Written by Dr Valeria Lo Iacono
Dealing with office politics is essential as a business owner or human resources department, given that it can interfere with the efficiency of the business. Furthermore, office politics can be the cause of a negative workplace atmosphere and result in employees leaving or staying but being unhappy.
Given the cost of re-training new hire employees, or managing unhappy employees who stay, finding techniques to reduce the negative effects of office politics is essential in every business.
In this post below are seven tips for dealing with office politics!
What Is Office Politics?
Office politics can be defined as the strategies and maneuvers employed by individuals to gain power and influence within an organization. It is often seen as a negative force, as it can lead to conflict and infighting among employeesDr Paul Symonds, 2018
Office politics often arises when there is a perceived power struggle between employees or departments.
This can happen when employees feel they are not being given the same opportunities or resources, or when there is a difference in opinion on how the work should be done.
Office politics can also be used positively, to build relationships and networks that can help further one’s career.
It can also be used to create positive change within an organization, by bringing different groups together to work towards a common goal.
When used negatively, office politics can lead to a toxic work environment and can damage employee morale.
When you consider that 29% think that office politics affects their efforts to achieve their goals at work and that 56% of employees in another study reported that office politics affected their productivity, the importance of limiting negative impacts that result from office politics becomes clearer.
So, what can we do to overcome issues related to negative office politics and create a more positive and productive work environment?
1. Encourage Open Communication
You need to ensure that employees feel comfortable communicating with each other.
Encourage them to speak up if they have concerns or suggestions and facilitate this openness, especially if you are a manager.
One system I particularly liked when I experienced it in a company recently, is the idea of having a Monday morning open meeting.
In this meeting, you encourage everyone to air any ideas, thoughts, issues, and anything they wish to.
As a manager or team leader though, this openness extends to the idea of creating a psychologically safe work environment.
Furthermore, you will want to have an open-door policy. Your employees should feel comfortable to be able to approach you at any time when they need to.
In essence, you are looking to create a workplace that is psychologically safe.
What this means is that your employees feel comfortable and able to open up and do so without any fear of reprisal or punishment.
As a manager, having an understanding of psychological safety and techniques you can use, can aid you in creating a positive work environment.
2. Treat Everyone with Equal Respect
A common mistake that many ambitious souls make when trying to rise through a company is to focus too much attention on specific managers and people higher up in the chain.
It is surprising though how often your peers and those who might be lower than you in the pecking order in the business, can themselves also rise to prominence over time.
The safest and best strategy and positive way to always be, is to treat everyone in the company with equal respect.
Think long-term and be aware that Janette on reception might one day be your boss or a senior manager herself too and someone who might influence your future!
3. Create a Transparent Workplace
Making information easily accessible can greatly reduce a lot of gossip and other issues that otherwise occur from poor information being provided.
Disseminating information should be made easier for your employees. To do this, some things you can do include to:
- Make use of the team meetings to pass on key and useful information
- Use the Intranet to post useful information
- Do not be afraid to call an impromptu meeting if you can pass on information that will take the sting out of what otherwise becomes gossip.
- Try and work with HR where possible to make the induction (onboarding) such that everything a new employee needs to know is provided (i.e., with a good information pack and a mentor for the first week or month).
Gossip is one of the most common forms of office politics and it can be quite detrimental if the wrong type of rumor spreads and is left uncontrolled.
One great example is when a rumor of planned job cuts spreads through a company and there is nothing said by management before or after the rumors to either confirm or dispel the gossip.
In this scenario, provided it is realistic to be able to do so, you could be open about difficulties in the company but use it as an opportunity to explain everything you are doing, or what the HR department is doing to try and solve the problem.
4. Foster a Collaborative Work Environment
In order to create a positive office political environment, it is a good idea also to encourage employees to work together and help each other out. This will help to build trust and respect.
Push problem-solving skills as opposed to the blame game!
As a manager, there is a right and wrong way to approach dealing with mistakes and issues that arise.
The positive way, which leads to a more unified and happier team, is to get your team to use problem-solving techniques for overcoming issues and finding solutions.
The wrong way to deal with issues that arise is to do nothing and allow different employees to blame each other and let a culture of negativity fester in the team.
Also, take the time to really learn about each person’s skills and talent in your team.
Without taking the time to really understand your team, it can be hard to fully know the best way in which you can fully and best utilize their skills and talents and the best way to get them working together.
Some of these skills will be leadership skills, and speaking skills, whilst other skills might be related to IT skills, interpersonal skills, or direct job-related skills.
