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Office Politics - 22 July 2014

It’s been thirty years since an esteemed management scholar referred to organisations as a highly “political arena”.  Three decades later and it’s as true today as it was back then.  Organisations are inherently political institutions, but what’s the impact of office politics?  

The term describes people who pursue their own self-interest no matter the collateral damage.  A new study conducted at Florida State University has found that office politics frequently results in job dissatisfaction, disengagement and depressed moods.

That outcome isn’t surprising at all – but most intriguing was the remedy recommended by the researchers.  It’s almost contradictory: whenever politics is present, a leader should support employees who are affected by it by acting politically on their behalf.

It’s referred to as supervisor political support, and it represents actions taken by leaders in a bid to improve their employees’ wellbeing.  When employees can’t protect themselves or advance their own interests because of an overly political workplace, the leader does it for them instead.  The result is that employees maintain their levels of engagement.  There are four ways of demonstrating ‘supervisor political support’:

   -   Pursue opportunities:  Be on the lookout for projects, conferences, or training and development opportunities that might be suitable for members of your team. 

   -   Acquire resources:  Be tireless in getting for your team whatever resources they need to do their job – from the trivial (like stationery) to the major (like people).

   -   Facilitate promotions:  Be your team’s strongest advocate whenever job vacancies arise by putting in a good word and helping them prepare for interviews.

   -   Remove roadblocks:  Be ruthless in abolishing red tape such as cumbersome processes and policies that constrain your employees from doing their best.

The great thing about this study is that it demonstrates your focus should only be on what you can actually influence.  It’s impossible to ever stamp out office politics – it’s the nature of the beast.  But it’s always possible to protect the most vulnerable from it.


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