10 Reasons to Avoid Office Politics

Don Tennant
Slide Show

10 Reasons Why You Should Avoid Office Politics

Learn why you're far better off avoiding office politics at all costs.

A leading SaaS provider of HR software is putting out information that constitutes one of the gravest disservices to the corporate working environment that I've seen in a long time. The problem has nothing to do with its software, but rather with the kind of "advice" it's providing visitors to its website.


The SaaS provider is salary.com, and the advice in question is being conveyed in the form of a slideshow titled, "Office Politics: 10 Ways to Play and Win." The purpose of the piece is to show you "how to position yourself for the game you'll have to play at some point, like it or not." No matter how you slice it, what salary.com is doing is advancing the notion that engaging in office politics is necessary and inevitable.


That's nonsense. You don't have to play the office politics game any more than you have to engage in any other form of corruption to advance your career. You're far better off doing everything in your power to avoid office politics at all costs. Here are 10 reasons why:


  • It promotes managerial incompetence. Playing the politics game enables incompetent managers to advance their own careers on the backs of subordinates who take on added burdens and responsibilities as a means of gaining favor with those managers. Getting close to a person in authority, regardless of that person's ability, is seen as more politically advantageous than a candid assessment of his performance.
  • It fosters divisiveness in the workplace. Salary.com's advice to "pick your friends wisely" encourages an environment that pits camps of workers against each other. Far better advice is to be a true friend to everyone, regardless of his position on the political landscape. Cooperation and collaboration will be far easier to achieve.
  • It thwarts career advancement based on merit. If a less-qualified colleague gets a promotion that you know you should have gotten simply because he has better connections, does that mean you should have spent more time sucking up to managers and less time enhancing your qualifications? Not unless you're willing to perpetuate a corrupt working environment at the expense of expanding your professional skills. Merit will always win in the long run.
  • It tramples the ideal of doing for others without expectation of payback. Salary.com offers this reminder: "With reciprocity in mind, remember, the giver has power over the recipient. That is a good position to be in." If you work at a place in which people do things for each other in order to wield "you owe me" power, you might want to think about moving on.
  • It sees selfishness as a necessary evil. Salary.com states, "The nature of office politics is to take things like trust and pervert [them] for a self-serving agenda." To make a statement like that on one hand, and proclaim on the other that office politics is something you have no choice but to engage in, sends a message of hopeless acquiescence to the destruction of what we see as noble in our lives.
  • It creates an environment in which backbiting is acceptable. Speaking ill of others behind their backs is a destructive force that undermines the spirit of unity that's a prerequisite for a healthy working environment. The pervasiveness of office politics is a reflection of our acceptance of national politics, which has devolved into an orchestrated program of belittling one's opponent.
  • It prevents the achievement of the full potential of teamwork. It's difficult to imagine a career field or an industry that relies more on teamwork than IT. The success of any IT project depends completely on the integration of a multitude of individual working parts, which in turn completely depend on teamwork. Office politics is a force of disintegration that has to be overcome if integration is to take place, and that can only be accomplished through teamwork.
  • It subverts the aim of consensus-building. Salary.com addresses the importance of being a consensus builder, but undermines the point with this statement: "Another advantage of building consensus is that you become a broker, not only of solutions and relationships, but also of power." Office politics has the deleterious effect of transforming a consensus builder into a power broker.
  • It encourages the misappropriation of resources. A working environment that accepts office politics as a given makes the allocation of resources a question of "what's best for me." Salary.com says that doesn't mean you should fix prices or hoard materials. "But access to resources, especially when they become scarce, puts you front-and-center, a good position to hold." Resources go to the individual who's best-positioned, not to where they're needed most.
  • It stymies a service orientation. It's taken IT decades to recognize the value of service-oriented systems and organizations that are built around needs that exist outside IT's own sphere of influence and interest. Office politics restricts our vision, causing us to focus on internal machinations rather than external requirements. It has no place whatsoever in a healthy workplace-especially a healthy IT workplace.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 5, 2010 12:55 PM mataj mataj  says:

It's not very wise to avoid politics (office or any other), because politics won't avoid you.

As for that salary.com's slideshow: "10 Ways to... " is a synonim for "Caution: Serious Bullshit Ahead!" It's just a couple of environmentally friendly advices, aimed at making a reader a better person, and preventing him from becoming a manager. Yes, better person. Not good person, but better. For example, the ideal of doing for others with expectation of payback is far better than currently prevailing ideal of doing absolutely nothing for others, period. Namely, doing anything for free, for common good is considered an evil communism nowadays. Similarily, viewing selfishness as a necessary evil is far better than viewing selfishness as a pure evil.

Oct 5, 2010 6:25 PM Ian Hay Ian Hay  says:

Like it or not, office politics is a game we all get pulled into at sometime whether we want to or not. If your coworker is playing it and your boss is playing it and you are not, you will lose. If you don't know how to play the game, you will lose.

