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5 Ways to Avoid Office Politics

Discover how to avoid internal office games and create a positive environment at the company level.

Jan Sedlacek

Jan is co-founder of Stryber

Everyone who has ever worked in an office knows the dynamics that develop when the actual work is sabotaged by the interests and personal career goals of individuals or peer groups. Internal office politics arise when people start putting their own interests above the interests of the team and the company they are working for.

Every organization should think about the factors that lead to manipulative behavior and learn how to avoid scheming in the office. Dishonesty, talking behind the backs of others or secret alliances should never be part of everyday work. But how can internal office games best be avoided?

1. Be honest with yourself

Before you suggest a certain behavior or actions to others, it is important to take an honest look at your own attitude and actions. Every now and then, you too may put your own goals before those of the team. What is the reason for that? When does this behavior start being unfair to others? It is crucial to analyze yourself and to be honest in order to better understand the motives of others and to authentically call for change.

2. Clearly define and communicate boundaries

All employees have to know and understand the rules and which kind of behavior won’t be tolerated. It is not enough if only the management team is aware of the correct policy whilst the rest of the company only has a vague understanding of it. And it is not just a matter of giving new employees a comprehensive onboarding. Even long-standing employees need to be continuously educated about the company’s values and rules. The rulebook with the company’s mission, values and principles should be easily accessible and referred to whenever possible.

3. Act consistently

Behaviour that does not comply with rules must be called out and acted upon. This is the only way to ensure that rules are worth the paper they are written on. The type and extent of those disciplinary actions are just as crucial and should follow a clear line. Sanctions that are too moderate — a confidential one-on-one meeting or the vague prospect of skipping a planned promotion — have little effect. More effective would certainly be a written warning and, in case of recurrence, a parting of ways in the future. Such measures seem harsh, but they are the only way to demonstrate that rules and regulations are truly implemented.

4. Beware of the ego

There are a number of reasons for office politics: from being accepted as part of the culture to a way of heightening self-esteem and supporting the pursuit of power of individual employees. If colleagues always need to be in the center of attention, devalue other people and their actions, it cannot benefit the company. It will result in conflict and misdirected energy. A distinction between a healthy and an overconfident self-perception is, however, extremely difficult to make and often only becomes apparent after a longer period of time. Since there is no way to re-educate people, clear decisions have to be made if it turns out that the personality of an employee does not match the corporate culture.

5. Be the master of your own fate

If you yourself are not in a position to implement these measures and suffer under other colleagues’ workplace politics, you can decide to change your environment by leaving. After all, a poisoned office culture leads to constant dissatisfaction and could trigger burnout. The advice would be to voluntarily leave the company and seek a more constructive and positive environment.