Sigmund Freud once compared human beings to a group of hedgehogs during the winter. Hedgehogs have to stay close to each other to cope with the cold, but they have to maintain a ‘safe distance’ to prevent stinging one another with their prickly spines. This analogy accurately illustrates and explains ‘office politics’ within organisations. In essence, “you can’t go at it alone, but working with others does require some discomfort.”
Our textbook cited many individual factors and organisational factors influence political behaviours. For example, individual factors include high self-monitors, internal locus of control and organisation investment, whereas organisational factors include promotion opportunities, allocation resources and performance pressure.
Interestingly, many have argued that people engaged in office or organisation politics due to basic psychology reasons. A famous psychologist Robert Hogan identified three fundamental motives, which cause people to engage in office politics. Firstly, human has the need to get along, which fosters cooperation and makes us group-living animals. Work then provides a major environment for connection and socialisation. Secondly, there is also the need to get ahead, which results in power struggle within groups. This will inevitably cause internal competition and conflict. Lastly, groups, especially large groups such as a company, provide people a formal system for finding meaning. In the meaning making process, politics will come into play.
Many studies have shown that office politics can decrease productivity in an organisation. Politics lowers individual output, shift one’s attention away from work and some may even spend more time “back stabbing and leg pulling”. In more serious cases, it causes an individual to experience a change in attitude. Those who do not ‘win’ in these games will tend to be less motivated as they see their hard work as being unrecognised. As such, these lot of employees will not be giving their 100% at work. Politics can disturb and ‘taint’ the ambience in the company. Many also termed this as “toxic work environment” which leads to a lot of negativity in the company. Politics can cause relation to sour; dynamics to shift and even lead to high turnover rate eventually. It will inevitably cause a lot of unnecessary stress within the company that is not healthy.
And nope, I’m not trying to scare you over here (or maybe I am….), but the truth is, despite its downsides, office politics is here to stay and it’s everywhere. As undergrads and soon to be working adults, I believe that we ought to learn about office politics and be able to deal with them as we move on to the next stage. Although many may say that university does simulate some of these “politics”, the world out there is probably going to the ten times scarier than what we experienced in school. So, being the very kind and helpful classmate that I am, I will share some of my research and tips on surviving office politics for fresh graduates! You can thank me later… (Just kidding!) .
Following the rules: When you first join the company or department, be sure to pay attention and observe the office protocols. Both the formal and informal protocols are important. If you ever make a mistake, correct it and apologise quickly! Pick out what matters to the company and the people, e.g. how are decisions made, who makes the decision and how much risk is tolerated?
Build a broad ‘coalition’ of support: Try to earn the respect and trust of all your colleagues, even those at the ‘lower’ level. You’ll never know who and what they know! To do so, one has to share the credit for successes and of course deliver on one’s promises. Be nice to everyone really, even the cleaners…I’m serious!
The art of documentation: This is the best way to safeguard your own interest. If there is any ‘dangerous’ email game going on, be sure to keep a copy and archive everything. Documenting will help to build your case later on if you ever need a higher rank person or HR to step in. But again, keep it to yourself and do it discreetly.
Stay true to yourself and your values: There will always be people who will do anything to win, even if it’s against their principle. However, character, personality and credibility are timeless and will prevail. Do not resort to “dirty or underhand” methods…
At the end of the day, I think it has to do with one’s appetite for ‘politics’. As the saying goes, “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the oven.” Perhaps, if the office politics get too overwhelming, it’s time to move on to somewhere else. Having said that, I still think that one should never be afraid or try to avoid politics. It is happening everywhere and what we can do is to be observant, sensitive, conscientious and of course, genuine!
Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2014). The Underlying Psychology of Office Politics. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 24 March 2015, from https://hbr.org/2014/12/the-underlying-psychology-of-office-politics
Conner, C. (2013). Office Politics: Must You Play? A Handbook For Survival/Success. Forbes. Retrieved 24 March 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2013/04/14/office-politics-must-you-play-a-handbook-for-survivalsuccess/
Loeb, M. (2008). Six Ways to Win at Office Politics. WSJ. Retrieved 24 March 2015, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB120828086002416763
Management Study Guide,. Effect of Politics on Organization and Employees. Managementstudyguide.com. Retrieved 24 March 2015, from http://www.managementstudyguide.com/effect-of-politics.htm