Managing Office Politics
It impedes productivity, kills relationships and morale, and costs UK business billions each year but how can you contain the scourge of modern business that is office politics?
Managing the Destructive Force of Office PoliticsIt may have been that at one time your workplace was relaxed, friendly environment where jobs got done on time and everyone treated each other with respect, but things have changed. Now the jovial atmosphere has been since replaced by an eerie quiet, punctuated by conspiratorial murmurings and the odd blazing row. Bullying, back-biting and scheming are now commonplace. Morale is low and productivity is suffering. Office politics, that toxic cocktail of ambition, power and ego, has taken hold.
A recent survey found that the damaging effects of office politics cost UK businesses around £7.2 billion every year. To put that in more tangible terms, every office loses an hour’s work a day through interoffice quarrelling. But what can you do to turn the tide and restore the productive, harmonious workplace of old? And if it isn’t a problem yet then how can you spot the signs of an office on the turn?
Office politics reveals itself in a number of different ways, including:
- Personality clash.
- Break down in communication and understanding.
- Conflicting ways of working.
It is the responsibility of management to ensure that such destructive symptoms of office politicking don’t spread.
Erosion of Team CultureOffice politics is often symptomatic of a break down in team culture. Instead of working together to push forward the interests of the organisation, employees start working according to their own interests and ambitions. Such a self-seeking attitude erodes relations between staff, breaking down communication, mutual understanding and trust. Where this is allowed to happen, staff will not be working as a team but in competition with one another.
The key cause of this break down is the absence of a culture of clear and open communication. Employees are often all too willing to share gossip and jokes but very reluctant to engage in work-related dialogue with their fellow colleagues. This serves only to weaken already delicate relationships between staff members and cultivates a breeding ground where the destructive forces of distrust, jealousy and self-interest can prosper.
Open Communication and Being ‘in the Loop’You need to start fostering an environment of open communication by taking the first step yourself. Don’t just maintain an open door policy and expect employees to come to speak to you when they have a problem, go out into the office and speak to your staff both as a team and individually. This is a mark of strong leadership and this plays an important role in keeping politics at bay.
By being on good speaking terms with each of your staff members you will not only earn their trust and respect – and so promote these values within the team - but by being ‘in the loop’ it will also make you more able you to recognise and address any staff problems as soon as they arise. Use this one-to-one employee relationship to conduct your own employee satisfaction survey.
Set a Good ExampleAs a manager or supervisor you can set a further good example amongst your staff by actively discouraging the habits of office politics such as gossiping, finger-pointing and back-biting, and encouraging the praising of good. The common idea that it is somehow unctuous and embarrassing to praise other colleagues needs to be driven out. Finally, it is vital that you set a good example and don’t give in to politicking yourself.
If disagreements between staff do flare up then it is vital that they are dealt with swiftly and conclusively otherwise the resentment will remain and fester under the surface. A good solution is to use an independent mediator. This person will arbitrate a private discussion between the two conflicting parties in an effort to reach an amicable agreement. The mediator facilitates a resolution by listening to the perspective from both sides, setting some ground rules and coaching the parties on how to interact effectively.