Office Politics Never Die!
                                By Chelse Benham

"Office politics is the only game you automa...
Herman Consulting, a human development firm in San Francisco, California, has
identified the cost of conflict in organizat...
Keep the door open. Political tensions are often fueled by insecurity. Avoid high-
profile, closed-door meetings when poss...
Do unrandom acts of kindness. For example, stay late one night to help a co-
worker on a deadline. Or send a handwritten t...
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Office politics never die


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Office politics never die

  1. 1. Office Politics Never Die! By Chelse Benham "Office politics is the only game you automatically lose by not playing." Susan Osborn, an office-politics columnist for High Technology Careers Magazine. A ground breaking study conducted by Carol Watson and Richard Hoffman in 1996 called, " Managers as Negotiators" in Leadership Quarterly 7 (1), showed that 42 percent of a manager's time was spent on reaching agreement with others when conflicts occur between employees. This type of interaction is the basis of much unpleasant politicking; conflict between employees. Politics isn’t bad in all its forms. In general, politics is the use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control. – Random House College Dictionary However, adverse or negative office affairs take a toll on employee morale and can ultimately lead to higher staff turnover. They also consume a significant amount of time. In a more recent study, commissioned by The Creative Group Web site in its article called, “Putting Out Fires” released on April 15, 2001, it found that executives estimated that they spent a total of nine weeks a year resolving personality conflicts! “There are two ways information flows through a company; formal and informal. How a company handles this sharing of information is crucial to the workplace. The formal channels are through chain-of-command, memorandums, office forms and formal discussions such as meetings,” said Dr. Rafael Balderrama, lecturer of sociology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at The University of Texas-Pan American. “Then there is an informal sharing of information. It is more difficult to make sense of because it is more complicated. A lot of informal information is passed along through the ‘grapevine’ known as gossip or network. It is sensitive to abuse in the sense that someone in possession of information may use it for personal gain or to take revenge on someone else. This is a form of negative politicking.” Net Future Institute (NFI) Research found at, a United States based research firm that identifies and analyzes trends and attitudes in business and organizational management, found three reasons why most negative office politics occur. The research found most office politics turn ugly because of personality conflicts, gossip and a company’s short-term vision for its future. “Each company has its own culture with its own means of sharing information. There are many ways information can be used. In cooperative settings there is an inter-organizational sharing of information. This is part of the problem solving process,” Balderrama said. “But, managers should be aware of the informal communications taking place. They need to know if it is being abused and monitor the negative politicking taking place. They need to act quickly to address the situation.”
  2. 2. Herman Consulting, a human development firm in San Francisco, California, has identified the cost of conflict in organizational management. It lists seven costs to companies on They are: Time Spent by Managers Attempting to Address Conflict – Nearly 45 percent of managerial salaries are being diverted for managing conflict. Decreased Decision Quality (Collective Productivity) – Collective productivity in the form of decisional quality is also impaired during conflict. Decisions made in conflict-laden situations are typically inferior to decisions made in contexts of cooperation. The reasons are two-fold. First, good decision-making requires sufficient and dependable information. But under conditions of conflict, information is often withheld or distorted. Second, decisions made jointly by people or teams in conflict are likely to be contaminated by the power struggles present. Employee Turnover – Conflict is one of the primary reasons employees leave organizations. Employee turnover poses an onerous cost to organizations. This is because of such constituent costs as (1) the lost productivity of departing employees; (2) the lost productivity of vacant positions pending the hiring of replacements; (3) the costs of recruiting and selecting replacements; and (4) the costs of training replacements. Decreased Individual Productivity Due to Distraction – Conflict inflicts a further productivity loss by being so emotionally charged and therefore distracting. Conflict tends to pose threats to both self-worth and relationships with colleagues – both of which are key preoccupations for most employees. The resultant high level of distraction diverts employee attention from their tasks at hand. Reduced Employee Motivation – Conflict decreases employee motivation which, in turn, reduces productivity even further. If the conflict is with one’s boss, the reduced motivation may take the form of passive resistance to direction. The boss will then notice that "nothing seems to get done." Absenteeism – Absenteeism