Office politics are an inevitability of work life. When a group of people are stuck in each other’s company for 40 hours a week, week after week, there’s bound to be some gossiping and some friction. Fortunately that’s what most office politics is. But there’s another much nastier form of office politics where people actively campaign against one and other. And that is productivity poison.
The Damage Caused by Office Politics
When office politics turn nasty there is a huge cost in wasted time and energy. On the one hand you have the people conducting the whispering campaigns who invest a significant effort in who they share their thoughts with and how they spread their opinions. Time that should be spent on their actual work.
On the other you have the victims of who have to waste energy trying to protect themselves against the insinuations and half truths. To make matters worse, if someone is aware that they are the victim of this sort of attack it will have a detrimental effect on their morale and most likely their productivity too.
If that isn’t bad enough, inevitably the rest of the office will become aware of the maneuvering and if it isn’t stopped quickly the damage to staff morale in general can be huge.
Office Structures and Protocols
Most companies are aware of the threat to their bottom line that is created by out of control office politics. In response they document codes of conduct, provide training and create a management structure and HR departments to keep a lid on this sort of behavior.
While it’s not a fool proof solution these additional layers between various groups help to diffuse tensions and also dramatically reduce the chance that bullying will occur.
Unfortunately small companies do not have the overhead or sufficient employees to put these sorts of safeguards in place. In the United States about half of all private sector workers are employed by a small business. For those workers, HR departments are minimal and there are very few management layers which means they have very few people to speak up for them in the company.
Sometimes Management Is The Problem
When situations like this occur in a small company it is up to the management staff to solve the problem before the damage spreads. Unfortunately in a small company it’s also entirely possible that management staff is part of the problem.
It could be that they are oblivious to the problem because there is no HR structure to report the issues too or they may in fact be the person creating the problem. In either case the unfortunate victim is left with nowhere to turn to. Office politics at a management level can destroy a small company either by removing the impetus to work or by actually forcing people to leave.
What To Do and When To Leave
If you find yourself targeted in this sort of vindictive office politics, what should you do?
- Try to stay above it. Don’t let your energy be diverted away from work and into pointless battles.
- You can’t win so don’t try. Nobody actually wins when office politics spins out of control. Nobody comes out of it looking good.
- Don’t take it home. Easier said than done, but try not to bring the work stress home. Don’t let it pollute the rest of your life.
- Do your job. It’s a lot harder to make you look bad, or lazy or ineffective if you continue to focus on doing your job and doing it well.
- Know when to walk away. If the politicking doesn’t stop and management continues to be oblivious, look for a new job. Don’t force yourself to stay in an unhealthy situation out of pride.