Human Resources Blog - Spark Hire

Workplace Toxin: Office Politics

Any workplace is much more complex than it seems at first, and part of being a member of the workforce, especially in a managerial position, is deciphering what is really going on in a work environment – and effectively dealing with any issues that arise before they become bigger problems. One unfortunately common issue that adversely affects many places of work is office politics.

Defining Office Politics

“Office politics” is a catch-all term that describes something that is always political, but can apply to any workplace, not just an office environment. Although politics are often part of the workings of an organization, and not necessarily a bad thing, office politics refers to a particularly destructive type of political maneuvering. When a person works to pursue only their own agenda and only their own best interests, without any consideration of the consequences for their coworkers or their company in general, that is the essence of office politics.

Common tactics of “office politicians” include gossip, brazen toadying (to superiors and/or colleagues), stealing credit while deflecting blame, and intricate combinations of all of the above and other forms of subtle – and not so subtle – manipulation.

What’s wrong with Office Politics?

Just about any workplace will have some degree of politicking and machinations among its employees. This becomes a problem when somebody is only looking out for themselves, at the expense of anything and everything else. The consequences of this mentality can range from basically nonexistent to downright destructive for both the organization and its employees.

Identifying Office Politics

Generally, people who play a self-serving game in the workplace want to be subtle about it enough not to be identified. Depending on circumstances, and what purpose they are trying to serve, there might not be much of an attempt to hide political scheming. However, usually you have to read between the lines of what is going on to get the feel for the political landscape of a workplace.

The tactics mentioned above are often a good sign of at least some degree of toxic politics, but not always. All it takes is some knowledge of the common tactics, a bit of common sense, and experience. The more experience you have in working environments, the easier it is to spot office politics.

Dealing with Office Politics

Dealing with office politics is a complex skill set. A good education in human resources management will help equip you with the skills you need to both read the dynamics of a workplace, and deal with problems as they come.

One very effective way to deal with common types of workplace manipulation is to not fall prey to the usual tactics. For instance, gossip is often used as a way to manipulate opinions, damage reputations, and put others at a disadvantage; whether gossip is part of a larger manipulation or not, it is always sensible to avoid and discourage gossip in the workplace, especially in a managerial role.

As a manager, you may also run into obvious sycophancy. While it is advisable to thank and give credit to somebody making an effort, it is important not to let yourself be manipulated by what is, unfortunately, often a self-serving strategy.

More than anything, dealing with office politics means spotting these tendencies as they come, and not getting drawn into the fray. (

What’s your take on office politics? How do you prevent possible manipulation from employees? Leave us a comment!

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by Victor1558

About the Author: Trisha Vivona is a freelance writer focused on human resources management. She values innovation, hard work, and a relentless approach to creating value for clients and stakeholders. She can be reached on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Guest Post

Spark Hire is honored to host featured guest experts on our HR & Recruiting Blog. We're committed to bringing you the best tips and trends to streamline your hiring and recruiting processes. Thank you for your contributions and readership.