Organisational Politics (OPs) are BAD for organisations in general. Why?
As discussed in class, OPs are generally viewed as dysfunctional behaviours in organisations. In highly political settings, employees tend to demonstrate illegitimate political behaviours like coalition building and spreading rumours to protect or enhance their self-interests, often not in line with organisational goals. Political work environments adversely influence individual-level work attitudes and behaviours in workplaces. It can increase employees’ anxiety and work-related stress, which then adversely affects their performance at work.
But are OPs always BAD?
According to Kacmar & Baron (1999), OPs play a significant role in organisational effectiveness and efficiency through its influence on performance evaluation, resource allocation and managerial decision making. In contrast to pessimistic POP, employees can exhibit political activities in favour of organisations. For instance, “competent” political managers may be able to build strong social capital and help channel necessary resources to achieve their divisional goal. Moreover, others argue that constructive political behaviours can facilitate organisational change by bringing together dissimilar interests of various stakeholders.
Having examined both sides of the story, you might wonder ‘So is OP good or bad for organisations after all?’
Let’s focus on the word, ‘PERCEPTION’…
As the word suggests, the impacts of OPs on individuals and organisations depend on how one perceives political organisations. Who thinks political activities are acceptable and justifiable? How would their behaviours differ in response to OPs?
- Gender Differences
A study done by Kacmar, Bachrach, Harris and Zivnuska (2011) showed that male employees were more responsive to organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB) when OP and ethical leadership were high. In contrast, female participants were more likely to engage in OCB when the workplace is consistently ethical and apolitical. Extending this line of argument, women are more emotional than male counterparts. They value interpersonal relationships and tend to hold negative POP as it hinders social interactions. On the other hand, men are driven by career advancements and view OP as another means to gain power and recognition. As such, they are more likely to be supportive of a certain degree of OP.
- Cultural Background
Based on Hofstede’s 5 dimensions of culture, Asian cultures generally have high power distance index (PDI) compared to European countries. High PDI expresses the degree to which employees with or without power accept and expect unequal distribution of power. For example, a Chinese employee may regard OPs as something that is acceptable and “normal” in organisations. In light of cultural aspect, he/she may not respond negatively to POP. However, it is important to note that we should not generalise cultural behaviours as the meaning of national culture is becoming more convoluted these days. Instead, it is one of the ways to which we can attribute our behaviours.
- Organisational Factors
Organisational culture characterised by low trust and self-serving senior managers may contribute to high level of political behaviours among employees. One might feel the need to exhibit similar behaviours to feel accepted by others. An interesting study done by Keizer and colleagues (2008) on subliminal influence reveals that when surrounded by illegitimate behaviours, we subconsciously tend to display similar behaviours, thinking it may be alright since others have done it too.
Moreover, I strongly believe that one’s POP depends on his/her level of status within the organisation. A person who sits in middle to top management would view OPs positively because they can benefit more from them (i.e. retaining/ acquiring more authority). However, someone from lower level may feel disadvantaged in highly political environment because it takes away the little power they have and may eventually leave the organisation. However, there is another interesting finding from Eran Vigoda (2000) that highly educated employees are more willing to resign if they see high OPs in a negative light as they may have more opportunities elsewhere.
Implications for organisations…
As discussed, there are various aspects that shape our POP concurrently. Hence, there is a need for deeper understanding of what constitutes our perception. Since OPs are integral part of organisational life, it is crucial for managers to find a right balance.
Will rules and regulations help lay out clear guidelines in which how OPs should be exercised in the organisation? Reactance theory begs to differ from this view. James Pennebaker and Deborah Sanders studied how people behaved when they were prohibited to do something. Generally, people were more likely to do things that they were told not to.
So what is the best way? As mentioned previously, our behaviours are also largely influenced by what is around us. Hence, inculcating appropriate use of OPs in managers (i.e. role model) is fundamental.
- Be transparent
- Always look out for the interest of the organisation
- Try and find common grounds
- Communicate persuasively
- Establish networks across divisions
- Tweak your approach depending on whom you talk to
The relationship between perceptions of organisational politics and employee attitudes, strain, and behaviour: A meta-analytic examination By Chang, Rosen, Levy (2009)
Organisational politics: The positive & negative sides By Cacciattolo Karen (2015)
Organizational Politics, Job Attitudes, and Work Outcomes: Exploration and Implications for the Public Sector By Eran Vigoda
Workplace Morality: Behavioral Ethics in Organizations By Muel Kaptein
How to handle office politics