What is organizational politics?
Every business has a hierarchy, and with this hierarchy comes an uneven distribution of power. Certain employees are more likely to pursue this power than others, which is considered political behavior in the workplace. The term ‘organizational politics’, also known as workplace politics, refers to the agenda of each employee within a company and the activities they engage in to acquire, increase, and wield power and resources to gain a desired outcome.
Organizational politics is present in most organizations. All employees experience the impact of organizational politics throughout their careers, whether positive or negative. For some, it means engaging in office gossip or acting as part of a clique, while for others, it means climbing the career ladder and being as productive and efficient as possible at work.
Understanding organizational politics helps reduce the negative or dysfunctional effects, support employees, and engage in positive political behaviors that benefit the entire organization.
What are the objectives of organizational politics?
Objectives of organizational politics include:
- Gaining power
- Boosting productivity
- Gaining recognition
- Resolving disputes
- Promoting personal objectives
- Protecting self-interest
- Earning money and income
- Developing power contacts
What are the types of organizational politics?
When an employee acts to further their career without regard for the impact on others around them. This includes things like taking credit for the ideas of others and putting coworkers down to build themselves up.
When one employee or group attempts to influence another employee or group through persuasion, manipulation, influence, or pressure. This can be positive if it means getting a group of skeptics on board with an organization's vision or project, but the downside is that it can lead to tension and arguments if someone believes that the win is coming at their expense.
A group becomes split based on common tasks and common interests, and these smaller groups form alliances that align with their goals. In larger organizations, this can help to increase innovation and agility. However, it will often have negative consequences as each faction commits to winning at any cost.
An employee or group of employees who already have a certain degree of power block other employees and ideas. They do this to maintain their power and avoid being challenged. However, this stifles innovation and prevents talent from rising through the organization.
An employee becomes extremely attached to a certain role or task and will not allow anyone else to undertake it. For example, a manager who refuses to hand over the reins of a project.
The impact of organizational politics
Studies have shown that employees with political skills are better at gaining more power and managing stress, are more productive, and have a greater impact on organizational goals. Plus, as a company grows, organizational politics may be the reason it survives.
However, unchecked organizational politics can destroy a company when left to spiral out of control. Here are some of the common negative impacts on employees:
- Increased stress from fear of the unknown or losing their job
- Decrease in concentration and productivity as they are distracted by politics
- Increase in cynicism which leads to low morale and job satisfaction
- High employee turnover which can lead to a lack of qualified employees and a knowledge and skills gap
- Miscommunication as neither employees nor managers fully know what's going on
How to manage organizational politics
While it's impossible to eradicate organizational politics in a large organization, there are several steps that HR practitioners, managers, and leaders can take to minimize its negative impact:
- Improve your people skills
- Communicate openly and honestly
- Put yourself in your employees’ shoes and understand the landscape
- Collaborate respectfully across departments
- Maintain positive working relationships with all colleagues
- Don't have favorites or give preferential treatment to anyone
- Change your approach if something's not working
- Ensure employees feel valued and noticed and know they have opportunities
- Monitor any issues you notice
- Encourage employees to reach out with concerns
- Step in when needed
- Set a positive example for your team to follow