- There are six main types of office politics found in many businesses.
- Positive office politics can benefit teams, while negative politics can cause employees to become disengaged.
- Managers must identify the underlying causes of negative office politics to cultivate effective teams.
- This article is for employees, managers and business owners who want to create a positive office culture – or survive in an office with negative politics.
Politics is bubbling over into nearly every aspect of our lives; and the office, it seems, is not immune. Research from Robert Half's Accountemps revealed that political discord plays a significant role in today's office life.
Overall, 55% of employees say they partake at least somewhat in office politics, with most of those doing so to advance their careers. The study found that 76% of workers believe that office politics affect their efforts to get ahead, an increase of 20% within four years.
Here's a look at office politics, how they affect the company positively and negatively, and how to thrive amid the six main types of office politicians.
What is office politics?
Gossiping and spreading rumors is the most popular form of office politicking. According to Accountemps' survey, 46% of employees said they see these behaviors most often. Gaining favor by flattering the boss, taking credit for others' work and sabotaging co-workers' projects are other common office politicking behaviors.
When employees perceive that the workplace is political, they are less engaged, participate less and contribute fewer ideas because of wariness. In this kind of atmosphere, teams can't function at the levels they need to achieve their goals.
Tip: If you have employees who seem checked out, consider some employee engagement ideas, such as offering employee discounts, collaboration opportunities, and wellness perks.
Are office politics bad?
While there can be positive politics in the workplace, negative politicking behaviors create tension, inhibit employees' ability to perform well and are detrimental to morale.
To help personnel navigate an office's political landscape, here are six office politician types Accountemps identified and tips on how to handle them.
6 office politician types you may encounter
These personalities will be familiar to anyone who has worked in an office setting. Here's who they are and what you can do to mitigate their negativity.
- Gossip hound: This person is a know-it-all when it comes to what's happening around the office – and isn't afraid to share every last detail with anyone. They love spilling secrets to co-workers or sharing confidential information on social media, and they often ignore open office etiquette. When dealing with a gossip hound, it's critical that employees keep their conversations related to business. If the conversation starts to drift to co-workers' personal lives, try to exit the discussion as quickly as possible.
- Credit thief: This person will do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if that means taking credit for someone else's ideas. To avoid being the target of a credit thief in the workplace, speak up about your views and what you're working on in front of your co-workers. Additionally, provide your boss with frequent updates so they never get confused about who should be getting credit for your work.
- Flatterer: This person likes to pass out compliments left and right, but it can be difficult to tell whether the flatterer is being genuine or trying to win people over. Luckily, most company leaders can tell when someone is being fake, so you don't need to call out the flatterer's behavior.
- Saboteur: This person works only to benefit themself. They are openly critical of others and don't hesitate to throw co-workers under the bus. They also rarely take responsibility for their own mistakes. It's important to keep your guard up when dealing with a saboteur. You might have luck stopping this behavior by confronting the saboteur. However, if that doesn't work, keep track of your exchanges and relay them to your boss or someone in human resources.
- Lobbyist: This person fights hard and has a reputation for swaying opinions in their favor. To make sure your views are heard, speak up when you disagree with the lobbyist's opinions. While these employees often don't appreciate hearing opinions that differ from theirs, explaining your viewpoint might be what's needed to open them up to new ideas.
- Advisor: The advisor is often the person company leaders confide in and turn to for assistance. You are best served by befriending the advisor because they know a lot about what's happening within the company and wield a lot of influence behind the scenes.
Did you know? When an employee undermines other employees, this disrespect in the workplace creates a toxic culture where others are emboldened to model bad behavior.
How do you survive office politics?
There are a few effective tactics for managing office politics, and many are more straightforward than you might think. Whether building new bonds, making new friends or developing the right skills to ensure your work is undeniable, there are several routes for navigating the politics within your workplace.
1. Develop new skills.
Developing new skills is a good idea that never goes out of style. When you continually add to your bag of tricks, you'll be able to step in and offer solutions for various crises and situations. A highly skilled employee is respected and less likely to fall victim to office politics.
2. Be reliable.
Consistently letting your high-quality work speak for itself is a fantastic vanguard that prevents you from getting caught up in any political chaos. Once you've developed a reputation of reliability and excellence, anyone trying to instigate a political minefield will likely be the scrutinized employee.
3. Be friendly and respectful.
Establishing a friendly and respectful rapport with your colleagues is another way to successfully prevent any misunderstandings or confrontations, especially in offices that have become highly political.
4. Communicate clearly.
Clear communication is critical when managing office politics, ensuring that stakeholders or peers all work in the same direction. It's also a good idea to back up your conversations and meetings with emails cc'd to pertinent individuals.
5. Keep meticulous records.
There will be some situations where some colleagues might try to take advantage of a situation and claim that someone else – namely you – made a mistake.
Keeping a meticulous record of your work will save you a world of trouble in the long run. Many organizations use project management software or work management solutions, but they don't always capture day-to-day activities.
A record of your work helps keep you on track and reminds you of a project's status. It also provides a paper trail for every project's start date, reasons for delays and completion status – all of which provide context if someone questions your work. With a record that includes dates, deliverables and activities for every project stage, the cold, hard data provides a clear picture of the process.
Did you know? Helpful project management resources and tools include real-time reporting, time-tracking tools, and team collaboration tools, like discussion boards.
Surviving and moving ahead amid office politics
Bill Driscoll, senior district president of technology staffing services for Accountemps, said office politics are a natural part of workplace dynamics, and there are situations where it can't be avoided.
Still, employees can develop the skills to survive and move ahead. Social astuteness, networking, interpersonal influence and genuine sincerity can help professionals achieve their goals. Networking creates new, diverse partnerships that can add resources when teams face an issue. For instance, when faced with a particular problem, a colleague may have specialized knowledge or skills to help the team move forward.
Underlying true success, however, is sincerity. Everyone in the workplace can spot insincerity. However, leaders who are truly invested and supportive of team members generate dynamic support for the entire organization.
Unfortunately, negative office politics occur every day in many offices across the United States, and it's a workplace confidence killer. When managers are aware of a negative situation, the instinct often is to ride it out. This is a mistake that can harm both morale and productivity.
"The key is to understand what's at the core of politically charged situations, such as personalities or working relationships, and try to resolve issues in a tactful manner," Driscoll said in a statement at the time of the study's publication. "If you must get involved, you want to be seen as the diplomat."
The Accountemps study was based on surveys of more than 1,000 U.S. workers employed in offices.
Chad Brooks contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.