Office Politics: Necessary Evil or Totally Unnecessary?

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Most people cringe when they hear the words "office politics," but it's often unavoidable in the workplace. But are they always bad?

Most people cringe when they hear the words "office politics" muttered.

Anything combining the corporate world and politics will always have a sleazy connotation to it.

That's not the only reason most individuals hate office politics. Most of us don't like office politics because we are forced to play.

Although it has a pretty bad rep, there are a few positives that come with a political office dynamic.

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So What Exactly Do Office Politics Involve?

While you know what someone means when he or she refers to office politics, you may not fully understand the meaning. Office politics is when someone uses power and networking within a corporation to gain some benefit and achieve his or her objectives. They often involve games, manipulation, gossip, backstabbing, and more.  Office politics is here to stay. According to corporate researcher Christopher Spicer: 

"The politically astute organizational member has knowledge of the formal and informal decision-making process; he or she knows how to use the system to his or her advantage. Knowledge of the process of decision-making is based on being able to identify the key players and knowing their strengths, weaknesses, penchants, hidden agendas, personal likes and dislikes, and their degree of political astuteness."

Thus, instead of complaining about office politics and lamenting how your corporate culture is keeping you down – you need to understand the benefits and negatives of playing the game.

The Positive Spin

Many people don't like the idea of office politics. However, most individuals do like the idea of success in the workplace, more money in the bank, and a potential promotion. Thus, if you're working in the corporate world – you will find yourself engaged in office politics from time to time. 

Here are some of the benefits of winning the political games in your office environment: 

Get Things Done

If you're successful in navigating the political environment within your organization, I guarantee you'll be able to get more things done. Need to down pricing below representative cost, but still want to keep your commission percentage on that large deal? You'll need to be in good graces with some higher-up. Need to push a task through to the front of the diagnostic managers queue? You're going to need some pull around the office to ensure your task gets completed before anyone else's.

Get Rewarded and Acknowledged for Your Competency

People like to reward individuals they like. This is human nature 101. Management rarely will give an award to someone everyone in the office hates. That would make the boss look bad in front of all the employees. Even if the individual is the top seller or best at his or her job – he or she won't be receiving an award if they have no allies in the office. Plus, acknowledgments and rewards often come in the form of cash bonuses – which we all could use more of.

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Promotions Always Possible

By properly navigating the landscape of your company's politics, you show the management team you understand the culture of the company. Often, this results in your name being considered for promotions and potentially, a shot at moving up into management. Companies prefer to promote individuals from within the company that truly understand how the company works.  A recent study by the Center for Creative Leadership showed, "that those who are politically savvy have better career prospects, better career trajectories, and are seen to be more promotable." If you're unable to relay your assimilation to the company's culture to your boss, you may be stuck at your entry-level gig until the end of time.

The Negatives

While the benefits of playing office politics may seem rosy, you have to remember that you are playing a game when you engage in office politics. Just like every other game – there will be a winner and a loser. Or there will be winners and many losers. Some call office politics workplace warfare, and for good reason. 

Here are some of the negative aspects of playing the political games in your office environment: 

Not a Reflection of Job Performance

One of the biggest issues with office politics is that they rarely reward the individuals that are best at doing their actual job. Instead, office politics rewards individuals who are decent at their actual job and great at playing political games. You may sell more product than everyone else in the office, but continually get passed up for a promotion because you lack the political chops needed to advance.

Adds Another Dimension to Your Work

Office politics isn't optional for most in corporate America. This means employees must do their jobs to the best of their abilities while they continually drag through the office politics trenches. Playing the game means you'll always have extra "work" on your plate – no matter if your job is already done for the day.

Takes Away From Meaningful Tasks

Time spent engaging in office politics means less time for you to spend on meaningful tasks related to your work. For many employees, this means working late nights and the occasional weekend. Plus, when you engage in office politics your mind is focused on how you can "win" in the office – not necessarily how you can do your job to the best of your ability. 

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Choose How You Handle Office Politics Wisely

The fact of the matter is you cannot sit out of office politics. If you work in an office – there will always be politics. Your job as an employee looking to further his or her career is to manage the political environment of your office to best suit your needs. This is often easier said than done – especially without selling your soul for the almighty corporate dollar. Be honest, play the game, and whatever you do – avoid the "reply to all" email button like it's the plague.  

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