Office Politics

What are office politics?

Office politics is a collective term for employee behavior that is used to gain personal advantage that has a negative impact on the organization. Office politics can encompass a spectrum of behavior. They range from annoying and childish to straight up dishonest.

Office politics can become destructive unless management, Human Resources, and employees make a conscious effort to limit their influence.

How do destructive office politics affect work culture?

Office politics influence company culture in multiple ways:

  • Minimal employee engagement
  • Increased absenteeism due to health issues
  • Lower productivity
  • Lack of unity and common purpose
  • Higher turnover
  • A negative company reputation
  • Unfavorable online employee/former employee reviews

How can Human Resources limit the impact of office politics?

Human Resources can prevent office politics from becoming destructive. In fact, HR is best equipped to foster a positive and productive work environment. Limiting the effect of office politics should be a priority.

1. Create and document your plan

Outline your program and what you wish to achieve. Think of a catchy name that puts a positive spin on it. Most organizations would categorize it as an engagement program.

Explain in detail what you will do. Include a timeline. Describe what you expect from the executive team, managers, and rank and file employees. You will need this for the next step.

2. Get approval from your higher ups

Before you start, get approval. Whomever you report to needs to understand exactly what you will be doing.

3. Roll out your program

It’s time to kick off your program:

  • Introduce your program
  • Outline the objectives
  • Explain what each employee needs to do
  • Explain what each manager needs to do
  • Explain what you will do
  • Describe how a successful outcome will benefit them

4. Survey employees to identify office politics that are destructive

You probably have a sense of what’s going on. But you need input from everyone. Survey all employees from the executive team to the newest hires. You can do this in person or with an online survey.

In addition, provide a way to give feedback anonymously. They will be more candid. This will yield valuable information. Many HRMS or HR portals have anonymous suggestion boxes.

In addition to asking what’s wrong, ask for solutions. Behavioral dynamics are complex. You need all the suggestions you can get. Some of the solutions may be surprisingly straightforward. Plus, your employees will appreciate the fact that you asked them.

5. Define policies around pain points

When you have feedback, you can create policies. What are the employees’ concerns? How extra work is assigned? Co-workers who sabotage projects? Employees who reveal confidential information?

You should already have policies on how promotions are granted. Plus policies on channels of communication. Enforcing these policies with transparency will prevent many problems.

Hopefully, you have a good employee handbook. There might already be policies that address the behavior. You will need to update your handbook with new policies. If employees aren’t following them, you need to educate and enforce. We will discuss this now.

6. Train employees on ethical behavior

Train employees on appropriate behavior. If you use real examples to illustrate, keep the identities anonymous. Explain the consequences for violations. Create a way for employees to report violations anonymously.

7. Hold managers accountable for equitable policies

Share the findings of your surveys with your managers.  If they aren’t on board, it will be impossible to improve the environment. If they are showing favoritism, this has to stop. Make sure managers know performance reviews will be tied, in part, to how well they minimize office politics within their teams.

Encourage managers to create a formal recognition program for each one on their team. If each team member’s work is recognized consistently, it will go a long way to foster mutual appreciation.

Work with managers to create company-wide unity. Outline goals the entire staff can work toward. You will have a more unified workforce.

If managers don’t model appropriate behavior, use progressive discipline. If they continue to violate, you need them out of your organization.

See also

Additional resources

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