Office politics play an inevitable part of the professional world. Competitiveness, flattery, gossip and power struggles can all affect employee performance, productivity and morale. That's why it becomes all the more crucial for managers to understand the nature of office politics so they can help employees better navigate these sticky situations in the workplace.
Types of Office Politicians
To understand how to deal with office politics, you must first recognize the players involved. Finance staffing firm Accountemps recently identified six main types of office politicians: gossip hounds, credit thieves, flatterers, saboteurs, lobbyists and advisers. Gossip hounds know everyone's business and make it their duty to spread rumors, true or not. Credit thieves take credit for others' ideas in order to get ahead, by any means necessary. Flatterers kiss up to the higher-ups in order to make themselves look good. Saboteurs try to elevate themselves and their own ideas by throwing others under the bus, and they rarely take responsibility for their own mistakes. Lobbyists have a knack for swaying popular opinion, and advisers typically act as confidants for upper management.
Determine the Main Influencers
Managers aren't necessarily the only sources of influence within your organization. Observe your employees closely to determine which ones are involved in conflicts or situations and which ones might identify with one of the six types of office politicians. These employees should be your focus when determining a course of action to help improve employee morale. Try to understand the reasons behind these employees' behaviors and feelings, and address what you can as a manager.
Advise Your Team
Employees need to understand what behaviors and attitudes can aggravate and escalate situations. Most organizations have policies regarding workplace conflicts; it is your responsibility to make sure your team understands and complies with the ones in your office. There should also be a solid system in place for employees who disregard or violate the rules. No matter what, you must always lead by example, behaving diplomatically and upholding the highest ethical standards in the process.
Recognize the Potential Benefits
Office politics isn't always a breeding ground for negativity. A 2012 book by Jane Clark suggests that in some ways, office politics can benefit certain organizations. A political atmosphere at work can encourage healthy competition among employees, thereby improving productivity and performance. Keeping the conversation open about workplace atmosphere and employee morale can help employees cope with minor conflicts. You can never completely eradicate office politics, but you can help your employees change their perceptions. "The key is to understand what's at the core of politically charged situations, such as personalities or working relationships, and try to resolve issues in a tactful manner," advises Bill Driscoll, district president for Accountemps.
No matter the size of the organization, managers must address the issue of office politics at some point. In order to successfully manage the inevitable political atmosphere, you must recognize the types of office politicians, know who your main influencers are, advise your team accordingly and help change their perceptions of it. Office politics may never be avoided completely, but with some fortitude and strategic thinking, you can make it work to your company's advantage.
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