Oct 6, 2010 2:27 PM Drunken Economist Drunken Economist  says:

This is either naivete (never worked in a corp?) or more disingenuous 'do as I say and not as I do' from Mumbai Don.

Seriously. Ignore the game(s) at your peril or your career in a multinational will be VERY short.

Seriously. Did you REALLY decant slideshow content from salary.com? Must be a slow blogday....

Oct 6, 2010 5:35 PM Drunken Economist Drunken Economist  says:

Aw, I'll be a bit more constructive. Just this once:

"One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors."  --Plato

Oct 7, 2010 10:25 AM Lyle Millander Lyle Millander  says:

I'd like to believe that operating with honesty and integrity is the best course of action. Certainly, it makes sense to understand the nuances of office politics. Knowing the game can help you derail that behavior in others, or help you know when it's best to keep your head down.

Working in a 'political' company is frustrating, depressing, and stressful. Either fight the good fight or polish your resume. Otherwise, for many, it's not worth the spiritual cost.

Conversely, if you work for the government...

Oct 10, 2010 10:49 AM Dolores Dolores  says: in response to Drunken Economist

Drunky is right. I actually took a professional development course about office politics, and the lesson was: swim or be eaten alive by the sharks. The example was a departmental director, whose department performed a critical function, was doing well, and had a budget surplus. Then budget cuts. Long story short: his position gone, his functions taken over by other departments, his budget surplus shared like a pizza. Play the game, or it plays you.

Oct 11, 2010 4:29 PM Nightman Nightman  says:

This is idealistic, but I believe the message should be "don't lose yourself in office politics". One must do and learn what is necessary to survive or excel (if you wish to) in an organisation, when you find that you are "forced" to play more office politics than you care for, (or if the office politics is making you unhappy at work or dreading to go to work), stop and move on. But if you find yourself "moving on" too many times because of office politics, then perhaps you should re-assess your thresholds, or your choices of organisations/industry...

Oct 13, 2010 8:34 AM tracey sutton tracey sutton  says:

The point is, although office politics exist it doesn't mean you have to play.  Being aware of them to navigate and perform one's job despite them is a far cry from being a political player and feeding the issue.  Choosing to play only  perpetuates the problem and makes corporations less productive and more costly.  Bottom line, pride and fear are what drives these political games.

Oct 13, 2010 5:26 PM kevin turner kevin turner  says:

Frankly, I started out my career with Mr. Tennant's idealism and got stomped. I don't play politics today, but I do make a point to keep up with the techniques/technology so I can defend myself from "impression managers". To think that everyone has the time, inclination and energy to manage the "impression managers" adequately is  frankly, a curious concept. All knowledge is good, but its how you use it that counts

Oct 13, 2010 6:41 PM Cheryl Odeen Cheryl Odeen  says:

Thank you, Don!  Having worked far too many years for a well-known multinational corporation whose very downfall was out-of-control office politics, I can vouch for every statement you've made. Just because "everyone does it" and "you can't survive if you don't play" doesn't make it right or productive.  Maybe that's the reason that working in corporate America has such a nasty reputation as a way to earn a living.

Oct 18, 2010 6:42 PM Joan Liberty Joan Liberty  says: in response to Cheryl Odeen

I agree, and my experience is organizations with a heavy political agenda usually are miserable places to work if you have any work ethic at all. Employees who spend their time playing politics usually don't contribute much to the organization. In that case - everyone loses.

You can not build a house of a faulty foundation and expect it to last - why does Enron come to mind?

Thanks Don for this article and I'll stay away from Salary.com as a vendor - it is highly likely that with this type of philosopy their office politics will impact their ability to deliver good service. 

Oct 18, 2010 7:35 PM Steve Steve  says:

Politics, like CONGRESS...use 'em or lose 'em

Oct 20, 2010 8:01 AM M782427 M782427  says:

Dear Readers:

As a Certified Fraud Examiners, we have found that if an office, company, or plant has an over abundance of what is commonly called 'office politics', many times we find 'fraud, waste, and abuse'. Corporate business exists for it's stakeholders, not as individuals, but as a social unit that provides an economic good and or service. When that existence becomes personal, generally we find the 'root cause' that may be alleged to be civil and or criminal economic violations. Wherefore, if you find (through a material evidence, not supposition), bullying, secrecy, personal vendettas, discriminatory practices, promptly report it to your corporate compliance officer. Under many, many federal and state regs. and court litigations, such behavior is not permitted and must be investigated by the corporation. And in many cases if the corporation refuses to investigate, said corporation can become liable under civil and criminal investigations and penalties.

