When people spend every day together, competing for the bosses favour, promotions and salary increases, it’s inevitable that gossip and cliques will occur.
Some employees feel office politics are an essential part of work life, in terms of forming liaisons and keeping your ear to the ground. However, most believe it’s a dangerous aspect of office culture that strains relationships and damages morale.
The advice from business professionals is to avoid office politics and keep yourself out of trouble in the workplace. However, this can be easier said than done and you may need to take steps to stop your career from being damaged by the general workplace culture.
What are office politics?
Defining office politics isn’t easy, as there are so many different aspects. It can be backstabbing a colleague while being nice to their face or forming alliances with some colleagues who are malicious towards others.
For some, it means gossiping and rumour-mongering about workmates. It can be as serious as intentionally withholding important information to make a colleague look as if they’re incompetent at their job.
What are the effects of office politics?
Research has revealed a negative corporate culture can increase staff turnover, with around 70% of respondents saying they have left a job as a direct result of office politics. Three-quarters of them were earning more than £20,000 a year when they resigned but gave up a good salary, rather than enduring being miserable at work.
In fact, 95% of respondents said politics, hidden agendas and manipulation in the workplace had impacted them personally and directly. It can cause employees to act in different ways. Some may believe it’s not necessary to work as hard because their allegiances make their position more secure.
Others who have been targeted by gossip may feel depressed and their productivity will drop as a result, as they may not want to be there anymore.
Nobody gains anything out of politics, as it leads to a negative workplace atmosphere that impacts everyone.
What can you do to combat office politics?
To prevent your career and even your personal life from being damaged by rampant office politics and gossip, there’s a simple solution. Never indulge; always carry out your duties to the best of your ability.
When you’re having a difficult time at work, you will find it can spill over into your personal life. It’s hard to shake off the stress of not enjoying your job. You’re likely to worry about it at home, knowing you have to return and face it all again the next day.
Of course, it’s often not that simple to keep out of corporate politics, but this is the route you should aim to take when it comes to furthering your career.
Colleague vs friend
Recognise the different relationships between work colleagues and friends and don’t confuse the two. While personal friends are people with whom you have an emotional bond, colleagues are the people you’re forced to spend time with in a professional setting.
While you might get on well with some workmates, never think you can share your darkest secrets or gossip with them, as they aren’t friends in the deepest sense of the word. Even if you’re going for drinks after work, these are still the people who are in the “professional” zone. Don’t let your guard down by speaking too freely after alcohol.
While your co-workers will know enough about you to have a friendly chat at the coffee machine, don’t ever tell them too much information. If certain people know enough about you personally to “dig the dirt”, it could hinder your advancement should they use it against you.
Should you involve your boss?
While you should never involve your boss in any office gossip, you do need to tell him or her if anything is happening in the workplace that impacts your future.
For example, if you’re hoping for a promotion or a pay rise and you have mentioned this to a colleague, however innocently, don’t let your boss find out through the office grapevine. Let them know you’re interested in advancing in the company. Most will respect your ambition, honesty and forthrightness.
Remember, there is a fine line between staying informed and gossiping. While you shouldn’t get involved in trashy office talk, pay attention to what colleagues say. Information from gossip isn’t necessarily reliable, but you may pick up on some upcoming changes or promotions.
How can workplace gossip affect someone?
Workplace gossip can have a very serious impact on any targeted individual and the company as a whole. Victims of gossip can become anxious and depressed. In some cases, it leads to the victim handing in their notice to get a job elsewhere.
In terms of the workplace as a whole, it causes an erosion of trust and loss of morale. This in turn means a reduction in productivity. Employees become anxious when rumours circulate, as no one knows what is fact and what is fiction.
Employees can take sides, leading to unhealthy divisions in the workforce, while feelings and reputations are hurt. Losing good employees due to an unhealthy work environment can damage the company significantly.
How can coworking combat office politics?
Some firms have recognised that where we work is a significant factor in ensuring employees can work productively, without fear of office politics. A lot of offices are downsizing, according to figures from 2021. Being in a smaller office means there’s less opportunity for some people to set up their own hierarchy.
Flexible coworking seems to be a solution both to the need to downsize and also to stop office politics from rearing their ugly head. Many firms are increasingly looking at coworking spaces as the way forward.
Coworking spaces are filled with individuals doing their own thing. This means there’s far fewer office politics and water cooler dramas associated with larger corporate offices.
Joining a coworking community means you’re more likely to find a group of supportive and encouraging people. For many self-employed people, they find a coworking space creates a sense of having a “tribe” to back and support them, rather than feeling like colleagues are conspiring against them to curry favour.
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