The key point here is that in addition to observing the work that is completed, you also need to use your ears and eyes to fully appreciate the skillsets that exist in your team.
It can also be worth spending a little bit of time as a manager, to try and work out who the influential players are within your team or company.
Team building days are incredibly good for gathering valuable information as a manager.
At the start of team building games, you can allow the employees to form their own groups as a team say when they must form teams of 4 or 6.
You can instantly observe (and document if you wish) which people group with each other.
Likewise, who then takes control in a group, and who sits quietly? What roles do people automatically take on?
Team building days that take place outside of the office are particularly good because the out-of-office experience (and generally more relaxed atmosphere) can provide you with a chance to see how participants react in a different environment.
5. Promote Healthy Competition
A little healthy competition can be motivating and can help to increase productivity and it can help employees focus on something other than negative office politics.
However, make sure that the competition is fair and that everyone has a chance to win.
i) Targets and Rewards
You might wish (if practical) to offer a reward of some kind for the team that meets a certain goal.
Even small rewards such as a book voucher can be surprisingly popular.
ii) Ensure the right people get promotions
In office politics, things will always happen that do not seem fair to someone and when it comes to promotion, this can sometimes be the case.
In order though, to create the right workplace atmosphere, at least in your team, you need to be seen as someone who treats everyone equally and fairly.
The best way to ensure promotions go to the right people is by sticking to a checklist that you follow in making decisions when promoting people.
iii) Create the right teams
Your delegation skills are important when it comes to creating healthy competition between teams, as you will want to give some balance to the teams (the teams might be pairs of people working together or might be large teams of 10+ people).
You might want to separate the most competitive people into separate teams (if practical) so that each group has a person who instills motivation into the team.
Furthermore, you will want each team to feel that they have the resources and skills within their team to do the work/task at hand and have a fair chance to succeed.
6. Create an Inclusive Environment
Creating an inclusive work environment is essential for managing office politics!
Why? It is when employees are unhappy, stressed, feeling neglected, etc. that they tend to become involved in the negative politics that pollute the office atmosphere.
Employees who feel valued, a part of the team, and well-treated, are far less likely to engage in negative gossip, backstabbing, and many of the negative traits associated with office politics.
Inclusive leadership involves ensuring that EVERYONE feels included including those who:
- Are a different age group to most other employees (and thus they feel left out)
- Suffering a disability or have accessibility issues
- Come from a different cultural or ethnic background from most other employees
- Are shy and quiet
In fact, inclusivity is aimed at making us ALL feel united and a part of the team.
7. Improve Your Interpersonal Skills
If you manage others and want to create a positive political office atmosphere, there are also CORE interpersonal skills that you can really benefit from being trained in.
- Develop Your Conflict Management Skills – There are certain techniques you can use to diffuse situations. Doing this for minor conflicts can avoid much bigger issues later on between your employees. Good conflict management will often greatly reduce negativeness in your team.
- Listening Skills – As a manager of others, it is vital also to understand how to be a great listener. This is not something that comes naturally to most of us as we tend to be too focused on what we want to say.
- Assertiveness Skills – knowing when and how to be assertive but without bullying is essential as a leader. Get it wrong and your staff can begin to turn against you. Get it right and it is the chance to create a positive team atmosphere.
- Non-verbal communication – We give off so much information from our body language and mannerisms that it can be invaluable to understand how this impacts how our employees see us.
Office Politics: Case Study Examples
It can be useful to understand how to actually implement solutions for office politics. So, let’s look at 2 case study examples below:
1. Communication Transparency Case Study
Scenario: Information in an office in a college was often selectively shared, leading to rumors and mistrust among colleagues.
Solution: A senior manager was aware of the issue of rumors and mistrust among colleagues after doing some annual meetings with employees. As a result, the manager decided to establish regular team meetings to share updates, decisions, and goals, to ensure that they are shared transparently.
Outcome: The result was improved transparency, which built trust among employees and reduced the spread of rumors.
The colleagues quite quickly began to feel more relaxed and less anxious about rumors and of being left out. In this college, staff now seem to work together much more cohesively.
2. The Inclusive Decision-Making Process Case Study
Scenario: In the marketing department of a large travel company, a major advertising campaign needed to be decided upon. The issue though was that only a select few senior team members tended to ever have a say in the decision.
Solution: Martin, a senior manager, decided to implement a more inclusive decision-making process by involving representatives from different teams and experience levels. He organized for open brainstorming sessions to take place and, as a result of feedback from a broader group, some great and innovative ideas evolved.
Outcome: This new approach has led to diverse perspectives and better decision-making. Team morale has improved as employees feel heard and more valued.
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