Often in a world of rampant changes and tremendous competition, companies grapple with office politics. Every company, directly or indirectly, has traces of politics lurking around it. It’s a fact of corporate life. Pervasive and entrenched at workstations, innocent employees fall prey to the insidious trap of politics. Mediocre employees rise while competent workers languish. Eventually it’s the loss of organisation. In spite of its vicious nature, one can thrive and come out on top by following some steps. Let’s understand what really politics at workplace is.
What is Office Politics?
Office politics are strategies an individual or group plays to gain advantage at the expense of others or a company. It can make an office a challenging place to earn a living. It prevails in mostly all businesses irrespective of the business’s size, nature, number of employees etc. It not only affects productivity and morale of a company but also creates a negative impression of the company in the corporate world.
According to a study, employees in United States spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict among their peers and managers in 2008. This approximately adds up to 385 million working days lost and $250 billion in paid hours wasted in unnecessary conflicts and their resolution. And with the prevailing level of competition, a company cannot afford to lose such a large amount of man hours in resolving issues among employees and checking on politics.
How to deal with it?
A lot of times the employee who gets promoted might not be the most deserving but they certainly excel at the game of politicking. While many view politics from a negative aspect, few believe that it is essential for climbing the ladder of success in a corporation, by taking unfair advantages of authority and position in office environment.
While most companies are aware of the fact that happy workers and politics free workplace boost productivity exponentially, few have actually taken steps or imposed rules to curb it. So it isn’t surprising that companies are in a midst of an employee engagement crisis. It directly impacts a company’s culture along with loss of money.
Few steps can be undertaken in the workplace that can help top management keep a check on this.
1. Hire people with right mind set
According to Harvard Business Review, Facebook has adopted an additional criterion in its screening process. They use prompts such as ‘Describe few peers at your former company and your relationship with them’, ‘What did you do on your best day of your work’, ‘Describe situations where you have helped your subordinates in shaping their career’ etc. Now, this step is quite important as you sieve out the candidates with possible politicking traits. Moreover, people whose goals are aligned with that of your company are most likely to keep their hands away from dirty politics.
2. Promote diversity
Regionalism often ignites the spark of the wild fire named office politics. People at senior posts might support and promote employees of their region. No doubt, people of same ethnic group usually hang out together in office but being restricted only to respective ethnic groups can be lethal. Diversity in a team should be encouraged.
3. Effective performance evaluation method
Most of the companies follow the Bell Curve method for appraisal. Well, this method has its pros and cons. But the biggest demerit of this system is people who play politics often land up in the best performer region while the actual performers have to compromise with the average performer region. Many companies like IBM, Accenture, Microsoft etc have declared that they are shunning this evaluation process and moving towards a more holistic appraisal process based on individual performances. This helps in rewarding and promoting the right people.
4. Maintain transparency at workplace
Gossip is the major tool used by employees to execute their strategy of office politics. Managers often take biased decisions after hearing gossips or one part of the story. Avoid giving importance to talks like ‘He did this’ or ‘He created this problem’. Generally, these types of problems can be tackled by asking the two parties to resolve their differences or issues in the presence of the manager.
5. Open forum for discussion
Companies can have forums where the CEO as well as the lowest in the hierarchy is present. This helps in open communication between the leaders and employees where people can discuss their problems rather than follow a hierarchical process. Open discussion gives way to transparency and clears the traces of politics.
6. Engagement surveys
Most companies now use some kind of employee engagement software like Happyoffice.io etc. But the real problem is that companies do not act as per the feedback gathered from these solutions. Employee feedback should be given high importance to maintain high job satisfaction among the employees. Facebook takes the time out to respond to such feedback just to check that all its employees are satisfied with their job roles.
7. Promote team work
An organisation should strongly believe in promoting team work within all cadres. Often, with the level of competition, employees indulge in politics as a shortcut for rising higher in the pyramid of hierarchy. Promoting team work makes everyone as well as the team accountable for the work assigned. This also develops a holistic environment within the team and at the same time improves productivity.
8. Train management to deal with politics
This might be the most difficult step that a company can follow to curb workplace politics but nonetheless, it is considered as one of the most effective steps. Always blaming ‘politics’ when things aren’t going your way is easy. Managers need to be trained to discover real employee issues when politics isn’t really the problem. When an employee cites politics as a reason for an issue, managers should be efficient enough to dig into the issue to find best possible solutions.
It is naive for a company to expect a politics-free zone. Author and banker Ravi Subramanian says, “People who whine about politics are, more often than not, people who have played politics and lost the game.” Toughen up and choose the higher moral ground. Strategise organisational structure and face it with positive spirit . Gradually a rising gallant company is inevitable.