Office politics, workplace politics, corporate politics… You may refer to ‘politics at work’ by a different name, but, they all mean the same thing.
The danger for a business where office politics take hold is that everybody involved becomes distracted and loses sight of the common purpose that galvanizes a team.
So how would I define office politics?
…the undermining of your authority…
…the silent sabotage of your vision and purpose…
…the backstabbing between colleagues…
…or simply individuals operating with their own agenda.
I’ve no doubt we’ve all personally experienced it or witnessed it, at some point in our career.
According to research from recruiter Adecco, one third (33%) of UK workers cite office politics as a major contributing factor to feelings of unhappiness in the workplace and such negative feelings are having a significant impact on people’s working lives.
Nearly a third (29%) of UK workers spend every Sunday dreading the coming working week and a worrying 28% of workers admit that they fear going into work so much that they have called in sick.
So, here’s my take on what should you know about office politics and more importantly, 5 strategies for dealing with it.
1. Align behind a common goal
The external market place and business arena is constantly changing, and as we know, the old rule book no longer applies.
Changing dynamics in competitors; the digital revolution, new regulatory frameworks supported by new legislation (the list could go on) means business is tough enough… and that’s just looking through our external lens.
If you’re distracted by internal fighting, you lose sight of your common goal and purpose.
If the leadership team or department heads or those involved in office politics are not on page, what chance do the rest of the employees, customers, strategic partners or key stakeholder groups have in understanding what you stand for?
You’ve taken your eye of the ball, but I can guarantee you, your competitors haven’t.
If everyone is aligned behind a common goal and purpose you can move mountains. In good times, it can focus the business, reinforcing the goal and ambition; in touch times, it offers an inspirational focal point to keep pushing on, in the knowledge that together you’re pursuing a goal worth achieving.
2. Know that empire building is short-sited
Often office politics comes down to a leader building their own empire and doing what it takes to make this happen.
Your second in command may be a wizard at his or her craft and produce high volumes of excellent work, but if he or she isn’t aligned to the needs of the overall business, it will ultimately work against them, rather than for them.
If your operations manager has an excellent eye for back-end processing systems but fails to brief the customer service teams on changes to the customer experience, the same thing applies.
Have you ever heard the saying ‘If you give someone enough rope, they’ll hang themselves’?
If someone has the freedom to behave badly, he or she will eventually be found out. Either by their own doing or certainly by the output of their doing.
This might mean you need to play the long game, but having in place strong governance and policies, key performance indicators and performance objectives will make it difficult for those making politically inspired decisions.
3. Challenge the de-railing behaviours
Culture is the central nervous system for your entire organisation. It sets the beliefs, attitude and values for all those working there.
If your company culture is being undermined by a handful of perpetrators then, in my view, this has the biggest impact of all. Not least to the parties directly involved, but on a wider scale as employees, not directly impacted, stand back, observe the actions and wait to see the consequences.
Clearly if politically-driven behaviours which are not congruent with your culture are dealt with, then all is good in the world. The challenge occurs when these types of de-railing behaviours are not dealt with.
The central nervous system of the organisation takes a hit and the ramifications can be far reaching; reduced moral, demotivated employees, decrease in productivity, employee attrition…you get my point.
4. Acknowledge your emotional wellbeing
Being on the receiving end of office politics can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, anger and resentment. Whilst this emotional vacuum may be gradual, it is very real.
Adecco’s research cited an additional third of UK workers (36%) would consider leaving their employer due to such severe anxiety and one in ten (9%) have already taken that step due to such overwhelming feelings of unhappiness.
A happy workplace is good for productivity and helps you to retain good employees. If office politics is undermining staff happiness, you need to tackle it before it damages your business.
Your personal emotional wellbeing has a strong influence on your capability to do you your job. It fuels your performance, when it’s low, your performance is lacklustre.
5. Boost your resilience to help navigate the politics
Sometimes in life you don’t realise how resilient you can be until you are tested. If it doesn’t come naturally, there are ways to boost your resilience.
There are many arguments as to what makes one individual more resilient than the next, and in my experience, it comes down to three key ingredients;
- A unique ability to confront reality head on,
- An unwavering belief that life is purposeful, and
- An uncanny ability to improvise and adapt.
Ultimately, office politics benefits no-one. Even the individual who thinks they are benefitting. The power is in the ‘whole’ organisation, aligned and working together. Make this happen and you will have one powerful energy source.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Royston Guest. He is CEO of Pti Worldwide, author of #1 best-selling business growth book, Built to Grow and founder of livingyourfuture™ and a global authority on growing businesses and unlocking people potential. Connect with him on LinkedIn or check out his weekly blog at RoystonGuest.com/blog
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