Helping Employees Deal with Office Politics

Julie Shenkman
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Whether you work for a small business or a company with thousands of employees, there will come a time when you have to help someone deal with office politics. This type of problem is inevitable because of the nature of the business world. Some employees are given more authority or responsibility, so a natural hierarchy develops, and this can hurt worker morale. Competition for promotions also contributes to some of the conflict caused by office politics. When handling this type of issue, you must respect the employee's concerns while adhering to company policies.

One of the best ways for HR professionals to help employees deal with office politics is to make sure you understand who has the most influence in your organization. Don't make the mistake of thinking it is managers; in some cases, rank-and-file employees have more influence over their peers than managers do. Observe employees to see which ones are involved in interpersonal conflicts. Try to determine their motivations for engaging in office politics. Some do so to manipulate people, while others do it to build friendships with their colleagues. You will not be able to help employees deal with office politics unless you know the root cause.

Advise employees to avoid behaviors that fuel the fire and make conflicts worse. Marie McIntyre, a workplace coach, says intentionally provoking the culprits is akin to shooting yourself in the foot. Contributing to office politics can also damage an employee's reputation and increase the amount of conflict in the workplace. If your organization has a policy addressing this type of behavior, make sure the employee knows about the policy and understands the consequences of disregarding it. No matter how you choose to handle this type of issue, you must behave in an ethical manner at all times.

A 2012 book by Jane Clark suggests office politics may actually be a good thing for some organizations. If employees complain about this issue, one way to handle it would be to help the employees reframe their perceptions of politics in the workplace. Try to help the employee see that politics can encourage competition and improve performance throughout the organization. Opening up the discussion about influence and power in the work environment may help employees do a better job coping with office politics and avoiding the resulting conflict.

Every HR professional needs to address the issue of office politics at some point. Prepare yourself for this type of situation by observing employees at regular intervals, advising people to avoid provoking others, and helping workers change the way they view the issue. Following company policies and making ethical decisions will also help you maintain positive relationships with employees. You cannot avoid office politics altogether, but you can improve worker morale by addressing problems quickly and fairly.


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