How to Avoid Nasty Office Politics

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Is it really necessary to play office politics to advance one’s career? Yes, say a majority of employees responding to a new survey. In an announcement prepared for the week of Super Tuesday, staffing firm Robert Half International states that “Whether you're running for office or just working in one, it pays to be a good politician.”

The latest Robert Half survey queried 400 American workers between December 2011 and January of this year and found that 41 percent believe involvement in office politcis is “somewhat necessary” to get ahead, while 15 percent said political involvement at work is “very necessary” to one’s career success.

Interestingly, 42 percent of those surveyed said they believed participating in office politics is “not at all necessary” to advancing one’s career. They might want to think again given the competitive landscape for financial services professionals these days.

Semantics could be at fault: Mingling the concepts of work and personal politics may leave some professionals with a bad taste in their mouths.

Still, it is clear that all of the savviest professionals have learned a thing or two about workplace diplomacy, says Robert Half Chairman and CEO Max Messmer. "They remain attuned to political undercurrents but don't allow themselves to get pulled into situations that could compromise their working relationships or reputation,” he says.

Whereas some might consider banks and financial services boutiques to be more steeped in politics than other organizations, that’s not necessarily the case, says Steve Saah, a Robert Half director of permanent placement services based in Washington, D.C., who focuses on placing accounting and finance professionals.

“The reality is that politics exist in all organizations, and that’s not necessarily a negative thing,” says Saah. “The biggest thing is to avoid those situations that can negatively effect your career.”

Here are some tips on how to stay out of nasty office politics:

  1. If you’ve made a significant on-the-job achievement, don’t take all the credit for yourself. “If your team recognizes you’re the type of person that will share credit for the work your team has done when approproate, it will bode well for your reputation and perception,” says Saah—not only among members of your team but those above you as well.
  2. Watch out for certain personality types on the job. Every company has its share of what Saah likes to call “covert operators” who use manipulation and personal information about others to get ahead.
  3. Be cautious of a colleague who tends to be critical of others and eager to take credit for what others have done, and keep your guard up around him or her. Also look out for those within your organization who are closely alligned with leadership, serving as their eyes and ears. That’s someone who may serve as an advocate for you if you develop a good rapour with him or her.
  4. Don’t overlook lower-level colleagues. Even if you want to impress the power players, don't overlook those still at the grassroots level. You never know whose vote of confidence could come in handy in the future.
  5. Don’t participate in mudslinging. It is is a sure way to damage your own credibility.
  6. Dodge conversations about religion and politics. This is a big election year, so casual chit-chat will inevitably veer toward the polarizing topic of government politics. Proceed with caution or (politely) bow out completely.

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