Office Politics 101

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!

 

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References:

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

 

 

Money, Money, Money

Previously, we discussed money as a motivator, explored its meaning and the importance ascribed to money. Today, lets take this discussion further because, let’s be honest, money is a hot topic!

Jessie J goes “it’s not about the money money money…” in the song Price Tag

In fact, many studies support this notion that indeed, not everything is about money when it comes to work. A study aimed at exploring the relationship between pay and job satisfaction also found that employees earning high salaries only reported similar job satisfaction with those who earned much lesser (Judge, Piccolo, Podsakoff, Shaw & Rich, 2010). The same can be said for employee engagement, as research shows that there is no significance difference in employee engagement by pay level (Blacksmith & Harter, 2011). Even in sales organizations, money is not the main motivator for the top performers who earn the highest commission. Rather, it is beating the competitor that drives them. In addition, higher financial rewards actually lead to lower or worse performance. Surprisingly, paying an employee too much have a negative effect on their work performance (Sundheim, 2013).

However, when Meja goes “it’s all about the money….” in the song All About The Money, one cannot help but to think that using money as a motivator has its merits too.

Firstly, money is easily the most ‘far-reaching’ option in the sense that it appeals to every one and motivates the lowest grade employee all the way to the highest-level CEO. Therefore, many companies give out companywide bonuses that apply to all employees every year. It is simple, fast and serves as a good motivator for all. Secondly, money also offers a wide variety of options in terms how to use it. It can be given out as cash rewards, gift certificates, special bonuses, and commissions etc. Hence, money, with its flexibility and versatility, is one of the best options from the company’s point of view (Belcher, n.d.). Lastly, it is noted that money is the only factor that can motivate people to work in a harmful or toxic environment.

After exploring both the pros and cons of using money as a motivator, the only song that resonates with me seems to be ABBA’s “money money money, must be funny…”

Indeed, we have a “funny” relationship with money. As soon-to-be graduates, when someone asks us what do we look for in a job, we will think of career prospect, job nature and salary. While the other factors may change, salary seems to be always a point of consideration. In a world where capability is pegged to salary, one cannot help but to see money as a form of motivation. People like to be paid what they’re worth. We want to be rewarded for our work and also work for our reward. Many a times, reward cannot be separated from money. Money is the easiest way to reward a person and it also provides instant gratification. As compared to things like ‘autonomy at work’, ‘mastery’, ‘creative freedom’ and ‘purpose’, money (cold hard cash!) is much more tangible and visible. It is no wonder that money remains as the most “tried and tested” way to motivate a person.

However, I also do agree that money can only motivate a person to a certain extent. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger once mentioned “money doesn’t make you happy. I now have 50 million but I was just as happy when I had 48 million.” Even though this is an extreme example, it brings out the point that money only works until a certain level before its effectiveness plateau.

Despite all the studies showing that money is not the best motivator, many companies are still using it as the main form of reward and compensation. Therefore, I think the essential question we have to answer is not whether money is a good motivator, but rather: what are some other ways a company can reward or motivate employees fairly?

Personally, I think that even though money is not the main and sole motivator, it is definitely one of the essential components that will keep people motivated. And now, I’m ready to write the next hit single entitled “Money is something but not everything”.

References

Belcher, L. The Advantages of Using Money to Motivate EmployeesSmall Business – Chron.com. Retrieved 25 February 2015, from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/advantages-using-money-motivate-employees-22056.html

Blacksmith, N., & Harter, J. (2011). Majority of American Workers Not Engaged in Their Jobs.Gallup.com. Retrieved 25 February 2015, from http://www.gallup.com/poll/150383/majority-american-workers-not-engaged-jobs.aspx

Judge, T. A., Piccolo, R. F., Podsakoff, N. P., Shaw, J. C., & Rich, B. L. (2010). The relationship between pay and job satisfaction: A meta-analysis of the literature. Journal of Vocational Behavior77(2), 157-167.

Sundheim, K. (2013). What Really Motivates Employees?Forbes. Retrieved 25 February 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kensundheim/2013/11/26/what-really-motivates-employees/