How Office Politics Work

Dirty Office Politics: Survival of the Fittest Office Politician

Though office politics can get nasty, there are good reasons to pay attention to it.
Though office politics can get nasty, there are good reasons to pay attention to it.
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Although office politics is a fact of life, many people consider it insignificant or downright petty. You may have heard people rant about what they feel is dirty office politics. However, for better or worse, many experts consider it extremely important. Even if you're happy where you are and don't care to boost yourself up the corporate ladder or oust your boss, you should keep in mind that office politics affects day-to-day workplace dynamics.

It's so important that the category of organizational politics has blossomed into its own field of study within psychology. Here's why: The distribution of power and the appearance of fairness in the workplace impact how satisfied employees are with their jobs. Believing you and your opinions make a difference may make you happier in your career and in your life.

Office politics is at the core of all organizations. Paying attention to it can be just as important as fulfilling the responsibilities written in your job description [source: McIntyre]. If you aren't on the watch for it or don't tactfully engage in it, you could jeopardize your career and watch your hard work and loyalty go down the drain. If this sounds like an exaggeration, consider how things work in your own office. People who get promoted are probably heavily involved in office politics. They often voice suggestions for improvements and make themselves known. Those who consider politics beneath them keep to themselves and appear unfriendly or unmotivated, even if they work hard. When budget cuts are necessary, these people might be the first heads on the chopping block.

Worse still, without even knowing, you could be offending your coworkers or stepping on someone else's toes. When you take over a job, a project or even a nice office that previously belonged to a well-liked coworker, it might foster bitterness and make it harder to work with his allies. Being on the lookout for these issues and addressing them could help you make peace with people you might unintentionally be offending. Indeed, the authors of "Enlightened Office Politics" suggest that you owe it to your company to engage in its politics, because it's the necessary avenue to getting things done [source: Dobson].

Do you still think the pervasive presence of politics in the workplace is a corrupt system that rewards smarmy manipulators? A case can be made for rewarding good office politicians. Studies reveal that increased political skill leads to better job performance. Research shows that this applies both to people in upper-management jobs and to employees in lower-level jobs that don't require much personal interaction. Political skill proves to be the best overall predictor of job performance, surpassing intelligence and personality traits [source: Ferris].

So, you may get better at your job by honing your political skills. The trick is doing it without digressing to nasty tactics. Ethical office politics starts with being diplomatic with coworkers.