Office Politics and Its Effect in The Workplace (Part One)

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Introduction

The word ‘Office Politics’ simply means activities, attitudes, or behaviors that are used to get or keep power or an advantage within a business undertaking/enterprise.

Causes of Office Politics

The motives for a person to engage in office politics may include one or a combination of the following:

  1. To sell their ideas;
  2. To achieve a targeted objective;
  3. To influence the organisation;
  4. To increase their power and control; and
  5. As an expression of envy or jealousy towards colleagues

Examples of Office Politics

  1. Backstabbing a colleague;
  2. Blackmailing a colleague;
  3. Forming malicious alliances against another colleague(s);
  4. Gossiping or spreading rumors about others; and
  5. Intentionally withholding important information.

How to Properly Identify and Overcome Office Politics in the Workplace

Workplace politics are the manifestation of power dynamics amongst colleagues.

Although workplace politics is inevitable, it can be overcome with proper leadership and influence. Politics in the workplace can be avoided by creating a healthy gap between the ownership of the business and actual day-to-day decision-making, demanding accountability from all team members and reprimanding negative political behaviour.

The success of a business or work environment relies heavily on the efforts of the employees, making it important to maintain employee engagement and satisfaction throughout the organisation. Although it may be easy for the top-level executives of an organisation to make decisions that benefit themselves, their responsibility as leaders is to minimise workplace politics and ensure that each decision benefits the organisation as a whole.

Chris Chancey, founder of Staffing Agency Amplio Recruiting, indicates that workplace politics is the manifestation of power dynamics among co-workers. According to him:

“People leverage these power dynamics to further their own interests or that of a group they are affiliated with.”[1]

Chancey told Business News Daily that:

“Such behavior is inevitable, given that human beings are naturally political and will do whatever it takes to protect their own interests.”[2]

David Frankel, Managing Partner of executive consultant firm Slingstone Group, agreed that there will always be some form of politics in the workplace; however, workplace politics can be positive or negative. Your responsibility as a leader is to avoid and overcome the negative political behavior in your workplace.

It is important to note that everyone comes to the table with their own personal goals, egos, aspirations, and agendas. For someone to get what they want, there is always going to be some level of compromise, negotiation, and politicking. Where this starts to become problematic is when personal motivations are not aligned with those of the organisation.

How Office Politics Affects the Workplace

While a bureaucratic, politicized structure is most often associated with larger corporations, startups and small businesses are not immune to this problem. Politics can infect an organisation when the founders, investors and employees do not agree on an organisation’s vision.

When negative office politics begins to fester in the workplace, the organisation can suffer. It can divide colleagues, supervisors, and subordinates, which in turn may create a tense and disruptive work environment.

Additionally, office politics can decrease employee performance, engagement, productivity and organisation morale. If workplace politics is left unresolved, they are likely to increase employee turnover and damage the organisation’s reputation. Depending on how severe the political behaviour is, it may even result in legal and financial consequences.

To avoid these potential consequences, it is important to quickly identify political behaviour and fairly enforce disciplinary actions as needed.

When employees engage in positive political behaviour, it has the opposite effect on the organisation. For example, if employees perform good deeds and positively influence others, workplace politics can be a positive advantage. It can be used to build good and productive relationships, improve efficiency, work performance, and stimulate positive change. Positive political behavior can ultimately improve organisational morale and employee retention.

Positive Political Behavior

Although engaging in office politics is often a negative behaviour, it is possible to engage in positive political behaviour. In the words of Chris Chancey:

“An example of positive political behaviour is identifying and aligning yourself with key influencers with the goal of leveraging their influence for career development without compromising your values or that of the organisation…”[3]

Positive political behaviour can include the following:

  1. Volunteering to assist a colleague or team;
  2. Presenting a professional image to influence other colleagues; and
  3. Complimenting and recognising others for job well done

How to tell if the Work Environment is Politicised

If workplace politics are dividing your organisation, it is important to take note and identify the root cause. The following are the several warning signs that your organisation may require some structural changes.

  1. If an individual’s personal rewards do not align with organisational rewards;
  2. If there is a “system” that needs to be “worked”, and the best navigators are rewarded;
  3. If urgency takes a back seat to process, and the stakeholders in the status quo become threatened by change;
  4. If people who do not regularly produce results do not get sacked or reprimanded; and
  5. If the average employee has little or no knowledge of the decision-making process.

Other indicators of negative office politics include a perceived distance between low-level employees and executives, closed-door meetings with exclusive information that is not discussed with the rest of the organisation, and star employees leaving because they do not see a pathway to advancement.

How Supervisors can Impact Workplace Politics

The culture and political environment of an organisation starts with the top executives. Supervisors should display appropriate political attitude to influence good behaviour in the organisation.

According to Chancey, a supervisor should display the following behaviours to reduce negative politics at work:

  1. Do what is right not just for your team, but for the organisation too;
  2. Network, align and build strong relationships across the organisation, as opposed to being avoidant or cliquish.
  3. Institute firm policies that support open communication and feedback;
  4. Stop negative political behaviours in their tracks;
  5. Do not engage in office gossip; and
  6. Do not isolate yourself from employees (distance often leads to negative power dynamics).

In addition to representing positive behaviours for the organisation, supervisors are responsible for investigating the reasons behind negative political behaviours taking place.

Sosnowski[4] has opined that:

“Such behaviours can be caused by ill-functioning work structures or unfair treatment, but they may also be initiated by individuals that aspire to achieve something beyond their authority, lack social skills or simply cannot comply with the organisation’s ground rules…”

Conclusion

Office politics is an inevitable phenomenon in an organisation. Its causes are numerous, and its examples vary based on the nature of the organisation. However, it is essential to understand how to properly recognise and manage office politics in a workplace in order to avoid its negative effects.

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For further information on this article and area of law, please contact

Rafat Dada at S. P.A. Ajibade & Co., Lagos

By telephone (+234 1 472 9890), fax (+234 1 4605092)

Mobile (+234 8150882798, 08023433794) or

Email (rdada@spaajibade.com).

www.spaajibade.com

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[1]     Chris Chancey, “How to Break Down Workplace Politics”, available at: https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/6374-fix-workplace-politics.html, accessed on 6th April 2022.

[2]     Chris Chancey, “How to Break Down Workplace Politics”, available at: https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/6374-fix-workplace-politics.html, accessed on 7th March 2022.

[3]     Chris Chancey, “How to Break Down Workplace Politics”, available at: https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/6374-fix-workplace-politics.html, accessed on 15th March 2022.

[4]     Sosnowski, Business News Daily, available at: https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/6374-fix-workplace-politics.html accessed on 18th March 2022.

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