Unless you manage a team of robots, you have office politics. We are emotional beings with competing interests. Predictable patterns of behavior are present in any organization. If negative behaviors aren’t dealt with, the environment can deteriorate quickly. (Lord of the Flies is an extreme case in point.)

Office politics can become destructive unless management, Human Resources (HR), and employees make a conscious effort to limit their influence.

An organization where altruism is the norm is a rare thing indeed. But some companies come pretty close. Can you imagine working at such a place? It would be immensely fulfilling. You would establish rewarding professional relationships. It would be better for your health. You wouldn’t dream of looking for work elsewhere.

What Are Office Politics?

Office politics encompass a spectrum of behavior. They range from annoying and childish to straight up dishonest. For the purposes of this article, our working definition is: ‘Employee behavior used to gain advantage that has a negative impact on the organization.’

Human Resources Can Manage Office Politics

Human Resources can prevent office politics from becoming destructive. In fact, HR is best equipped to foster a positive and productive work environment. Limiting the effect of office politics should be a priority.

How Do Destructive Office Politics Affect Employees?

Let’s discuss the specific ways office politics influence a workforce.

  • Minimal employee engagement
  • Increased absenteeism due to health issues
  • Lower productivity
  • Lack of unity and common purpose
  • Higher turnover
  • A negative company reputation
  • Unfavorable online employee/former employee reviews

A 7-Step Plan For Human Resources to Manage Office Politics

How can Human Resources manage office politics? Follow this straightforward guide. It will help you attack the problem head on. In the process, you will enact policies to keep it under control going forward.

1. Create and Document Your Plan

Outline your program and what you wish to achieve. Think of a catchy name that puts a positive spin on it. Most organizations would categorize it as an engagement program.

Explain in detail what you will do. Include a timeline. Describe what you expect from the executive team, managers, and rank and file employees. You will need this for the next step.

2. Get Approval From Your Higher Ups

Before you start, get approval. Whomever you report to needs to understand exactly what you will be doing.

Your superior may have requested a program. But if not, don’t hesitate to pitch it. This is a legitimate program for you to carry out. If successful, it will benefit your company significantly. The executive team might not be aware of the extent of the problem. You may have to educate them. So they will understand why such a program is necessary.

3. Roll Out Your Program

It’s time to kick off your program:

  1. Introduce your program
  2. Outline the objectives
  3. Explain what each employee needs to do
  4. Explain what each manager needs to do
  5. Explain what you will do
  6. Describe how a successful outcome will benefit them

4. Survey Employees to Identify Office Politics That Are Destructive

You probably have a sense of what’s going on. But you need input from everyone. You need specifics. Survey all employees from the executive team to the newest hires. You can do this in person or with an online survey. If you have an HR portal, use the employee engagement tools.

In addition, provide a way to give feedback anonymously. They will be more candid. This will yield valuable information. But if an employee accuses a co-worker of extreme behavior, evaluate it within the overall context. The very act of reporting on co-worker behavior involves office politics.

In addition to asking what’s wrong, ask for solutions. Behavioral dynamics are complex. You need all the suggestions you can get. Some of the solutions may be surprisingly straightforward. Plus, your employees will appreciate the fact that you asked them.

5. Define Policies Around Pain Points

When you have feedback, you can create policies. What are the employees’ concerns? How extra work is assigned? Co-workers who sabotage projects? Employees who reveal confidential information?

You should already have policies on how promotions are granted. Plus policies on channels of communication. Enforcing these policies with transparency will prevent many problems.

Hopefully, you have a good employee handbook. There might already be policies that address the behavior. You will need to update your handbook with new policies. If employees aren’t following them, you need to educate and enforce. We will discuss this now.

6. Train Employees on Ethical Behavior

Train employees on appropriate behavior. If you use real examples to illustrate, keep the identities anonymous. Explain the consequences for violations. Create a way for employees to report violations.

7. Hold Managers Accountable For Equitable Policies

Share the findings of your surveys with your managers.  If they aren’t on board, it will be impossible to improve the environment. They need to understand what’s going on. If they are showing favoritism, this has to stop. Make sure managers know performance reviews will be tied, in part, to how well they minimize office politics within their teams.

Encourage managers to create a formal recognition program for each one on their team. If each team member’s work is recognized consistently, it will go a long way to foster mutual appreciation.

Work with managers to create company-wide unity. Outline goals the entire staff can work toward. Help each employee know how their work contributes to overall production goals. You will have a more unified workforce.

If managers don’t model appropriate behavior, use progressive discipline. If they continue to violate, you need them out of your organization.

WorkforceHUB Has Engagement Tools

SwipeClock’s WorkforceHUB has tools for employee surveys, employee handbooks, anonymous suggestion boxes, recognition walls, and other engagement features.

By Liz Strikwerda