Workplace politics

Workplace politics, sometimes referred to as Office politics (which strictly only includes office workers, although the meaning is usually intended in the wider sense) is "the use of one's individual or assigned power within an employing organization for the purpose of obtaining advantages beyond one's legitimate authority. Those advantages may include access to tangible assets, or intangible benefits such as status or pseudo-authority that influences the behavior of others. Both individuals and groups may engage in Office Politics." [1] Office politics has also been described as "simply how power gets worked out on a practical, day-to-day basis."[2]



Office politics differs from office gossip in that people participating in office politics do so with the objective of gaining advantage, whereas gossip can be a purely social activity. However, both activities are highly related to each other. Office gossip is often used by an individual to place themselves at a point where they can control the flow of information and therefore gain maximum advantage.

Office politics also refers to the way co-workers act among each other. It can be either positive or negative (i.e. co-operate or compete).


At the root of office politics is the issue of manipulation which can happen in any relationship where one or more of the parties involved use indirect means to achieve their goals. In the workplace, where resources are limited, individuals have an incentive to achieve their goals at the expense of their colleagues. For example, if six people apply for one promotion, they might expect the selection to be made purely on merit. Where one of the people believes that this would put them at a disadvantage, they may use other means of coercion or influence to put themselves into an advantageous position. When the people being manipulated begin to talk to each other directly, or when other evidence comes to light such as financial results, the manipulator will have an explanation ready but will already be planning their exit, because they would rather stay in control than face a revelation which exposes their behaviour.


The aims of office politics or manipulation in the workplace are not always increased pay or a promotion. Often, the goal may simply be greater power or control for its own end; or to disrepudiate a competitor. While office politics do not necessarily aim at selfish gains - they can be a means towards outcomes which are corporate and benefit the company, not the individual - a 'manipulator' will often achieve career or personal goals by co-opting as many colleagues as possible into their plans, strengthening their own position by ensuring that they will be the last person to be accused of any wrongdoing, because they ally themselves with everyone, changing sides to suit their own personal, hidden agenda.


Office politics is a major issue in business because the individuals who manipulate their working relationships consume time and resources for their own gain at the expense of the team or company.

In addition to this problem, the practice of office politics can have an even more serious effect on major business processes such as strategy formation, budget setting, performance management, and leadership. This occurs because when individuals are playing office politics, it interferes with the information flow of a company. Information can be distorted, misdirected, or suppressed, in order to manipulate a situation for short-term personal gain.[3]


One way of analysing office politics in more detail is to view it as a series of games.[4] These games can be analysed and described in terms of the type of game and the payoff. Interpersonal games are games that are played between peers (for example the game of "No Bad News" where individuals suppress negative information, and the payoff is not risking upsetting someone); leadership games are played between supervisor and employee (for example the game of "Divide and Conquer" where the supervisor sets his employees against each other, with the payoff that none threatens his power base); and budget games are played with the resources of an organisation (for example the game of "Sandbagging" where individuals negotiate a low sales target, and the payoff is a bigger bonus).[3]

See also


  1. ^ Marilyn Haight, Office Politics,
  2. ^ Lebarre, Polly, The New Face of Office Politics, Sept. 1999,
  3. ^ a b Games At Work - How to recognize and reduce office politics Goldstein, Read and Cashman April 2009, Jossey Bass Wiley, ISBN 9780470262009
  4. ^ Berne, Eric, Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, Jan. 2010, Penguin Books Ltd., ISBN 9780141040271

Further reading

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