Office Politics: Do You Ignore It Or Swim With The Sharks
One would think that politics has no place in any working environment. But wherever we go, we humans tend to take the trait of politicising issues and lobbying with us. So extensive is the web of politics at workplace that most people feel coerced into participating in it, against their wishes. It becomes a matter of survival, to take sides, to forge alliances, and to see the enemy of the enemy as one’s friend. Infact being apolitical in your office could be as risky as swimming with the sharks. So, what does one do? Compromise with personal values, and unlearn all the virtues of coexistence and forming a support system for each other, to advance one’s career? Or simply sacrifice growth at the altar of human need for validation, which perhaps is the seed that sprouts office politics.
- 68 percent women participating in a study said they didn’t like office politics.
- And yet for women and men, there seems to be no escape from office politics.
- Ignoring workplace politics can infact bring you repercussions.
- Unless those in position to make key decisions and the workforce unanimously disown office politics, it is here to stay.
It becomes a matter of survival, to take sides, to forge alliances, and to see the enemy of the enemy as one’s friend. Infact being apolitical in your office could be as risky as swimming with the sharks.
In a study by Harvard Business Review 68 percent of participating women said they dislike office politics, even though they want to assert themselves at work. The study found the reason for this dislike in its own results. 81 percent of women and 66 percent of men said that women are judged more harshly than men when they are seen as “engaging in corporate politics.” This doesn’t come as a surprise because there is this common notion that politics is a male arena. Women are considered ill suited, or shall we say, not perceived to be cunning and sharp enough to guide the course of office politics.
While this is incorrect, is it a bad thing to dislike office politics altogether? Should women only refrain from participating in it on the basis of their gender? Or should those who don’t approve of it, irrespective of gender, take a collective stand against workplace politics? The problem is that workplace politics is largely used to gain authority and power as an individual or as a group with a vested interest. When you strip politics of all the fanfare, it is nothing but an effort to ensure good governance. To function as a unit and make decisions which bring benefits on large scale.
Can’t workplace politics be used for the same? Can’t it be about giving the workplace a healthier environment instead of a hostile one? But idealism loses all its edge when it meets human behaviour, where flaw comes naturally to one and all. It is human to desire power and authority. It is human to veer towards like-minded people. It is human to seek allies and terminate foes. Survival of the fittest. Corporate salaries and suits apart, life is all about survival in all walks of life, and only the fittest can survive.
I am not justifying ruthlessness or a self-cantered attitude here, but pointing out merely at how personal or agenda driven politics comes naturally to us. That doesn’t mean one must indulge in it. But then again, to reject workplace politics, you’ll have to reject the social definition of success and failure, because even a neutral stand will comes bearing its repercussions. In today’s world, it seems feasible to advise anyone to not dabble in office politics, only when they are aiming low. For those who aspire to rise high within the ranks, especially women, there is just no escape from it. You need to know whose hands to shake and whose side to take. It’s not anyone’s fault entirely, because the system has been in place for very long and it won’t change overnight. For instance, men won’t warm up to the idea of women breaking into their close-knit upper echelons of power instantly. Thus women will have to play the game on their terms.
But yes, change can come in the culture of workplace politics gradually, and it’ll have to come from top to down and vice versa. The only condition here though is that majority of the workforce and those in the decision making positions must discourage it unanimously. Till then, swim with the sharks at your own risk.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.