results from job stress. And one of the greatest job stressors is conflict. The employee’s absence might be due to a conscious decision to retreat from the stress (conflict) or it might be due to actual illness. Illness itself is highly correlated with stress and, thus, with conflict. Accordingly, reducing conflict will reduce stress, illness and overall absenteeism. Increased Health Costs – As just noted, illness correlates with stress and therefore with conflict. Increased illness results in higher health insurance claim rates and thus higher company insurance premiums. These increased costs are avoidable. If the costs are so high how can a manager handle the conflict between employees and thus reduce the consequences? In its article, “Reduce Office Politics,” Webgrrls International Web site provides managers with straightforward strategies for handling office affairs. They are:
  3. 3. Keep the door open. Political tensions are often fueled by insecurity. Avoid high- profile, closed-door meetings when possible. They can give rise to unhealthy speculation. Instead, try to keep your employees apprised of the latest happenings in your department and at your firm. Emphasize integrity. Just one dishonest employee can generate significant office tension. Hire with an eye toward integrity. Ask prospective employees' references about their applicants' ethics and honesty, and emphasize the strong value you place on these traits with your staff at every opportunity. Eliminate office rivalry. A certain amount of healthy competition can be a strong motivator, but too much competition can be divisive. Carefully consider your work environment. Does the level of competition discourage your employees from collaborating for the greater good of the company? Do workers feel they are judged not by their individual merits but by how they compare with the person sitting next to them? These are warning signs that competition is becoming counterproductive. Reward team results. Publicly recognize groups as well as individuals to motivate and inspire. Praising the entire team reinforces the message that collaboration is essential to success. Avoid creating the "Lone Superstar." The strongest individual achievers should also be able to work well with others. Make sure the rules of business etiquette apply to all employees equally, regardless of status. "It's not my job" attitudes lie at the root of many politically charged situations. Watch for burnout. An office filled with employees who are overworked or overburdened is ripe for conflict. Stress tends to make people less patient, less receptive and less compromising. Keep your employees' workloads at reasonable levels, even if that means bringing in outside help, and try to ensure that assignments are evenly distributed. Often, the most competent employees will be the first to burnout, since they tend to be given more than their fair share of the work. Use humor to your advantage. A little humor on the job can ease stress and promote camaraderie. Just make sure jokes aren't offensive or at the expense of others. Take active steps to gauge morale. Check in with employees regularly and offer your help in solving problems. Be sure workers feel comfortable approaching management with their concerns. Clear, two-way communication can help identify and diffuse potentially serious conflicts. As on of the nation's experts on both career and education issues, Dr. Marty Nemko, author of “Cool Careers for Dummies,” provides valuable information for handling office politics. In his article, “Winning at Office Politics...Without Selling Your Soul” found at he offers effective strategies for employees involved in negative politics. They are: Periodically ask respected higher-ups for counsel. That encourages them to think of you as a protégé. In turn, they're more likely to come to your defense when you need it.
  4. 4. Do unrandom acts of kindness. For example, stay late one night to help a co- worker on a deadline. Or send a handwritten thank-you note to the person who gave you assistance. Do visible important tasks. If such tasks aren't in your job description, ask if you can take one on. Be sure you are credited for the work. If you are being undermined, Nemko has outlined some significant strategies for handling the saboteur and playing the game of positive politics. His suggestions are: 1. Get feedback from a supporter. Say something like, "I'm concerned that Mary is annoyed with me. Have you noticed that? Anything you think I should do?" 2. Respond with strength. If your saboteur tries to put you down, especially in front of others, don't wimp out; make a strong response, perhaps using humor. 3. Privately confront the backstabber. For example, "I've noticed that you seem annoyed with me? Is there anything I'm doing wrong?" If you get useful feedback, fine. Thank her and offer to work on improving. If, however, you sense that her reason for annoyance is unjustified, you need to be strong. For example, you might say, "Mary, you're withholding key information from me. Things have to change starting now or I'll have to go to the boss." 4. Inoculate yourself. Tell others that you're concerned that (insert perpetrator's name), for selfish gain, is unfairly trying to denigrate you. Point to specific evidence of unfairness or you may be perceived as the backstabber. “Politics isn't about winning at all costs. It's about maintaining relationships and getting results at the same time.” – John Eldred, business professor at Kingston University