Oct 20, 2010 8:08 AM Joan Liberty Joan Liberty  says: in response to M782427

Yep - a wise person, Florence Lalicker, has said - "When money and not morality is the goal then anything goes." You can substitue "power" in that as well

Oct 20, 2010 8:24 AM Ross Holman Ross Holman  says:

Mr. Amitai Givertz's blog - and Mr. Don Tennant's reply are mostly two ends of the continum on 'politics' in business.  Politics exists everywhere there are 3 or more people in a group or organization - families, business, church, military, government, teams etc.  The only way to avoid politics is to live and work alone which for most people is not very enjoyable.  You can be involved in office politics and 'play' the game and still be honest, trustworthy, ethical and competent - that's everyones' choice.  Unfortunately, some make the choice to 'play' the game and be unethical, deceitful and 'win at all costs'.  These people drive the equation that 'politics' = bad. 

Oct 20, 2010 2:49 PM Tricia Tricia  says:

I really like this article and truly wish that politics were an avoidable evil. I do my best to be respectful to everyone. But if it means I have to give false praise or manipulate the message, or sacrifice my core beliefs in order to get ahead, then I guess I will stay in a lower position forever.  My mom always said that if you didn't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all.  I think the art of ethical politics is learning when to keep your mouth shut and when you must open it, be honest. 

Oct 21, 2010 8:38 AM Jerander Jerander  says: in response to Joan Liberty

Everything Don Tennant said is true.  The workplace would be far better off without all of the crazy antics of office politics, but everything the salary.com presentation said is also true. Blunt and off-putting, but still true.

Everyone in the workplace is affected by office politics whether they play or not. It's important to know that you are always being observed -- nothing you do goes unnoticed, unacknowledged maybe, but never ignored. And the observations will determine how you're approached and what is believed about you.

I think the key is to stay sharp, be aware of what's happening around you, know what you you're willing to live with and for how long, and have an escape plan. If the village idiot is getting all the special projects, committee assignments, etc., move on if you don't want to end up working for them.

Politics is crazy. I've never seen it accomplish anything other than frustrating and hurting too many good people. It continues because mediocre types benefit from it, and it doesn't create enough pain at the bottom line for those in charge to put a stop to it. Every once in a great while, someone in leadership is smart enough to realize that bad managers and a poisonous environment is costing them their best asset, people, and throws out all the riff-raff that can't change their ways.

Oct 21, 2010 6:13 PM Joan Liberty Joan Liberty  says: in response to Tricia

I commend you on your willingness and courage to be honest and respectful. It is amazing how far respect, honest, and integrity can take us.  If in your organization they don't promote that type of behavior then there is an organization that is looking for you as well as you looking for them.

I've worked for organizations that practices principles and values and they were highly productive and enjoyable places to work.  The organizatoins that practiced the opposite were miserable places to work.  Unfortunately you can't always know until you've actually started working there.  

Oct 27, 2010 6:28 PM Ray Ray  says: in response to Jerander

Why are we fooling ourselves. Those who play office politics have been doing it since kindergarden. Either you do it or you don't. I don't.

Oct 27, 2010 7:00 PM Joan Liberty Joan Liberty  says: in response to Jerander

I hear you loud and clear!  I also believe that if we continue to challenge ourselves - "to be the change that we wish to see in the world" (Ghandi) we will make a difference in our own lives and others lives.  Where honesty, integrity, and authenticity will lead us we are in the process of discovering....we know where dishonesty, greed, and fear lead us.  Not where I want to go!

Oct 27, 2010 7:57 PM Seamus Seamus  says: in response to Ray

Politics might be unavoidable, but how you USE it says more about who you are than whether you play or not.  Politics is the connection of people for a purpose and if your purpose is a higher good than selfish motives of power, prestige or self-promotion, it speaks for itself.  The power we generate by cooperation is greater than the power we generate simply for the sake of power.

Jan 17, 2011 8:35 PM ferd ferd  says:

Although I agree that office politics is wasteful and deplorable, they are also a fact of life.  You will be forced into playing the game, and no matter how you play you will be a loser in some way.  All you can do is try to keep your dignity, and minimize your losses.  Sometimes you just have to deal with politicians forcefully because that is the only thing they understand.  Learn how to hit them back harder, without damaging your own credibility, even if you have to hire a hit man to wack them over the head in a dark alley.

Mar 7, 2011 6:30 PM Rainbow Zebra Rainbow Zebra  says:

There's no avoiding office politics, so how about making sure everyone is at least comfortable when trying to negotiate the political minefield!

A good, posture supporting chair can't take the stress of office politics away but it can relieve the stresses your back may be experiencing as a result of bad posture. They don't have to cost the earth either! Do a bit of research and you'll be surprised at what you might find!

Jul 21, 2011 10:18 AM niraj niraj  says:

i work in the offshored world in india. Office politics is very common in the big companies here, and as a matter of fact, its the staple diet of co-workers here. Broadly speaking, there are those who think it is a necessary part of survival and then there are those creative minds who really want to do the hard work and innovate but reach a dead end. Summarizing, good guys are in minority everywhere. The not-so-good-guys (in ever growing majority) always want to pull back the good guys from performing at their best, because this is what they are taught to do by their instinct. A dead end is what I'm used to seeing very often in my work life. The solution is to do keep doing something good and in that dialogue with God, convey to Him that i always did good, now it's over to you.


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