Office politics — a poison ivy

Lucy Sebli

Office politics is bloody minded but weak on content.
– Mason Cooley, American aphorist known for his witty aphorisms

What is office politics? We often hear this phrase and it is very common in many institutions, either government or private. Office politics is an action and behaviour involving competition for status or power in the workplace.

It is also known as organisational politics. It is the use of power and social networking within an organisation to achieve changes that benefit the organisation or individuals within it. Influence by individuals may serve personal interests without regard to their effect on the organisation itself.

I still can recall my first day at work many years ago while I was working with an international company. My then superior called me to his office on my first day of work. He advised me not to involve myself in office politics.

His reason was, office politics is bad for the development of the company. He told me to keep my head down, do my work to the best of my ability and reminded me that my loyalty lies with the company and not with individuals within the company. He also told me that if I worked hard and performed beyond the company’s expectations, I would be rewarded accordingly.

And I did just that for the next five years! I was so naïve to believe that my hard work and commitment to the company would pay off. Well, it didn’t!

I was passed over for promotions a couple of times. Some of the people who just joined the company got promoted before me. But I consoled myself and told myself that it was not my time and my immediate superior didn’t think I was ready for the promotion. After all, promotion means more responsibilities and more working hours.

A year later, I was passed over for another promotion in my department. This time by a junior male colleague who just joined the company less than a year.

Enough is enough. I told myself that I was not going to take the news lying down. I would go and see my superior and ask him why I had been passed over for the promotion.

He told me that the job was not suitable for me because it entailed me going out and meeting a lot of senior businessmen and travelling most of the time and so forth.

The usual irrational excuses given by the person who was in a position of power to deny suitable and deserving candidates the chances to climb the so-called social ladder within an organisation.

And to make matter worse, he used my gender against me! I have a family; am a married woman and he didn’t think my then late husband would agree to me spending more time at the office and frequently travelling overseas.

Of course, I was so cross! I told him that it was unfair to use my gender against me because I had put the same amount of time and commitment, if not more than some of my colleagues.

I also reminded him of what he told me three years ago when I first joined the company. He was taken aback and paused for a moment before telling me that a lot had changed since I joined the company. The management of the company had changed since the takeover of the company by a new owner.

Office politics have more negative effects than positive on an organisation and employees. First, it decreases in overall productivity, in which politics lowers the output of an individual and eventually affects productivity.

Common observation concludes that individuals who play politics at the workplace pay less attention to their work because they are more interested in leg-pulling and backbiting.

They spend most of their times criticising their fellow workers. As a result, employees fail to achieve targets within the stipulated time frame.

Secondly, it may affect concentration because individuals will find it difficult to concentrate on their work. They are also more interested in spoiling the other person’s image in front of the superiors.

Thirdly, it also demotivates employees. A non-performer can be the apple of his boss’ eye simply due to politics, thus demotivating the performers. Discussions are essential at the workplace to extract the best out of employees.

Employees playing politics always look for an opportunity to tarnish the image of the fellow workers. Employees feel demotivated when they are not rewarded suitably or someone who has not worked hard gets the benefits due to mere politics.

Fourthly, office politics also give wrong information about the organisation and the people working in it. Employees indulge in politics manipulate information and it is never passed on in its desired form.

Superiors get a wrong picture of what is happening in the organisation. A wrong person walks away with the credit in an organisation where employees indulge in politics.

Office politics is everywhere and we cannot not run away from it. I guess, in the end, it is all up to us personally, whether we want to involve or not.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.