Politics: it has always been the subject of much debate, much controversy, and much infighting. It has recently begun to more and more frequently invoke negative connotations associated with it. The division of power amongst a group of people has never been a pretty thing and deciding who gets to control what is the subject of endless argument which ultimately leads us to nowhere. That is the sort of culture that interprets the politics of the office space in much the same way. Whether or not you choose to involve yourself in the politics of your business, it still undoubtedly affects you in numerous ways.
Many are concerned about chiming in to offer their own opinions since their previous experiences advise them against it. Some fear retaliation and a negative impact on their job security if they choose to involve themselves. Unfortunately, all this leads to is a climate of further fear, mistrust and misunderstandings which ultimately is not a conducive work environment for anyone. In order to settle this, it’s crucial to recognize why office politics is so important, how people are affected by it, what they can do to bring about change and how can the culture be changed in order to facilitate that change?
Toxic Work Environments – Their Impact
Neither the modern day multinational corporation nor local small business exist in a bubble. They interact with the outside world and each other, so naturally they take on the features and traits of the world around them. A 2020 study by Perkbox, a UK based employee experience platform found that 79% of British adults reported experiencing work-related stress. The initial reaction might be to say: “Well, obviously.” yet the reason for this stress is far more revealing. The study also investigated causes of work-related stress and found that long working hours merely occupied 7th place in causes of work-related stress. Shockingly, work related office politics were listed as the primary cause with 37% of employees reporting it as such.
The Root of the Problem
According to an employee turnover study by Kronos, the reason for up to 50% of staff quitting their positions was burnout. At first this might be summed up as employees not seeing the opportunity in their current position in terms of advancing their careers and quitting because they don’t see themselves advancing up the company hierarchy in the future.
However, in stark contrast, a separate study by Hays Recruiting Experts Worldwide discovered that a whopping 71% of employees would accept a pay cut just to get better working conditions. A third source claimed that in reality, only 12% of employees actually left their company because of lack of pay. This is unfortunately lost in the tangled web of miscommunication in which 89% of managers believe their employees quit because they aren’t satisfied with their pay. Whether or not you choose to interpret these findings as exaggerated or not, they underline a clear lack of communication between lower, middle, and upper management.
When people’s opinions are not heard and employees don’t feel appreciated, they get frustrated and stressed. When they realize the environment in which they work will only penalize them for trying to speak up, they get burnt out and eventually, walk out the doors. 76% of employees that reported not feeling valued at work while surveyed were seeking other employment opportunities. The apparatus should not be rigid but rather fluid. Just as businesses must constantly adapt to deal with new developments in the market, so too should their internal structures.
Steps for Inducing Change
- Expand Your Social Networks
People tend to gather into small groups or cliques with people they’re comfortable with. This unfortunately means that for the majority of time, everyone else, you included, are not involved. This becomes especially more crucial when the members of that clique just happen to be the brains behind the business or the influencers of the company.
Understanding who gets along whom and for which reasons and similarly those that get along with more people and those with fewer is important. Knowing who you are more likely to get along with before you burst into the room of your serious colleague talking about the results of yesterday’s baseball match in the Rogers Centre is a good start.
- Playing the Long Game (aka. The Politician)
Being strategic with whom you get along is essential to not waste your time where it won’t make an impact. Analyzing the power structure can help you propel yourself to your destination. Being the mediator is always the more valued position rather than joining the bandwagon of picking a side.
- Promote Substance over Spectacle
An unfortunate 53% of employees have reported playing office politics to get ahead and 43% reported feigning interest in a supervisor’s story just to improve their standing at work. Actions that are taken to appease those in charge with reverence is not the ideal way to go about it. For one, it’s unproductive and secondly, it’s simply ingenuine.
To promote real relationships within company hierarchies, not feigned ones, colleagues and coworkers, superiors and staff should be free to express any and all opinions. Taking someone’s suggestion to implement a different strategy as an insult is precisely what leads to the toxic culture portrayed in the media of trickery and backstabbing.
- Developing Your People Skills
At the end of the day, people desire to feel respected and above all, appreciated. Learning to listen to other people’s perspectives, whether well received or not and making sure that they feel understood is key to promoting a stable, productive, and open work environment. No matter how hard it may seem at first, don’t assume what others believe or might think since misrepresentation paves a direct path to more mistrust and resentment. Give them the benefit of the doubt, wouldn’t you deserve the same for yourself?
- Be Real, Prove Your Worth
A study by LeadershipIQ surveying more than 30,000 employees discovered that only 15% of employees believe the company openly shares the challenges facing it and an equivalent 15% stated they understand the rationale behind their leader’s strategy. Letting your employees know what’s going on in the boardrooms, while potentially damaging to the company’s image, is however a far greater benefit in the eyes of your employees.
The way to solve office politics is not to reform it but to simply have less. As soon as people open up and efforts are made in genuine concern for the company instead of protecting one’s self image out of fear, the quicker your office space will become the most attractive job opportunity on the block.