How to Downplay Office Politics During the Pandemic

BY Kathy Crosett
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When the dark clouds of the pandemic descended earlier this year, many of us hoped that one distasteful part of office life would disappear. Now, more than ever, it's important to downplay office politics. You know what I mean. Some people get ahead by being in the right place at the right time without actually accomplishing anything. Other people have the top boss’ ear because they wormed their way into the right situation, such as playing on the same squash league.

With people working from home more of the time, the art of office politics has changed. Tomas Chamorro-​Premuzic and Dorie Clark explain that agile managers can use the new normal to upend some of the ill will that the previous era of working up close and in person with others may have engendered.

Breaking Down Barriers

Some of us are naturally more comfortable working with our own team. We don’t reach out to see how our peers in other departments are doing. Over time, the lack of connection with peers means that we might end up building barriers between departments. Our mindset can easily turn into an ‘us versus them’ scenario, especially if the latest product launch isn’t going well.

This outcome might make you feel better or more in control. It might also make you believe that you’re not to blame for whatever has failed. That’s always a comforting notion, isn’t it? But that attitude doesn’t encourage us to be accountable and ultimately is detrimental to getting the best results for the company. During this pandemic, reach out to peers — to managers of other departments — to discuss better ways for your teams to work together. If you aren’t trying to make every initiative a success, how can you expect loyalty and engagement from your employees?

Reaching Out

The pandemic has gone on long enough that people have left your company and new employees have joined. You likely have new peers, whether they are occasionally working in your physical office or from a remote location. Their entire hiring and onboarding process may have been done without a single in-​person encounter. Can you imagine how they feel as they try to navigate the culture in the organization?

Throw them a lifeline. Instead of staying busy with what’s happening in your own department, extend yourself. Make a couple of getting acquainted calls. Figure out what you and the new employee might have in common. One way to stop office politics from brewing into big problems is to stop trouble before it has a chance to get started. When co-​workers and team members feel they are accepted and valued, they’ll be more likely to concentrate on the work. Otherwise, they may engage in the kind of workplace behavior that’s detrimental to organizational progress.

Avoid the ‘Winner Takes All’ Mindset and Downplay Office Politics

In our current business climate, most of us are feeling more than our fair share of stress. And when a co-​worker does something unexpected, we might immediately assume they’re out to get us. One common reaction in this scenario is to retaliate.

Don’t let that be your first reaction. Consider your co-worker’s action for at least a day and look at the situation from their perspective. Could there be another reason, beside making you look bad, that they didn’t support your proposal in the management meeting?

It’s up to you to show positive commitment to your organization’s values and to take action when you sense a drift away from the stated purpose. Keep in mind that 29% of sales reps leave an organization if they don’t like the direction, purpose, or values. And 27% have left because they don’t like their co-​workers or the team culture.

Whether people are working in the office or from a remote location, politics will not disappear entirely. But you can improve the situation by setting the right example. Downplay office politics and focus on making the organization successful.