Workplace politics takes on different meanings in different situations, and may be positive in some situations, and negative in others. People understand workplace politics to be the ‘dark side’ of workplace culture.
The Link Between Workplace Culture and Politics
Culture is the way we do things in a group – the unspoken rules of engagement, hierarchy, promotions and getting work done. The culture and politics of a workplace are related and may be interconnected, whether they are good or bad. However, they are not the same.
Workplace culture is all about the relations in the workplace but the politics has to do with influencing people, moving resources and gaining power.
Workplace culture includes the following:
- How things are done at the workplace
- The way you fit in and the way your unique contributions help the bigger picture
- Expected ways to interact with others
- Expected ways to get the job done
- Expected communication patterns
- Unwritten rules about hierarchy and formality – who you speak to when you have an issue or when you want to give positive/negative feedback
- How you get promoted or demoted
- What people talk about and with whom
- Operational and organizational knowledge and who knows what
- Expected conflict management styles and strategies:
- Workplaces tend to have a default conflict management style which can be unearthed by the observation of a few conflicts and how they are handled.
- There are three types of conflict management styles:
- High avoidance – your seniors completely avoid addressing conflicts
- High competition – your seniors quarrel about how to settle a conflict
- High collaboration – your seniors encourage conflict resolution from the bottom up
How do I find out what my Workplace Politics are?
When you’re in a managerial position, it is important to pay attention to how people perceive the culture and politics of the organization. You must understand how employees are being affected by those perceptions and how you can change them for the better.
“When employees perceive their workplace as more political (bad politics), they are less engaged, less productive, and more likely to quit.
~ Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Derek Lusk, Robert B. Kaiser
Pay attention to the occurrences at your workplace, and find out:
- Who makes the decisions? In some cases, it’s only the CEO who makes decisions and nobody else has any input, which will affect your workplace politics.
- How are the decisions made? If decisions are secretly made, that is quite telling of your workplace politics compared to a transparent workplace.
- Who is consulted? Are decisions made in silos, or is it a collaborative process?
- Who receives benefit from the decisions? Are decisions which affect everyone being made by a few?
- Who gets the short end of the stick with decisions? Is there a certain set of employees which is always disadvantaged due to the decisions made? Or do the decisions benefit everyone?
- What are the stories that influence the workplace hidden rules? Why are certain rules being followed?
- What is the history of the workplace decision makers? Have they always been following certain unwritten rules? When did they come to be?
- Who has seniority and why? Are people designated seniors because they have been around for a long time, or because they hold certain positions?
- How do we do things around here? What is the official version of a task and what is the unofficial version of how people really do things? What’s the actual policy and what do people do when they cut corners?
Being politically savvy also adds to your credibility as a manager. A 2014 socio-analytic study on leader advancement motives had the following findings about politically savvy managers:
- Managers who were less politically savvy had a disengaging effect on their employees who felt that they were uninformed and naive – employees tend to think that if the manager doesn’t know about the dynamics of the workplace, they won’t help or protect them, won’t give them the advice they need and maybe give them wrong information, leading to them not listening to their managers.
- Managers who were more politically savvy were taken seriously, or appreciatively when they provided feedback or gave advice, and were listened to.
- Managers who were pushy or bullies or showed similar behaviour, were not considered politically savvy, and they were despised.
- Managers who were politically savvy and were assertive about what they were doing, were not perceived as negative or aggressive.
What Are Good Workplace Politics?
“Good politics include acceptable ways of getting recognition for your contributions, having your ideas taken seriously, and influencing what other people think and what decisions get made.”
~ Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Derek Lusk, Robert B. Kaiser
Good workplace politics take the form of influence, a positive phenomenon. Influence is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself. Good politics are important to learn to be competent in your profession by gaining influence.
There are unspoken rules of influence that exist in every organization. Having influence is necessary in a managerial position, to negotiate your work in your organization. Your worth is diminished if you don’t have any influence so gaining influence is a necessary part of being successful in the workplace.
When you have influence, you have more power and vice versa. Power is the ability to move people and resources towards achieving a goal. Both are essential to a managerial position. Click To Tweet
What is the Difference between Workplace Politics and Bullying?
It is not easy to face mean-spirited people who may be isolating, excluding or breadcrumbing you, wherein they throw you crumbs of praise to keep you engaged but never promote you.
If workplace politics causes an environment to be psychologically toxic, it has crossed the line into bullying. There is now legislation for harassment, intimidation, violence and bullying and it falls under ‘psychological workplace safety’.
Bill C65 added the following to Subsection 122 (1) of the Canada Labour Code:
Harassment and violence means any action, conduct or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee, including any prescribed action, conduct or comment.
A person, group or situation can now be considered a psychological hazard. Employers have a duty to take all reasonable steps to protect workers from being injured in the workplace – both physically and psychologically. They must ensure the workplace is free from psychological hazards that could cause harm to a worker’s mental health.
If you are in a difficult situation, you can receive coaching. We are all influenced by our environment but don’t always have the perception needed to see our situation objectively. In this case, a coach can be very beneficial.
Would you like to sign up for coaching? Do you have more questions about workplace politics? Would you like to share your experience with negotiating the politics at your workplace? Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org
Marie Gervais, PhD., CEO of Shift Management Inc., provides managerial training and workforce interpersonal development to business and industry through online courses and web coaching. She helps individuals and organizations build talent and skills for leadership, communication, and conflict resolution particularly at the supervisory and middle management level. Her work has gained a reputation for excellence in integration and inclusion of the diverse workforce. With her team at Shift Management, Dr Gervais helps clients reach their business goals through team building coaching and industry-specific training development for interpersonal leadership skills. Her impactful digital and multi-media resources have been successfully implemented with many different populations and contexts. The results prove that a learning workplace is a happy and profitable one!
Check out Marie’s podcast Culture and Leadership Connections on Apple Podcasts and on the Shift website to hear stories of leadership and all things cultural. Consider the signature Supervisory Leadership Certificate Course for upskilling your workforce at:
780 993 1062