What Are Politics in Business?

Each office has two organizational charts; formal and informal.
Each office has two organizational charts; formal and informal. (Image: Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Office politics is defined as a network of personal and social relationships (alliances, cliques, friendships) that arise as people associate with other people in a work environment. The relationship network forms an informal organizational structure. Unless you work alone, you must take part in office politics. It isn't optional. Depending on the organization, the informal structure may be more effective than the formal.

Benefits of Office Politics

Being part of a group can give an employee a sense of belonging that is missing in the formal structure. The state of inclusion allows a conduit for feelings of frustration or tension which may help to diffuse them. The formal organization usually has no means of dealing with emotions, and other employees can be a source of support in bad times. An office run in an informal way allows employees to tailor their job to a certain extent, giving rise to innovation and creativity and providing support for the manager as others pick up duties the manager leaves behind. The informal organization handles simple communication better than the formal. The informal structure does a better job of controlling behavior in an office, even of the manager, who will have a harder time exercising inappropriate authority if he's part of the informal organization.

Disadvantages of Office Politics

Informal structures depend on the personalities of the individuals involved, not on a rulebook. That means that individuals may bring negative behaviors to the office and create an atmosphere of distrust or resistance to change. In addition, individuals may become more loyal to each other than the organization. As their loyalty increases, individuals will communicate with each other. Communication is faster in the informal organization, but there is no way of correcting false information.

Office Politics for the Employee

Each employee must realize that the informal organization exists. The gates on the arena are closed and locked. Hiding in a corner won't make the lions go away. The effective employee will find a mentor to work as an ally and supporter in dealing with others in the office. The effective employee also seeks help and guidance from peers in the office and forms or joins a team which can work together for the betterment of all.

Office Politics for the Manager

The effective manager knows her employees and her employers and recognizes the existence of office politics. The individuals under the manager will have different personalities and must be dealt with according to those personalities. That means bending the organization rulebook. In all organizations, executives above the manager will impose conditions which affect the employees. The manager must apply these directives appropriately. She must also decide how much fraternization to allow. She may not be able to be the friendly co-worker and, at the same time, the person who fires and promotes.

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