HR Misery Blog

Workplace politics defined…….and how to keep them from killing you, your department and your company.

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Interestingly, there does not appear to be a single definition for this concept of “office politics” in academia. Yet we all seem to know too well what it is when we see it. After considerable thought and research, we will present the following definition for your review:

Office politics: Is when individuals or groups engage in activity for the realization of personal gain (for one or many) at the expense of the organization and it’s goals.

Normally, we associate the term “office politics” with some work place action that has benefited someone other than ourselves. Frequently someone got a job, a better shift or a transfer that we wanted and likely deserved more than others. In it’s most basic form, office politics is a selfish act. One that often has huge costs and negative ramifications for the organization that allows it to occur. Think for a moment the costs for a bad hire or a vendor that can’t perform as needed, and the thousands, if not millions of dollars lost over the course of months or years that the decision is upheld. What makes these decisions especially difficult is that they are very difficult to verify and quantify. Rarely is there a comparison or a control group to act as a reality check and verify the dirty deed to show the organization how costly that decision actually was. Too many of these types of “political decisions” and your organization will sink into an abyss of bad decisions that could ultimately lead to unprofitability.

Here are 7 strategies to try and stomp out the politics around you:

  1. If you are a supervisor or in a position of authority, try to treat this behavior like any other performance issue and handle it accordingly. Unfortunately, if this behavior is indeed being exposed, there is the underlying concern that you may have an integrity issue with the offending employee. If you accuse someone of making a decision based on “politics” or his or her own personal interest, then the assumption is that the individual is not looking out for the best interest of the company. This will likely be a tough discussion and could end up with hurt feelings or someone having to leave the organization.
  2. Call it for what it is as soon as you see it. Let your supervisor know in objective terms why you think politics are involved. If the boss is the culprit, you’ll have to be very careful how you word things so you don’t get in his/her cross hairs. Explain what the ramifications can be over the short term and the long term.
  3. Put things in writing to clarify your position. Be diplomatic, don’t make any wild accusations, but state your case with your best facts up front. Send an email to your supervisor or someone else in authority that you trust. It may benefit you in a big way down the road if anyone questions your position at the time
  4. Use objective criteria to make your observations and decisions. You will lack credibility if you have made poor decisions, especially if you made them for personal reasons.
  5. Don’t assume you are always right or promote your agenda just because it is yours. Check with a third party if possible to make sure you are being as objective as you think you are. You might be surprised and find out that you are not correct.
  1. Be ready for the blow back. Others may resent your opinion and accuse you of bad intentions, if nothing more than as a defense mechanism to protect themselves.
  2. Perhaps most importantly, you have to be able to accept and be prepared for the possibility that the organization will allow a “political” decision stand in the face of all logic and common sense. For example, if the owner, boss or someone else in a high position wants to hire their son/daughter and they are not the most qualified candidate, there is a likely hood that nothing can change that from happening.

Do you have a “political horror story” or perhaps another suggestion for dealing with a political issue in the workplace? If so, please give us your details and how things played out.