Politics are a part of life—and in the workplace, sometimes corporate politics take center stage.
While many organizations view their employees as a family, unchecked power imbalances and other unhealthy dynamics can quickly lead to a toxic company culture. This is especially true in today’s era of remote and hybrid arrangements, where the nature of daily interactions and interpersonal relationships at work are constantly changing.
Of course, not all workplace politics are harmful. But how can employers navigate this landscape to minimize conflict and lead with empathy? Let’s take a closer look at what political behavior actually looks like in the workplace before creating tips for promoting positive office politics.
How to Prevent Office Politics from Dividing Your Workforce
What Do Office Politics Look Like?
In most workplaces and media, the term “office politics” tends to have a negative connotation, often involving behaviors aimed at building power, authority, or influence in the workplace. It conjures up the image of a cut-throat businessperson with a single-minded focus on career advancement, or an office gossiper who doesn’t hesitate to backstab co-workers.
But this sort of toxic competition is best left to TV dramas.
In the real world, office politics like this can have a detrimental effect on everything from company culture, productivity, and even an organization’s reputation. A recent study from Pepperdine Graziadio Business School found that 40% of U.S. workers have considered leaving their jobs due to negative politicking and toxic behavior, indicating a pressing lack of interpersonal conflict management in workplaces across industries.
However, that doesn’t mean organizational politics are going anywhere. Instead, employers must focus on empowering positive behavior from the ground up.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Office Politics
When attempting to reimagine political actions in the office and create a more emotionally intelligent environment, it’s crucial to understand the motivations behind these behaviors.
In most cases, workplace politics are about individuals seeking career success. But rather than pushing other co-workers down to propel oneself forward, office politics can also manifest through positive behaviors, like:
- Presenting a professional image
- Recognizing a colleague’s achievements
- Developing a strong professional and social network
Encouraging this kind of conduct is crucial for good office politics. However, it’s just as critical to keep an eye out for unhealthy pursuits for career advancement, such as:
- Spreading rumors and office gossip
- Throwing a colleague under the bus
- Excessive flattery, especially toward higher-ups
- Forming malicious cliques in the workplace
This is especially true for distributed teams where employees are spread far apart without a lot of time for building close interpersonal relationships.
The Politics of Remote and Hybrid Work
In the work-from-home era, office politics have managed to spread despite (and often because of) the distance. For example, in many teams with both in-office and remote workers, those who are able to physically come to work will get more face-to-face time with upper management and company leaders.
On the other hand, those who work from home part or all of the time aren’t as likely to build connections with leadership. When it comes time for career advancement, employers may be more inclined to offer opportunities to those whom they interact with on a regular basis, which can quickly lead to conflict, cliques, and overall poor morale.
The Impacts of Unhealthy Office Politics
Unfortunately, negative office politics are a very real and serious problem in today’s work environments. Over 90% of employees polled by Pepperdine said that excessive amounts of workplace politics lead to ethical issues, a toxic environment, and even potential legal troubles.
But it’s not just the workers who are impacted.
When empathy, mindfulness, and mutual respect take a backseat to personal agendas, it can have serious ramifications for the whole organization, including:
Unhealthy office politics can pose a huge distraction in the workplace, resulting in decreased productivity and efficiency. When employees are constantly maneuvering for more power or the next opportunity, it diverts their time and attention away from everyday tasks, impacting not only their performance but also their team’s.
Toxic behaviors like spreading office gossip or forming cliques in the workplace create a divisive atmosphere that can be alienating to co-workers. When competition breeds distrust and communication begins to break down, it forms the perfect storm for discord and personal conflict among employees.
Speaking of conflict, unhealthy politicking can fuel disputes in the office, leading to strained relationships, increased stress and anxiety, and poor mental and emotional wellbeing. Not only is this detrimental to existing team members, but new employees will also be forced to enter a whirlwind of interpersonal conflicts.
Poor Company Culture
Perhaps the most obvious impact of negative politicking in the workplace is the decline in company culture. Allowing manipulative behaviors to go unchecked creates a toxic work environment that stifles creativity, innovation, and collaboration, ultimately sabotaging the organization itself.
All of these harmful consequences can ultimately culminate in low retention and high turnover. Simply put, negative office politics drive talented employees away from the organization, motivating them to find positions elsewhere. As more employees jump ship, the exodus further disrupts the team’s stability and can even raise costs associated with recruitment and training new hires.
