A Look at Workplace and Office Politics
By Timi Olubiyi, Ph.D
In business, once you have more than just one employee, you run the risk of having politics in your workplace.
The workplace in itself is a setup where individuals from diverse backgrounds, different educational qualifications, and varied interests come together to work towards a common goal.
Therefore, workplace politics most time is the use of the individual or assigned power within an employing organisation to obtain advantages beyond the usual legitimate authority.
Simply put, workplace politics arises when employees tend to misuse their power to gain undue attention, influence, and popularity in the workplace. It mostly happens when staff places self-interests ahead of organisational interests.
Unarguably, with the multi-ethnicity nature of our country Nigeria, workplace politics exist in virtually all organisations and business places, be it public or in private corporations.
Politics may be positive (collaborative) if it aligns with the company’s objective or negative (destructive and competitive) if it is full of maligning but the fact is that no organisation exists without politics.
Workplace politics can hurt a business and its employees when carried to excess. Too much politicking can result in lower morale of staff, higher staff turnover, low job performance, thereby lowering the overall business productivity and profitability.
The negative effects of organizational politics are what this piece is looking at which can ultimately undermine the overall goals of any business.
This politics reduces the productivity of staff and eventually, the business will be at a loss. The common element of workplace politics is the disregard of company policies and procedure, which is usually organisational instruments to check it. Often, workplace politics usually circumvent the formal organisational structure.
The motives for employees to engage in office politics in the workplace are things such as staff aspires to come into the limelight easily without much hard work, job insecurity amongst others. Staff also engages in office politics to reap financial, emotional, and even physical rewards.
Politics also arises when employees aspire to achieve something beyond their authority and control in a short period. Lack of supervision and control in the workplace could be another instance of workplace politics.
Too much gossip at work can equally lead to politics. Jealous colleagues can indulge in work politics simply to tarnish their colleague’s reputation to obtain advantages and come in the good books of their superiors.
Workplace politics can naturally result from the competition employees have with one another and it’s a major part of everyone’s working life. Favouritisms by business owners and subjective standards of performance can also lead to it.
People often resort to organisational politics because they do not believe that the organisation has an objective and fair way of judging their performance and suitability for promotion.
Similarly, when business owners have no objective way of differentiating effective people from the less effective, they will resort to favouritism.
All the aforementioned political behaviours in the workplace have a lot of potential consequences on business outcomes and can affect company processes such as; decision making, promotion, rewards and among others either negatively.
To control politics, business leaders must be aware of its causes and methods. This is because if it’s not well handled, it can create morale issues and low job performance at the workplace.
Hence, it is necessary that business leaders, especially in Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), become proficient in establishing and implementing a system of adequate management of this phenomenon.
Various managerial strategies can serve the purpose of diminishing workplace politics and are available to business owners. Some of these are: encouraging open communication in the workplace which can constrain the impact of political behaviour. When communication is open, it also makes it more difficult for some people to control information and pass along gossip as a political weapon.
More so, when business leaders are non-political in their actions, they demonstrate in subtle ways that political behaviour is not welcome in the business.
Most importantly, business leaders and owners should be transparent and generally adopt performance-based criteria in the business. The success of any business relies heavily on the efforts of its employees; therefore, the performance-based criteria should be without bias or favouritism.
Remember, if it is political behaviours that are rewarded, staff will behave politically. Conversely, if it is performance behaviours that are rewarded, employees will perform and be productive.
Other managerial strategies known to be effective in reducing business politics include involving employees in decision making, fostering teamwork, building trust and social support, publicly recognize and reward people who get real results, basing personnel and program decisions on objective criteria, demanding accountability from all members of staff and reprimanding political behaviour.
The starting point of the implementation of these managerial strategies is to have a thorough business structure and institute policies to mitigate potential negative political behaviours in the workplace.
Workplace politics is a huge challenge for business owners/managers in that it cannot be depoliticised but can be consistently addressed for business outcomes to be achieved and maximised. Good luck!
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Dr Timi Olubiyi is an Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management expert with a Ph.D. in Business Administration. He is a prolific investment coach, business engineer, Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI), and a financial literacy specialist. He can be reached on the twitter handle @drtimiolubiyi and via email: [email protected], for any questions, reactions, and comments.