Office or organizational politics, which involves actions by individuals which are directed toward the goal of furthering their own self-interests without regard for the well-being of others or their organization (Barling 2005) , seems to be an integral and inevitable part of the workplace (Cornerstone Business Solutions 2004) – about 40% of workers rated their office as being political in nature (Robert Half Finance and Accounting n.d.).
It is clear a stigma regarding office politics exists. Through class discussions (the case of Todd Williams: Finance in the middle) and our prescribed course material (Robbins and Judge, 2013), we were told that organizational politics were undesirable have various highly negative effects, which include:
1) Decreased job satisfaction
2) Increased anxiety and stress (Scott 2012)
3) Increased turnover (Byrne 2005)
4) Reduced performance (Bajpai 2004)
It is no surprise, then, that most managements take a dim view of organizational politics (Christiansen, Villanova and Mikulay 1997). Nonetheless, is this view really justified? An increasing number of papers have shown that having organizational politics is not necessarily detrimental to a company.
(click image to enlarge) Source: Rosen, Chang & Levy
Christiansen et al. (1997) developed the Political Influence Compatibility (PIC) model. PIC refers to the fit between a person’s orientation towards influence tactics and the political climate in an organization. Generally, higher PIC values have corresponded with increased satisfaction with co-workers, trust in management, self-perception and procedural fairness. PIC values were also negatively correlated with the amount of conflict within the organization.
Furthermore, in the same study, it was determined that the type of political climate mattered greatly as well. Generally, use of reason and ingratiation led to more favorable work attitudes while coalition formation and upward appeals have had the opposite effect. (Christiansen, Villanova and Mikulay 1997)
(click image to enlarge) Source: Rosen, Chang & Levy
Rosen, Chang and Levy also highlight that the effect organizational politics have on organizational citizenship behaviors (defined as organizational-benefiting discretionary behaviors that are not part of the job description but are done as a personal choice on the part of the employee) are moderated by personality characteristics. High self-monitors generally recognize what behaviors are required in the workplace, and adapt to fit the situation. An example would be engaging in more OCBs as part of an impression management tactic. On the other hand, low self-monitors might not perform as well in highly politicized environments because they are socially less effective, and their lack of understanding of political behavior in an organization could cause them to view it as threatening (Rosen, Chang and Levy n.d.).
Self-monitoring, however, is not significant enough on its own. Besides being able to identify what behaviors are required, the ability to actually engage in these behaviors depends on personality dispositions. Agreeable people generally find it easier because they can carry out OCBs and other impression management tactics genuinely and without much emotional labor.
Such research implies that organizational politics does not have to be the negative force it is so often made out to be. Rather, the negative effects on employees (stress and anxiety & decreased job satisfaction) and organizations (high turnovers & lack of OCBs) can be minimized, while benefits such as OCBs and favorable work attitudes can be inculcated. Since organizational politics are likely to be present in every organization, let us examine what we can do to ensure this happens.
Based on the above discussion, here are some of my recommendations for organizations:
1) When screening, look for good fits: As determined by Christansen’s PIC framework, it is important to ensure that there is a compatibility between a company’s political climate and the individual’s orientation towards political influence. As such, the screening process has to account for the preferences of the individual with regards to the working environment This can be done by inquiring about the political styles and perceptions of potential employees, as well as adequately informing them of the current political climate of the company.
2) Look at personality traits when assessing potential employees: Taking the previous recommendation a step further, it is important to note that personality traits – particularly agreeableness and self-monitoring – are important as well. Should the company in question possess a highly political climate, it is essential that employees have high degrees of both aforementioned traits.
3) Create an environment that has a positive political climate: Adopt measures to create a favorable political culture centered around data and reason. It has been proven that data-driven politicking results in less dissatisfaction among employees due to a perception of higher organizational justice (Larsen n.d.).
From an employee’s perspective, there are some measures which could be adapted as well:
1) Self-improvement measures: While many aspects of personality cannot be changed, some measures to make one more adept to working in political climates can be undertaken. These include impression management or self-monitoring courses designed to make participants more politically aware and socially competent.
2) Finally, the onus is on the individual to look for a company which has an environment that they are comfortable with. While companies do have responsibilities with regards to screening the right individuals, these potential employees have to be honest, self-aware, and diligent in researching on the company to ensure the environment would best suit their needs.
Bajpai, Naval. “Sectorial comparison of factors influencing job satisfaction in Indian banking sector.” Singapore Management Review, 2004.
Barling, Julian. Handbook of Work Stress. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE , 2005.
Byrne, Zinta. “Fairness Reduces the Negative Effects of Organizational Politics on Turnover Intentions, Citizenship Behavior and Job Performance.” Journal of Business and Psychology, 2005: 175-200.
Christiansen, Neil, Peter Villanova, and Shawn Mikulay. “Political Influcence Compatibility: fitting the person to the climate.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 1997: 709-730.
Cornerstone Business Solutions. Office politics: You’ll just have to deal with them. 2004. http://www.cornerstoneresults.com/RefLib/KnlgeBk/hr_gen_office_politics.htm (accessed April 25, 2014).
Larsen, James. “Organizational Politics.” Business Politics.
Robert Half Finance and Accounting. Office Politics. http://rhfa.mediaroom.com/file.php/1509/Office+Politics+August+2012.gif (accessed April 20, 2014).
Rosen, Chang, and Levy. “Personality and politics perceptions: A new conceptualization and illustration using OCBs.” Handbook of organizational politics.
Scott, Elizabeth. How can i deal with a difficult co-worker? March 19, 2012. http://stress.about.com/od/officepolitics/f/coworker.htm (accessed April 25, 2014).