10 Tips for Managing Office Politics in Your Organization
Now that we know what organizational politics really is and the consequences of negative politicking, it’s time to understand what employers can do to make their workplaces safe, inclusive, and equitable.
Here are our top 10 tips for promoting positive office politics and creating a supportive company culture:
1. Establish Clear and Open Communication Channels
Maintaining clear and open communication channels is an essential first step in developing a positive culture.
Aside from just sending emails and holding meetings, it’s essential that employees feel safe enough to express their comments, questions, and concerns, and truly have their voices be heard. Implementing an open-door policy and welcoming anonymous feedback through the use of suggestion boxes or other user-friendly communication tools allows every member of the organization to have a voice.
2. Be Fair and Consistent in Implementing Policies
As employers begin developing and implementing workplace policies, it’s paramount that they be fair and consistent in their application.
In other words, everyone should be held to the same standards and expectations, regardless of their role or relationship with leadership—and this extends to career advancement opportunities. When policies are enforced consistently, employees feel a sense of justice and equity in the system, reducing the risk of resentment as a result of favoritism.
3. Learn to Listen
Employers must be willing to listen and learn from different perspectives and experiences. But listening isn’t just the act of hearing someone else—it’s about active engagement.
While employers will benefit from practicing this themselves, they should also encourage all employees to actively listen and value diverse perspectives as well. By providing this undivided attention to others and acknowledging their concerns, everyone will see a positive example of someone leading with empathy and understanding.
4. Foster Empathy and Mindfulness
In addition to active listening, organizations must also demonstrate and foster empathy as core tenets.
Acknowledging emotions, practicing compassion, and considering differing viewpoints without judgment are key skills that make a great leader, but they also help create an environment where conflicts are approached with a deep understanding and respect for one another. This can minimize misunderstandings and help build positive relationships.
5. Consider Conflict Resolution Training
Conflict resolution training can equip leaders, management, and employees with essential skills to navigate disagreements effectively. These types of courses teach active listening, effective communication strategies, and negotiation skills, enabling individuals to handle conflicts constructively.
Encouraging employees to find common ground and seek solutions to come to a compromise can significantly reduce conflicts from disrupting work and impacting teams.
6. Shut Down Negative Politicking
Of course, conflict resolution doesn’t mean conflict avoidance, but it can help to mitigate unhealthy behaviors.
When employers implement a zero-tolerance policy for negative politicking by addressing behaviors like gossip, spreading rumors, and undermining colleagues, it not only prevents toxicity from forming, but it also sets the standard for expected behavior. It’s crucial to take swift and clear action against these negative political actions to establish and reiterate a culture of trust, respect, and professionalism.
7. Align Organizational Goals
Aligning teams and departments to accomplish the same goals can help create a sense of unity and collective purpose.
When everyone understands and is working toward a common objective, people are able to collaborate more effectively, sharing both accountability and accomplishments. Not only does this minimize silos between departments, but it also promotes a more cohesive operation that leads to greater productivity, innovation, and success for the entire organization.
8. Prioritize Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are the foundation of any team, creating a sense of belonging and fostering an environment where everyone feels valued and respected.
But prioritizing DEI is about more than just checking boxes—it’s about actively seeking diverse perspectives, celebrating differences, and empowering employees to bring their authentic selves to work.
This environment of equal opportunity and authenticity allows for greater creativity, more effective collaboration, and most importantly, more empathetic and understanding employees.
9. Develop Social Connections
Social connectedness is another essential building block for a cohesive and supportive workplace community.
Encouraging and facilitating social interactions outside of work-related tasks allows colleagues to form deeper connections and personal bonds with one another, creating a stronger sense of belonging and camaraderie. Even distributed teams can get in on the fun through virtual meetups or other fun team-building challenges over video calls.
10. Lead by Example
A company’s leadership sets the tone for the entire organization, which is why it’s crucial that employers consistently demonstrate the same core values and abide by the same guiding principles that they expect everyone else to follow.
Through transparency, empathy, and mindfulness, leaders can embody the culture they wish to foster in their employees, creating a ripple effect that inspires others to emulate positive behaviors. By becoming a role model for others, employers can successfully navigate office politics and steer the ship toward calmer seas.
Support Positive Office Politics Through Holistic Wellbeing
Looking for more ways to imbue positivity into your company culture? WellRight specializes in developing holistic wellness programs tailor-made for unique work environments. Start cultivating a happier, healthier workplace culture by reaching out to one of our Wellbeing Strategy Consultants today.