10 Ways to Prevent Office Politics

Election time is well underway and office politics may be brewing in your organization. Different views, beliefs, and stances on issues pervade our workplaces – not only in regards to political issues, but also on organizational and workplace issues that affect our business. Whether the issue is conflict over differences in political views or everyday politics of favoritism/unfairness, conflict, gossip, or lack of teamwork, dealing with office politics extends well beyond the elections for HR. Here are 10 ways to effectively deal with office politics.

  1. Help employees understand each other. Like most workplaces, yours is probably full of different opinions, backgrounds, personalities, cultures, religions, values, passions, and political views. These differences can be a minefield for potential conflicts and politics. The key is to communicate and train employees on the value of these differences in the workplace and help employees better understand their own idiosyncrasies and how these impact others and the unique strengths, skills, and values of their coworkers. There are many assessments, activities, and retreats to help facilitate this.
  2. Encourage respect. A healthy and functional work environment is characterized by respect among coworkers. Set the tone for professionalism in the workplace by creating expectations of respect, cooperation, and professionalism. One common way organizations encourage this and hold employees accountable for respectful behavior is by evaluating these competencies or behaviors during the performance review process. In addition, policies should be created and most importantly – enforced – to deal with employees that are not being respectful of others. These include policies related to employee conduct, harassment, discrimination, violence, and politics in the workplace. Disrespect should not be tolerated in your organization.
  3. Provide training. ERC finds that in many organizations there is an absence of skills in managing and resolving conflict, building effective teams, and communicating with one another. In many organizations, individuals continue to struggle to get along, collaborate with one another, work as a team, and communicate well, which further deepens office politics. Soft-skills training and skills coaching can be effective interventions to help address these issues.
  4. Address conflict. How many conflicts go unresolved in your workplace? If the answer is too many, it’s time to better manage and resolve conflicts. Unresolved conflicts result in lower productivity, higher costs, and decreased morale and engagement. HR can be a tremendous resource in helping to mediate and resolve ongoing tensions between coworkers, and employees and supervisors.
  5. Break up the cliques. While workplace friendships, tight knit groups of coworkers, and strong relationships are inevitable in the workplace (and positive in many respects), clique-forming can be detrimental to workplace productivity. Cliques can potentially create unhealthy alliances that cause dissention, put up barriers, hurt work relationships, and create divisions – all of which undermine the business’s productivity and success. Be aware of clique-forming in the organization, the individuals promoting the formation of cliques, any negative issues that are stemming from their presence, and the causes of anxiety or negativity that are prevalent in these groups.
  6. Discourage gossip. Gossip is another workplace behavior in organizations that creates an uncomfortable work environment. While there is no easy way to prevent it, there are ways to change your culture to one which encourages more direct confrontation of problems. HR can also take the lead in determining the sources of gossip, attempting to stop gossip in its tracks, reminding employees of the consequences of gossip in their career, and coaching them on different and more effective conflict management and problem solving strategies.
  7. Create fair policies. One common issue we see in many organizations is the creation of unequal policies, perhaps for different types of employees (i.e. office staff vs. production staff; exempt vs. non-exempt). These discrepancies in policies frequently create more political issues within the office by creating an “us” versus “them” culture and typically lead to feelings and complaints of favoritism and unfairness. ERC frequently recommends that organizations challenge the rationale behind having these inconsistent policies and reduce or eliminate the discrepancies if business needs allow. They often do more harm than good.
  8. Institute clear policies, criteria, and processes for decisions. We’ve all witnessed the common complaint of favoritism or unfairness about a promotional decision, distribution of recognition, or perhaps even the amount of a pay raise or bonus. Decisions regarding highly valued rewards such as promotions, development opportunities, recognition and rewards, pay, and incentives, should be based on very clear and fair policies, criteria, and processes – and line supervisors and managers should be held accountable for using this information to guide their decisions.  Strive to clearly communicate how decisions are made and minimize subjective factors. Employees are often skeptical of subjectivity, and where decisions are vague and left to interpretation, employees may perceive that a supervisor or leader is “playing favorites.”
  9. Provide an avenue for open, honest, and anonymous feedback. Another frequent problem we observe in organizations is the failure to offer an avenue for employees to provide open, honest, and anonymous feedback. When these avenues are not provided, employees often resort to either silence about problems or gossip and other counterproductive feedback methods to express feelings, frustrations, and complaints. Surveys, suggestion boxes, and focus groups or interviews facilitated by an outside or neutral individual or firm can all be effective methods of feedback collection. These modes provide employees with a safe and constructive way to share their concerns, and the organization with useful feedback for solving workplace problems.
  10. Walk the talk. Finally, these same rules apply to HR and leaders. Most importantly, it’s crucial that we model the behaviors we expect in our workplace. Be aware of how you are behaving in the workplace and how your employees perceive it.

Additional Resources:

  • For training or skills coaching in topics such as conflict management and resolution, team building, problem solving, respecting/valuing others, supervisory skills, and more, please contact ckutsko@ercnet.org.
  • For assistance with individual development assessments and/or coaching, please contact coaching@ercnet.org.
  • For assistance in gathering employee feedback using surveys, focus groups, or interviews, please contact consulting@ercnet.org.
  • For help with employee relations issues discussed in this article and HR policy development, please contact hrhelp@ercnet.org.
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5 Responses to 10 Ways to Prevent Office Politics

  1. Many great points in this piece, but without attention to how power is allocated, and how those in power determine just who is unacceptable, there is a risk of hiding behind a veneer of good practices, while abusing workers targeted for elimination. When discussing the importance of enforcing policies against disrespectful employees, all too often those who are abused by management, or managerial processes, are eliminated, while abusive people in power — including in HR — advance. Also, performance reviews are indeed very important, but are often used as a mechanism to punish and create paper trails that misrepresent an employee’s contributions. Humane leadership will do more to advance compassionate work environments than anything on paper, as I discuss in my blog, Beyond Bullying, http://www.janice-harper.com/blog. Cudos for tackling gossip and cliques!

  2. Belinda Andrews says:

    Most workplaces are dysfunctional with cliques & bullying rampant. Those who advance in the company, use the tactic of “Kiss Up, Kick down”. HR colludes with management to stifle & eliminate victims who complain. Make no mistake: HR is an extension of management.

  3. Pingback: 10 Ways to Prevent Office Politics | Human Resource Vetting

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