environment.

While office politics may manifest itself in many forms – backstabbing, buck passing, hidden agendas, gossiping, bullying – there are things that both the employer and employee can do to counteract the problems and the effects.

First some clarification: there are those who would say that office politics can have a positive twist and that it’s nothing more than the ability to use psychology and strategy to make the impossible possible. Somehow they equate gossiping with networking.

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However, generally speaking, while there are those who have a well thought out plan to get ahead by using legitimate methods including networking, office politics is more about the inappropriate avenues some take at the expense of their fellow workers.

One of the biggest problems for employers as it relates to office politics are stress-related claims and lost productivity.

In fact, according to the American Institute of Stress, U.S. companies lost an estimated $300 billion nationally in 2001 due to absenteeism, turnover, poor morale and lost productivity due to job stress.

For employers it is important to build the type of positive work environment that invites open communication and team work. This begins at the top and requires an organization to infuse the company culture into all its programs from how they train new managers to their methods of hiring new employees to how they treat their customers.

For employees, the choice to opt out of office politics is not generally possible and, in fact, it may be detrimental to one’s career.

The likelihood of being promoted by being passive is not good, so it is probably better to find a way to navigate around the political environment.

First, begin by not perpetuating rumors or gossip. Believing or repeating everything that is said without independent verification can be a dangerous move, especially for a new employee.

  1. The wisest step is to talk less and listen more. Not only is this the best way to find out who is in the know, it’s the best way to avoid saying something wrong or inappropriate.
  2. Next don’t choose sides too quickly. It’s best to keep everyone at arm’s length until it’s clear who all the players are and what is considered politically correct or incorrect.
  3. Consider finding a mentor or trusted advisor to help point out the political minefields or unspoken taboos that exist in most organizations, those things that employees don’t often know about until it’s too late.
  4. Probably one of the most important moves an employee can make in circumventing office politics is to have his own boss’s back. It doesn’t make sense to make your boss look bad, especially if you don’t know how much political clout he may hold. Instead, do your job well, keep him informed, and if he is truly incompetent this may be a good career opportunity.
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Not only is it a great way to learn what not to do, it’s only a matter of time before the higher ups figure out who is really the superstar.

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