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Should You Participate in Office Politics or Avoid Them Like the Plague?

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 11/6/2011

Ask anyone you know and they’ll most likely tell you they hate office politics and steer clear of them as best they can. Instead of fearing these two words (because every office has politics) perhaps it’s time to embrace them to gain the upper hand.

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    Sure I’m Available for Golf This Weekend!

    Politicking your way to the top Bigbadboss.com defines office politics: “It 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.” Sure, that’s partly how it goes but there are other identifying elements, such as sucking up to the boss, pretending to be a BFF to a coworker with power, and even agreeing to make nice with clients you don’t care for outside of the office.

    Much like change, office politics (OP) are inevitable. A recent post by Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback in the Harvard Business Review Network Blog “Stop Avoiding Office Politics” actually reveals that instead of running as fast as you can from OPs, you should embrace them!

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    Why Embrace OPs?

    Most people who turn away from office politics do it for a reason. Some have personal values they won’t break whereas others just don’t like playing the game. Others refuse to stoop to a level they feel is beneath them for the “sake” of the company. Whatever your reasons are for hating OPs, perhaps it’s time to dig in deeper and find out why you really hate or fear them.

    Throughout my career, I’ve dealt with politics at the office—everyone has; and while my like or dislike for them is on the average scale, I’d like to explore what you can lose or gain by joining in or strictly adhering to your values not to participate in the evil we all call OP.

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    What You'll Lose

    Are you alone at work If you don’t want to hang around the water cooler and listen to the new and upcoming at the office and participate in the conversation, you will lose out in some areas, including:

    Aloneness – Believe it or not you can work in a Fortune 500 company and feel alone. If you don’t engage your coworkers, listen to the good and the bad stuff, or ask for or offer help, you will be left alone in the tiny world you’ve built for yourself. Is this really what you want?

    Boredom – Along with being alone in a busy working environment, avoiding OPs can also make for one boring day. Because your coworkers know you want to keep to yourself they will leave you alone, meaning you’ll gain no interpersonal relationships or communication of any kind. The words, “No man is an island” do mean something.

    Advancement – Remember your job interview? Remember how you said you wanted to work for a company that offered room for advancement? If you skip the OPs, you’re on the fast track for going nowhere within the company. You can easily tell if this is happening to you by words or phrases used in your performance evaluations such as “needs more interaction with coworkers” or “lack of interpersonal skills.” Sometimes you really do have to “kiss up” so to speak to get to the top.

    Education – I’m not talking about losing out on company-paid continuing education. What I am talking about is the education you’ll lose by choosing not to participate in office politics. If you’re not one of the gang, when the new or the exciting ventures into your work environment, you’ll be the last on the list to learn about it, if you’re invited to participate at all. Basically, if new technology or processes to improve the workplace come along and everyone knows you’re a loner, they’ll skip your invite to the department meeting.

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    What You'll Gain

    Participate and win Joining in on the OPs at the office can also be a big help, and some things you'll gain include:

    Contentment – Employee engagement is all about a happy and content working environment. By participating in office politics (like them or not) you’re engaging your coworkers so they’ll return the favor. Anything that can make your job more fun and productive is a good thing; and if you’re happy, you’re content.

    Get Noticed – Those who protest OPs until their dying day will never get noticed by upper management, but if you jump on board, you will. Participating or volunteering for various company events (inside or outside the workplace) makes for a much easier ladder to climb, especially when upper management is looking for someone who is a can-do person.

    Mentoring – Because you are part of the team through and through, by participating in the often dull but must-do office politicking, you will gain the ability to mentor others who fear OPs. Mentorship is a rewarding experience that can last a lifetime. Who wouldn’t want in on something like this? And, upper management will notice you.

    Advancement – By not participating in OPs you’ll be last on the list for advancement. Turn that card over and by participating, your name will come up (and often) if you’re seen as a team player who is willing to help at all costs. Management doesn’t want those who don’t understand the rules; they want someone who plays (and works) by them.

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    Still Not Convinced?

    If we look at the HBR Blog post, experts Hill and Lineback say, “Unless you reach out, engage others, and create active, ongoing relationships — relationships you sustain even when there's no immediate problem — you will lack the ability to exercise influence beyond your group. And even in your own world, your influence will be limited. If you've ever worked for a boss who lacked any organizational clout or credibility, you know how frustrating that is.”

    These statements are so true when it comes to not only work, but how your behavior at work flows to your life outside of work. It really all boils down to relationships and how you build them, at work or at play.

    Sure, one could argue there are those who made it to the top by avoiding OPs at every turn, but again, turn that card over and you’ll find most of these successful folks were the ones who originally set the standards for office politicking.

    I’m not saying you need to suck up to your coworkers and schmooze the boss each and every day. What I am saying is avoiding OPs only because you stand behind your principles may be detrimental to your career and the advancement you dream about.

    What’s your take? Do you avoid OPs like the plague, and, if so, has it hurt or helped you? What about those of you who participate in OPs as best you can—is it worth it? Drop me a comment—let’s discuss it!