Politics in the workplace is a characteristic of organizations worldwide, especially here in India. A few view it as an inevitable game, while others try to avoid it completely, a hopeless impossibility. The reality is that we’ve all been involved in it, to some extent, at one or more stages of our careers, from junior employee to senior executive.
Here in India, office politics plays a significant role in carving out a successful IT career. For employees, office politics is all about pleasing their boss, and for supervisors it’s about getting the work done by their employees. While playing a little office politics may get you some rewards, not playing it can adversely affect your career.
Here is a short story of two employees, Ravi and Suresh, who worked for an IT Company as project leads on the same team. Suresh was bright and exceptionally good at his work, while Ravi was only average. Yet Ravi constantly managed to be rewarded for his work and get the attention of management. Suresh on the other hand, despite doing all his good work, seemed invisible to senior management.
This significant difference in their reputations was due to the fact that Ravi was good at socialization. He would greet his supervisor and, when possible, senior management, almost every day — offer them lunch, accompany them on smoke breaks, go along on casual outings.
On the contrary, Suresh was an introvert. He would greet people occasionally, but preferred to remain focused on work. Although exceptionally good at his work, Suresh had little interaction with senior management, usually avoiding opportunities to meet and mingle with them. When the annual appraisal rolled around Ravi got a promotion, while Suresh received only a marginal pay hike.
One need not shout out one’s qualities and abilities to supervisors, managers and colleagues — but it is good practice to present a positive and involved image in front of peers and supervisors. That is part and parcel of workplace politics. Since we will all have to play the game, here are a few guidelines to help you avoid losing out in the office politics arena.
Be good to all. You may not like everyone on your team, or even like your immediate supervisor. But do not showcase these feelings to them. You never know who may spread negativity about you, or share less-than-positive feedback with your supervisor. Negative opinions and reviews have a way of following employees throughout their careers.
Being nice toward everyone is particularly important when dealing with others who may be below your employment level. Some of these people may include secretaries and custodians. These people see all that goes on in an organization, and they often have the ear of higher-ups who understand and appreciate their opinions. Never talk down to them or show disrespect in any way. They are human beings and they deserve to be treated with the highest regard.
It’s been said that the measure of a great man is how he treats those below his station. While it costs you nothing to be nice, being rude or condescending may cost you everything.
Try to fit in. Employees who are reserved and like to keep to themselves are often considered soft targets for any gossip or plotting. When working on a team, try to regularly interact with other team members and not just your supervisor.
Going out for breaks, sharing experiences, and friendly and sincere greetings go a long way toward building a good rep among team members. Of course, you also have to be proficient at your job and carry your share of the load. Be an employee who is perceived as a team-player — one who can be counted on to come through in a pinch.
Don’t be too emotional about work. Some employees who are good at their work are also very proud and arrogant. They consider themselves as a brand and can be very emotional. For them, accepting any criticism against their work is a tough pill to swallow. This often leads to arguments with supervisors and management and unfortunately can lead to their downfall
Although good workers, these types are often ignored for promotions or pay hikes in favor of another employee who has good relations with their boss (a.k.a, losing at office politics). Be humble about your accomplishments, and always give credit where it is due.
Ignore the unexpected. When you are vigilant and aware of the fact that you need to mind your behavior, it is easier to be at peace with others. But what about unexpected incidents or differences of opinion with other employees? We spend a significant portion of our day at the office and, occasionally, unfavorable events do occur.
For instance, someone next to you may be speaking loud enough on the phone to annoy you, or someone may not agree with your style of work and question your ability. When confronted with such situations, it’s best to ignore them and move on. To do otherwise may lead to heated exchanges and hard feelings that can damage your reputation. Remember? It’s all about being — and being viewed as — a good employee who plays well with others.
Always respect the boss. There are some Indian IT companies where the HR personnel are puppets on the hands of management. If you work for such a company, understanding and following the above suggestions becomes even more vital. Remember, the boss is the boss and you work for him.
But what about when your boss is absolutely wrong about how to accomplish something? You may not always agree with his (or her) policies and plans, but as long as you work for the company you owe your supervisor your respect.
It’s important to understand the appropriate time and situation when you can get yourself heard. Your approach holds the key here. Your concerns may be valid, but if not raised in the correct manner they can easily come across as complaints. One should wait for the right occasion and convey any grievances in a polite manner. An example of such an approach is highlighting issues in team meetings and one-on-one sessions with your supervisor, or skip-level sessions with senior management.
If you have a problem or urgent concern, it’s always better to talk it out, as opposed to sending a provocative email or instant message to your supervisor, as you never know how it may be interpreted.
Politics in the workplace to a certain extent is necessary and acceptable. It should be handled in an ethical manner, and not cause harm to others. Be pleasant to your boss and others, share in light moments, and be genuine in your concern and courtesy toward others. Knowing how to play office politics isn’t a bad thing. It can help you advance your career in an ethical manner, and contribute to an office environment that runs smoothly and productively. Remember, a good employee may not be a good politician, but a good politician is often a successful employee.