Teach Employees to Navigate Office Politics

Employers may think office politics doesn’t exist within their organizations, but that’s rarely the case. In a recent survey by OfficeTeam, both executives and employees were asked the same question: “On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being ‘very political’ and one being ‘not at all political,’ how political would you rate your work environment?” More than a third (37 percent) of workers rated their office a “6” or higher, while only 27 percent of executives said the same.

It may be impossible to completely eradicate behavior driven by office politics, but managers can reduce its frequency through appropriate action, including the following:

Be in the loop. Managers should make an active effort to listen to employees, paying attention to how projects are progressing and any interpersonal issues that may be affecting work. By checking in with staff, they might learn that someone in another department is being difficult and delaying the completion of a task because he doesn’t like a particular employee, for instance. This will alert the manager to the need to speak to a colleague in the other work group. Leaders who make themselves accessible (e.g., open-door policy, frequent interaction with staff) are more likely to hear of potential problems or concerns.

Tell it like it is. When there is company news to report, managers should provide details to everyone whenever possible. If only a select few employees know what’s going on, it can make others feel like they aren’t trusted and that they’re outsiders. When the entire group is in the loop, there’s less chance of rumors and misinformation spreading.

Focus on more than one person. While it’s useful to reward individuals for their accomplishments, it’s also critical to recognize teams. This will reduce allegations of favoritism and reaffirm the value of collaboration. If someone goes as far as trying to take credit for a group project, managers should shift the attention back to the entire team.

Promote pleasantries. Office politics tends to be less of a problem when everyone gets along. Leaders should make an effort to build camaraderie by making sure employees get to know each other well. This can be achieved through department lunches, off-site team-building activities and having employees cross-train one another, etc.

Spell out standards. Leaders shouldn’t assume that people understand what they need to do to succeed; it should be spelled out in writing. For instance, to be considered for a supervisory role, employees must complete so many hours of management training and have successfully led at least one project team. Clear guidelines can help eliminate gossiping or claims of preferential treatment when someone advances in the team.

Stop conflict in its tracks. When managers learn of inappropriate behavior on the part of one or more employees, they should nip the situation in the bud. Dragging out an evaluation serves only to heighten the drama. Quick, decisive action can send a powerful message that conflict won’t be tolerated. At the same time, leaders should take care to make sure they have all the facts and not jump to conclusions. Incorrectly assuming that an employee is the troublemaker can only create further morale problems.

Walk the talk. Leaders set the tone for the entire department. If they spread rumors or complain openly about decisions by senior leadership, staff will follow suit. Setting the right example can help to create a positive work environment and minimize office politics.

Robert Hosking is executive director of OfficeTeam, a staffing service specializing in the temporary placement of highly skilled office and administrative support professionals. He can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.