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What Are Office Politics?

Office politics can involve the relationships between authority figures and their workers.
Cliques can sometimes occur in the workplace, making other employees feel ostracized and decreasing their workplace satisfaction.
Teamwork could improve office politics.
Gossip can be a negative component of office politics.
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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 August 2014
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In the term office politics, the word politics has a specific — though variously interpreted — meaning. To some, office politics is simply the playing out of interrelationships within the office environments. Just as in society, people have different needs, goals, and approaches, so, too in an office. To others, it refers specifically to the wielding of power in the office environment. Any assignation of authority, title, or role creates power, so those holding this view would likely believe that office politics is inevitable, as offices, by definition, assign various powers to various employees.

Experts differ on the most fundamental aspect of office politics. Some aim to remove it from play, seeking to create an office in which there are no “office politics.” Other experts — those who believe that politics, in whatever definition, are inextricably part of the human condition and the office — urge a different approach. The recommended approach, however, may be either of playing fair, on the one hand, or winning, on the other hand.

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Negative views of office politics play up aspects of office life that can be unpleasant, unfair, and demeaning. These include office gossip, hypocrisy, toadying, and seeking advantages at the expense of others. Defined in this way, it is clear why the goal would be to eliminate office politics. Another way to look at an office with these issues is not as one that “has” office politics — as opposed to others that do not — but as an office with a negative workplace culture.

The experts who don’t condemn office politics out of hand may point out that in politics outside of the office, and inside as well, people can be diplomatic, honest, friendly without being subservient, and loyal as well as self-interested. When employees’ self-interest and an employer’s interest coincide and company policies are constructed to recognize this, and when the company culture is positive, people are less likely to feel that everybody doing their best and receiving credit for doing so is a problem. A company in which the atmosphere is competitive to the exclusion of the conception of the workforce as a team or in which the good of the employees must be subordinated or ignored for the good of the company to be accomplished are more likely to have a negative culture and a negative concept of office politics.

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Discuss this Article

everetra
Post 2

@NathanG - Those are some good office politics tips. Personally, I take note of people I think are playing office politics and keep my distance from them. I don’t play games. I think you need to be honest, straight up, and people will respect you. You will succeed on your own terms, not because of your schmoozing.

NathanG
Post 1

Every office has its politics, and I am referring to its negative connotations having to do with gossip and manipulative relationships. The best strategy for surviving office politics is to do an excellent job at what you do and not try to curry favor with one person more than another.

In other words, don’t show favoritism to someone you think can do you good. Otherwise, you’ll earn the title of “brown noser,” and that’s not a reputation you want to have.

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