Politics in workplace is a tool to attain, retain & display perceived power. It mostly manifests itself as work-lobbies or groups which surprisingly even move within or even outside organizations as a body. Power grows tangibly & non-tangibly even as individuals compete neck to neck for a one up on one another. These factors (enumerated below) are indicative un-exhaustive list on the why of politics aka perceived power
1. Availability of Information
Poon (2003) found that employees will perceive their work environment as politically charged if they believe that:
They lack information about job objectives, job opportunities and the outcome of job performance
Trust levels are low among organisational members (members are suspicious of motives, intentions and prospective actions of other members)
Control over information is a result of Legitimate power position within an organisation. Primarily a function of official formal channels of communication, it is common in more centralized structures. Differentiation results as a result of such control over power, information, labour & tasks which makes the individual non-substitutable and thus enviable.
This is largely common among peers and colleagues in same departments or different departments of the same organisation. At times, personal concerns may tend to displace substantive material in a decision making process here as people become increasingly conscious of influence, proximity and other such factors which in their opinion may influence evaluation of similar output
3. Struggle for Power
Every organisation is an economic body that seeks to thrive in the market and ensure its profitability & solubility. Every individual who is a part of this organisation is expected to be a responsible contributor to this overall objective of the organisation. However, the politically charged human structures that they are, organizations tend to transform into ego satisfying and career progression avenues that employees use as a mode of forwarding their self worth. At this juncture, the objectives of the organisation and its constituent employees seems to be headed for opposite directions
As one moves higher up in the organisation, opportunity of wielding formal positions becomes smaller and the amount of power available seems scarce. Here, individuals struggle to prove themselves superior, either by gaining power at someone else’s expense or by a comparative gain in perceived power e.g. better impression on immediate superior, higher proximity or visibility in the organization. It is here that the mentality of comparison, as a basis of measuring his self esteem, takes over an individual.
There is a perceived attrition in one’s own power base as another peer becomes better. This maybe due to visible organisational rewards or a sense of falling on personal standards
5. Limited resources
Like pay rise and promotion opportunities being not freely available creates pressures and feeling of competition among the fellow members of an organization. A marked distinction occurs between those who have and those who don’t have power which in turn spurs undercurrents in day to day affairs and dealings.
6. Subjectivity of Evaluation
Another reason that spurs power struggle and resultant politicking is the subjectivity that exists in the evaluation structures. A major part of performance evaluation that in turn determines compensation is subjective that leads to the same cycle of impression management in the eyes of ones superior.
7. Proximity to Powerful Personnel
8. Compliance or Commitment?
Following orders from positions above self may be in the nature of mere acceptance of directives or of internalization of the intent of the directive. In case of compliance, the change brought about is one that is easily reverted to null at the slightest instance. Although, compliance results due to position power of the directing figure, an internalization of the idea has not percolated down the hierarchical levels. This speaks volumes about the issues of employee involvement and empowerment not only as a part of enhancing acceptability of an initiative, but also towards preserving the power of the superior.
Tactics people use:
- Controlling access to information
- Cultivating a favorable Impression on significant office holders
- Developing a support base
- Blame game
- Aligning oneself with powerful people
- Playing political games
When politics is used as a measure or even as an aftermath of holding power in an organisation, there are certain contingencies that result from it. These maybe in the nature of:
i. Substitutability- There is a fear in the mind of the person in authority or the one who calls the shots that he maybe removed from his place of power in no time. This may lead to lack of satisfaction on the job and overall mounting stress levels in the organisation. Suspicion levels in the organisation reach an all time high and political games follow
ii. Centrality- The degree to which the control over decisions is centralised is a major condition for deciding who the boss is. A politically charged environment is essentially less open to the idea of subordinate empowerment
iii. Discretion- Availability of power & the discretion to use such power at will is also an important consideration. Also important is the factor of controllability by self or by others of the power so vested in an individual
iv. Visibility- no amount of power or influence that a person commands is of any consequence if it is not known to the other party. Hence visibility of one’s power is also an important determinant of influence commanded
Is it essentially Bad?
As defined by Greenberg and Baron in 1997, Organisational Politics comprises “actions not officially approved by an organsition taken to influence others to meet one’s personal goals.” It is essentially the negative side of the power game that the emphasis is on. Many authors argue, that politics and its effect can be beneficial to an organisation. In real situations, it might be harmful or even destructive to continually speak the truth with everyone; people would not be able to work together and will be tough to be allowed to deal with customers. Here, the role of politics comes in in a big way. Politics is good for the organisation as people who are politically correct come to the office smartly dressed to deal with customers and have a professional approach to work*. a political colour makes people friendly, helpful, cheerful and confident & influences people to get work done for themselves little realising who they do it for as the end result is mutually beneficial to both parties involved. Benefits maybe enlisted as follows:
- Exert power and influence in ethical, honorable ways
- Increase the chance of getting your way without damaging relationships or being thrown out of the game
- Become a more valuable team member
- Increase job satisfaction and career options
Politics at work after all may not be that bad a deal!
*The Facts of Work: Living with Power and Politics- Bob Schatz