Article I: Politics In The Workplace

Throughout a career that evolved over a period of almost 3 decades in the United Nations System, I have been a manager and advisor in the areas of Human Resources, Finances and General Administration. I consider myself an expert in the domains above and I am happy to be able to coach employees as well as graduating students at universities. While I highly recommend complementing experience with evolving expertise available on a continuous basis, I find that sharing actual experiences supported by case studies and concrete examples to be of great insight and food for thought. In articles that relate to my personal experiences working in the various countries, I hope to infuse my readers with the subtleties of the work environment. Being fascinated by the politics played in the workplace, this first series of articles are about this subject. I hope you take away something useful from it while enjoying the read.

Politics is one of those invisible forces behind actions and reactions that affect events in the workplace. Few of us take the time to look beyond our professional accomplishments and the very good and very bad memories of events that affected us all along our career path. From time to time though, something or someone may remind us of happenings then seemingly unimportant or insignificant only to realize how they influenced decisions that followed them. Workplace politics, which come in many forms, vary according to the style of those who use them to achieve objectives. That includes people inside the company as well as those exerting influence from the outside – practically everyone who has a role in making things happen. But the prevalent political style is usually set by a few decision makers at the top of an entity whose power percolates throughout the ranks. These people cannot make things happen on their own; they use the brains and intelligence of those they feel fit their mold in order to get things done in accordance with their wishes.

People view politics in the workplace very differently. Some relish their use, but you may have to scrutinize them closely to find that out. Whether or not they are very good at it they will rarely admit to what they’re doing. On the opposite side are those who do not like to play politics because it makes them feel uncomfortable, and those who are not even aware of workplace politics. They will tell you that it’s a dirty business that they want no part of. In truth, neither group may have complete knowledge of what politics mean in the workplace, or of how the various players practice them. Those with a good understanding of the concept use politics regularly and get the results expected, though maybe not always, since this is not a foolproof science. When too many people are involved in the process, the links do not always connect as they should, and more often than not there will be miscalculations and casualties.

Those who find themselves in the middle when a game is being played must either line up on one side or the other or be pushed aside. For example, if your boss is targeted for dismissal or demotion, you are sure to become an accessory to the implementation of this goal. You may be given credit you do not even deserve to show that your boss is not capable, or you may unfairly be associated with all the bad things he/she has done. Depending on how the tide turns, you could benefit from the political game, or if you are not vigilant enough to foresee events and position yourself, you might also wind up its victim. We do not enter a career deciding to stagnate in a given position. No matter how much you like what you do, at some point you will feel like moving on to explore other aspects of your profession or totally different challenges.