After months, sometimes even years of job hunting, you finally land a job. It is not the dream job, but it is a job with decent terms. You are excited so are your family and friends. You start at your new job and soon get the hang of it. Or so you thought.

A few months in, you realize that what you thought was the hardest part (getting the job) just might not be. The hard part, it turns out, is keeping it.

You realize that it is not as straight forward as getting the job done and earning that promotion. There is a whole jungle of office politics you knew nothing about that you must hack your way through. From unfair bosses, to downright mean ones, from unspoken key performance indicators (I thought those are always clearly spelled out) to unclear payment terms, from colleagues who live for workplace intrigue to those who will stop at nothing to bring you down. The list is endless.

How do we navigate all this and still hold down a job? While situations differ and what works for one person may not work for another, we have a few tips that, from our experience, can help.

1. Accept that most, if not all, workplaces have some level of politics.
Office politics involves the pursuit and use of power to drive an agenda, both personal and organizational.

Work for any amount of time and you will soon realize that office politics cannot be avoided. The difference is in the degree at which it plays out. In some workplaces it gets really toxic and underhand, but in most it is mild and manageable. The sooner you accept that it is part of the job the better because then you learn how to deal with it.

2. Develop your emotional intelligence in order to deal with different personalities at the workplace.
The workplace is made up of individuals with different temperaments and therefore different ways of approaching issues. There are the team players, the glory seekers, the aggressive and not so aggressive, the bullies and those who stand up for the bullied. Get to know your colleagues and how to deal with each individually. For instance, if you know that your colleague is a glory seeker and you are working on a project together, document all your contribution to the project and let it be known clearly by your supervisor what you are handling as the project progresses. This is to avoid your colleague taking all the glory once the project is successfully completed or having them throw you under the bus should things go south.

3. Know your workplace policies.
Though they sometimes feel stifling, policies in the workplace exist to protect us. Read your policy manual in detail and know what it says about what you consider key issues. For instance what does the policy say about compensation, inward mobility, the escalation process, or leave entitlement. Knowing these policies always comes in handy in sticky situations. Say your boss is blocking you from moving to another department that you would like to advance to. Find out if the decision is within policy or not and then make a decision on how to handle it.

4. Learn and know your organization culture.
Different organizations do things differently. Organizational culture defines appropriate behavior within your organization. It ranges from the big things like gender relations to the small things like addressing each other with first names rather than surnames or titles. Whatever it is, learn the culture and align yourself. If your organization celebrates everyone’s birthday by collecting money from colleagues and buying cake, do not be the one who is constantly objecting. If your department organizes a Secret Santa style gift exchange at the end of the year, endeavor to participate. These may all seem trivial, but if you are constantly objecting or talking ill of the culture, you isolate yourself and come off as an outsider. Being a cultural pariah leaves you at a political disadvantage.

5. Be the change you want to see.
An organization is made up of people. It therefore goes without saying that toxic politics has people in the center and so does a healthy work environment. So rather than complain about workplaces that are toxic or instead of moving from one job to another in search for a healthy working environment why not start with making changes yourself where you can.
• Be the colleague who supports new staff in settling in; the one who shows them around the office and takes them to the best lunch spot rather than the aloof unwelcoming colleague.
• Be the boss who builds their team instead of trying to bring them down, who grows individuals and mentors them rather than sabotaging their growth.
• Be that colleague who refuses to engage in gossip. Office gossip is the number one cause of toxic work environments. Refuse to engage in corridor talk.
• Be the employer who has fair policies that give equal opportunity to both men and women.
• Be the colleague who is positive and flexible. Constantly complaining about every change and being negative about every suggestion is unhelpful. If you have an idea that you believe in, raise it, otherwise, embrace change and be flexible with your colleague’s suggestions and ideas.

We spend half our lives at the work place. It should be a positive life giving space at the very least.

5 Replies to “Navigating Office Politics”

  1. A great piece. Surely getting a job is only the first step in this game. And I like point number 5, be the change you want to see. We can make workplaces safe growth space, and enjoyable too.

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