9 Ways to Address Office Politics in Your Company Culture

Office politics can undermine your company culture and hurt performance. Here are 9 tips to eliminate office politics and improve your company culture.

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Ways to Address Office Politics

Here's what you need to know:

  • Some workers perform activities in order to advance their personal agenda — also known as office politics
  • Office politics can undermine your workplace and also lead to catastrophic results
  • Eliminating office politics is essential to creating a strong company culture that supports employees and builds a positive work environment that treats people fairly and equitably

When employees ranked the most important considerations in the workplace, the top 3 attributes reported were:

  • Equitable compensation
  • Fair treatment
  • Ethical standards

Office politics undermine even the strongest company cultures by creating a toxic environment that takes fairness and ethical behavior out of the equation. With the right steps, however, you can eliminate any office politics that might be hurting your organization.

What are office politics?

Office politics are activities performed by workers in order to advance their personal agenda, often at the expense of others.

Office politics are activities performed by workers in order to advance their personal agenda, often at the expense of others. In many cases, employees use negative tactics to make others look bad or make themselves look good.

Office politics examples include:

  • Gossiping or spreading rumors
  • Backstabbing other workers
  • Withholding information others need to perform their job
  • Forming alliances against other employees
  • Letting colleagues fail without helping

How do office politics impact employees and their work?

Niven Postma advises companies on leadership and workplace culture. When she asks people to describe office politics, she says she hears words such as:

  • Toxic
  • Frustrating
  • Dangerous
  • Demotivating
  • Unfair
  • Gossip

One person even called it heartbreaking. These negative attributes underscore just how dangerous office politics are and why you can’t afford to let things fester. Office politics result in the antithesis of a vibrant company culture.

Not only can office politics undermine your workplace, but they can also lead to catastrophic results. In an extreme example, after the 1986 explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, NASA commissioned an investigation into the steps leading to the disaster. They discovered that many employees had been worried about whether the shuttle was ready to launch, but were afraid to speak up because of office politics and the political ramifications for speaking out.

How to handle office politics

Eliminating office politics is essential to creating a strong company culture that supports employees and builds a positive work environment that treats people fairly and equitably.

The best company cultures improve productivity and performance. For example, companies on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list generate, on average, more than twice the revenue growth of other companies.

How do you manage office politics and create a healthier work environment? Here are 9 tips for HR leaders and business leaders.

1. Practice proactive leadership

The first step in eliminating office politics is by avoiding them yourself. If employees see this type of behavior in the executive ranks or observe others being rewarded from playing office politics, it only encourages them to participate. HR leaders need to model the expectations they want from others and train company leaders, managers, and supervisors to act appropriately.

HR leaders need to model the expectations they want from others and train company leaders, managers, and supervisors to act appropriately.

2. Hold employees accountable

When you see, hear, or learn about office politics, business leaders must recognize it and step in to stop it from occurring. HR departments should train managers on what to look for and how to address office politics when they occur. This includes holding people accountable for their actions.

3. Hold managers and supervisors responsible

Accountability includes managers and supervisors, too. Without their commitment, the situation won’t improve. Actively look for signs of favoritism and coach managers on how to avoid doing so.

Some companies even tie performance reviews to how well teams operate and how well managers minimize office politics within their teams.

4. Create an open and transparent culture

Encourage an atmosphere that values openness and honesty. Continuous feedback and interaction with employees help keep everyone focused on company objectives.

Communication solves a lot of problems in the workplace, including mitigating office politics. It can be beneficial to share decisions and discuss how and why business decisions are made. This extends to talking about challenges, too. When leaders create an atmosphere of trust and seek input from workers, it empowers teams.

5. Build cohesive teams with a sense of purpose

Building a cohesive team that works towards a common goal helps employees do what is right for the team and the organization overall; not just themselves.

6. Stay close to team members

Many business leaders grew up in a time when the boss was supposed to keep their distance from employees. Today, isolating yourself from workers can make it difficult to see how team members work and perform with others. Absentee management styles can create unintentional power dynamics between employees.

7. Encourage respect for all

In a healthy workplace, there is respect among coworkers. You can help set the tone for professionalism by ensuring that everyone understands the expectations and works to create a positive workplace that values cooperation and collaboration.

When employees fail to meet these expectations, you need to deal with them. Letting a lack of respect go unaddressed can reinforce bad behavior. It can also drive high-performing employees to leave looking for a job with a better culture.

8. Watch out for cliques

In a workplace, it’s common for some groups of coworkers to form tight bonds with certain colleagues. While this can be positive at times, it can also lead to cliques, which are breeding grounds for office politics. Even if they aren’t, they can disenfranchise any employees that feel left out.

Work to cross-pollinate groups. In team projects, for example,  purposely mix up employees so they are working with others that are outside of their usual cliques.

9. Apply policies fairly

When employees see some people treated differently than others, it can cause political issues within an organization. Some workers perceive this as favoritism and unfair. Reduce or eliminate any inconsistency in applying policies. If you set a policy in place and someone violates it, you need to act accordingly regardless of who the person is.

You should also clearly communicate your decision-making policy when it comes to rewards, such as raises, bonuses, and promotions. When everyone in the organization knows what it takes to achieve a reward, it can reduce charges of favoritism.

Wherever possible, make rewards objective rather than subjective.

Invest in your team

It’s easy to forget sometimes that everyone in the workplace is human and has insecurities. Often, office politics grow from these insecurities. When business leaders can identify what’s driving office politics in individuals, they can provide the guidance and coaching to affect positive change.

Perhaps the best advice is to invest in your team. When team members know the goal and work together to accomplish goals, they are more focused on the job and less likely to participate in office politics.

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