Office politics is a reality in many workplaces – a natural offshoot of disparate personalities thrown together amid career competition. Office politics can be positive and encourage people to be on their best behavior. However, the negative connotations of office politics – gossip, stress and sabotage – are more prevalent.
We’ll look at the realities and downsides of office politics, explain the typical office politicians you may encounter, and share tips for surviving in a cutthroat workplace with your sanity intact.
What is office politics?
Office politics is how power is shared in an organization – and how that power affects workplace relationships. According to a report from Pepperdine University, office politics plays a significant role in today’s work life. Overall, 68 percent of respondents say office politics is very or somewhat prevalent, and 29 percent believe it affects their efforts to get ahead. In fact, only communication issues were listed higher as a career advancement challenge.
Spreading rumors and “sucking up” are the most popular forms of office politicking – 34 percent of survey respondents say they see these behaviors. Additionally, taking credit for others’ work, blaming others for your mistakes and sabotaging co-workers’ projects are other common office politicking behaviors.
The negative effects of office politics
In theory, office politics can have upsides, like keeping people on their best behavior and helping build relationships. In the Pepperdine survey, respondents cited office politics benefits like getting to know what’s going on behind the scenes and enhanced collaboration. Still, even under the best circumstances, politicking behavior taints outcomes.
Negative workplace politics creates rifts and tension, inhibiting employee performance and killing company morale. It can even lead to increased employee turnover. In fact, nearly 40 percent of those surveyed in the Pepperdine report said they’d consider leaving an organization plagued by internal politics.
Employees who perceive their workplace as political become wary and less engaged, contributing fewer ideas. Teams can’t function optimally in this atmosphere.
Office politics can disrupt employee engagement. If you notice checked-out employees, try implementing employee engagement ideas like offering employee discounts, collaboration opportunities and wellness perks.
6 office politician types you may encounter
Understanding typical office politicians can help you navigate and thrive in the workplace. These personalities are likely familiar to anyone who’s worked in an office setting. Here’s who they are and what you can do to mitigate their negativity.
- Gossip hound: Gossip hounds are know-it-alls regarding what’s happening around the office – and they’re not afraid to share every last detail with anyone. They love spilling secrets to co-workers or sharing confidential information on social media. They often ignore open office etiquette and discuss inappropriate topics within earshot of everyone. When dealing with a gossip hound, employees must keep conversations focused on business. If the conversation starts drifting to co-workers’ personal lives, exit the discussion as quickly as possible.
- Credit thief: A credit thief does whatever it takes to get ahead – even taking credit for someone else’s ideas. To avoid being the target of a credit thief in the workplace, speak up about your views and what you’re working on in front of your co-workers. Additionally, give your boss frequent updates so they never get confused about who should get credit for your work.
- Flatterer: Flatterers like to give compliments left and right – but it can be challenging to tell if they’re genuine or trying to gain favor. Luckily, true leaders can tell when someone is fake, so you don’t need to call out the flatterer’s behavior.
- Saboteur: Saboteurs are exclusively concerned with themselves. They’re openly critical of others and don’t hesitate to throw co-workers under the bus. They also rarely take responsibility for their mistakes. Keep your guard up when dealing with a saboteur. You may be able to stop their behavior by confronting them. However, if that doesn’t work, track your exchanges and relay them to your boss or someone in human resources.
- Lobbyist: Lobbyists fight hard and have a reputation for swaying opinions in their favor. To ensure your views are heard, speak up when you disagree with the lobbyist’s opinions. While these employees often don’t appreciate hearing different opinions, explaining your viewpoint might be necessary to open them to new ideas.
- Advisor: Advisors are often the person company leaders confide in and turn to for assistance. You are best served by befriending the advisor because they know what’s happening in the company and wield considerable influence behind the scenes.
Disrespectful employees create a toxic culture that may lead others to emulate their bad behavior. Employers must resolve incidents of disrespect quickly and not let them escalate.
The downsides of office politics
People desperately want to change the harmful nature of office politics and improve workplace conditions. But before they can, they must genuinely understand the harm internal politics can create.
- Office politics creates stress. Office politics relies on power dynamics to flourish, leading to inconsistencies like favoritism. The team doesn’t understand expectations and how their work will be judged, creating stress. And that workplace stress is often carried into an employee’s personal life.
- Office politics decreases productivity. Office politics takes the focus off work as employees become distracted by a constantly combative environment. Appearances become more important than completing tasks with high-quality work.
- Office politics lowers morale. Office politics can destroy workplace morale because it focuses on appearances – not results – when determining success. When your work’s relevance isn’t respected, you may question the value of your contributions.
- Office politics invites a toxic work environment. Office politics hurts productivity and morale while creating undue stress for the entire team. This atmosphere often leads to a toxic work environment filled with unexpected side effects. Toxic work environments are often marred by high turnover rates, jealousy and a lack of growth.
Implementing a peer mentoring program in the workplace can help employees deal with workplace politics while enhancing teamwork and reducing toxicity.
How do you survive office politics?
Several effective, straightforward tactics can help teams manage office politics. Whether building new bonds, making new friends or developing the right skills to ensure your work is undeniable, you have options when navigating workplace politics.
- Develop new skills to combat office politics. Developing new in-demand career skills is always a good idea, allowing you to step in and offer solutions for various crises and situations. A highly skilled employee is respected and less likely to fall victim to office politics.
- Be reliable to avoid office politics. Consistently letting your high-quality work speak for itself is a fantastic vanguard that prevents you from getting caught up in any political chaos. Once you’ve developed a reputation of reliability and excellence, anyone trying to instigate a political minefield will likely be the scrutinized employee.
- Be friendly and respectful to sidestep office politics. Establishing a friendly and respectful rapport with your colleagues is another way to successfully prevent any misunderstandings or confrontations, especially in highly political offices.
- Communicate clearly to manage office politics. Clear communication is critical when managing office politics, ensuring that stakeholders or peers all work in the same direction. It’s also a good idea to back up your conversations and meetings with emails copied to pertinent individuals.
- Keep meticulous records to protect against office politics. There may be situations when someone blames you for their mistake. Keeping meticulous work records can save you from a world of trouble. Many organizations use project management software or work management solutions, but they don’t always capture day-to-day activities. A work record provides a paper trail for every project’s start date, reasons for delays and completion status – all of which provide context if someone questions your work. With a record that includes dates, deliverables and activities for every project stage, the cold, hard data provides a clear picture of the process.
Surviving and moving ahead amid office politics
Office politics is all about power – and those with less power are more affected. Still, every employee can develop the skills to survive and navigate their career path. Social astuteness, networking, interpersonal influence and sincerity can help professionals navigate tricky situations and achieve their goals.
Unfortunately, negative office politics is a daily reality in many offices, and it can be a workplace confidence killer. Managers may be tempted to ride out adverse situations that arise from office politics and hope they blow over. However, this is a mistake that can harm morale and productivity. Leaders must respond to challenging situations and actively work to encourage a positive workplace culture that minimizes politicking.
By improving communications and resolving situations tactfully and diplomatically, management can better support workers at every level.
Chad Brooks contributed to this article.