What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear "office politics?"
Is it "backstabbing?" Maybe gossip, malicious rumors and "sucking up" to the right people? If so, it's fair to want to stay out of Dodge and work under the radar.
But whether you like it or loathe it, office politics are often a fact of life. And, hard as it is to believe, it's possible to "win" at workplace politics—putting yourself or your cause in a position to move upward without compromising your values or those of your organization.
"Some workplace drama is inevitable," said Jennifer Gonzalez, Chief Human Resources Officer at Metro Health – University of Michigan Health. "Some employees love to gossip: Who's working too much or too little, who wore what to work, or what you think about the latest company initiatives."
Office politics can be described as dirty, manipulative, and petty, and can be a source of anger, frustration, and betrayal when colleagues seem to spend more time schmoozing the right people instead of working—and then proceed through the ranks over someone who works hard each day. Yet according to a 2017 Bridge by Instructure survey, 53% of workers think playing workplace politics could get them promoted.
Rather than take the "moral high ground" and ignore the politics, there are some positives, Gonzalez said, that could elevate your career.
Workplace politics are all about relationships. It's imperative they're built and nurtured with people who can positively affect your career.
"Networking is often one of the positives of office politics," Gonzales said. "Taking time to meet and connect with people in an organization who have power and influence can sometimes be helpful in getting a foot in the door."
Then, that foot in the door could lead to a seat at the table. Build a network by identifying and aligning yourself with the powerful, influential people. Be aware of the rules and ongoing changes to workplace dynamics.
Embrace the politics, whatever they are, as it will be your political savvy and performance that will unlock getting—and staying—ahead.
"For those individuals looking to use office politics to their advantage, it's important to remember that office politics continuously change and evolve," Gonzalez said.
"What makes sense today may not make sense tomorrow."
The unwritten, often not verbalized rules could also play huge role in an organization's politics as well as how someone fits in or stands out. What rules are sacred? What does it take to get ahead? What type of attention is rewarded? What behavior is chastised? Paying attention is vital; this information could be invaluable while positioning yourself for more responsibility, higher pay or better hours.
The syndrome "go along to get along" may still be alive in many workplaces. But to be successful, you need to do the hard work and create visibility and credibility for yourself. Otherwise, you run the risk of remaining invisible in a crowded and competitive environment.
"In my mind, it's always preferable to demonstrate your value to the business outside of that sphere of office politics," Gonzalez said.
"Never underestimate the value of a strong work ethic and producing quality work."
At Metro Health – University of Michigan Health, Gonzales continued, they are committed to hiring the best person for the role.
"It's important that organizations realize their needs and hire the people with the appropriate skill sets, rather than for political reasons."
Office politics are a reality we all must face. It's how we face, and eventually overcome, the politics that positions us for bigger and better opportunities.
April Simone Stevens is a Grand Rapids-based lifestyle blogger. Along with writing, she enjoys photography, reading and graphic design. When not working, April Simone spends much of her time exploring the city's various breweries and restaurants—and visiting Grand Rapids Art Museum as often as possible. Keep up with her adventures and reflections on Instagram: @april.simoneee
This article originally appeared in the Apr/May 2020 issue of West Michigan Woman.