What Is Organizational Politics?

by Steffani Cameron - Updated July 27, 2018

One element that’s always an unknown until one begins working in a job is what the organizational politics will be. No one likes to admit it, but there’s the job and then there’s politics, and it takes savvy and dedication to navigate each.

What Are Organizational Politics in the Workplace?

To understand business or workplace politics, it helps to first consider the politics definition. Most people are familiar with the primary definition of politics – the activities associated with governing a place or region. These can include debate between parties in power, a set of beliefs or principles and other facets that involve belief and governance.

However, it’s the secondary politics definition that concerns the workplace through organizational politics, or what is commonly called “office politics,” and that includes efforts made in an attempt to improve one’s status or to increase one’s power in the organization.

Consult business dictionaries and they’ll tell you that organizational politics are when one pursues an agenda of self-interest in the workplace while having little regard for the effect it will have on the company’s success in achieving its goals.

What Is Meant by Organizational Policies?

Two things are at the heart of politics – relationships and policies. It’s easy to believe the two are separate matters, but policies in workplaces often dictate relationships or at least the way relationships are enjoyed and nurtured.

Organizational policies guide the way in which employees and the organization itself act or behave regarding both the employee’s interests and the company’s interests. These are the guidelines, rules, operating procedures and principles outlined by the company’s ownership or administration, which are then expected to be adhered to by all people in the firm. From emailing to attire to hierarchy to company holidays, these are all policies one can expect to be defined by the company.

Contravening these policies can cause conflicts or require reprimands. The way these policies affect workplace interactions can influence the organization’s political climate, which in turn can impact office politics. Navigating policies and benefitting from using them to one’s advantage (or suffering the consequences thereof) form the heart of corporate politics and power.

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Corporate Leadership and Politics

Organizational politics can often come down to relationships and allies in the workplace. Who has power over where your career goes? Who can be of benefit down the line? Who will make the best teacher? What’s the best stance for negotiating your contract? Which projects would benefit your career best in the long run? Can you make an open secret of your career ambitions so management understands that you're in it to win it?

All these questions and their answers are examples of what defines politics in the workplace. It’s strategy and methodology that will affect how you succeed in your career. It has nothing to do with what the company’s shareholders will receive or what the sales bottom line will be in the third quarter but is instead entirely about your future in the firm.

When corporate leaders favor one person over another for where he went to school or his speaking style or boardroom appeal, that’s part of politics too. It’s not objective or tangible, like how Robert has the highest sales success in his division and therefore gets the biggest bonus. Instead, it’s a subjective belief based on interpersonal relationships and interaction.

Playing Politics

History is rife with people who felt they were above playing politics but then got upstaged by peers. Anyone who believes politics are opt-in for any corporation or organization is due for a shocker when one realizes that politics exist in every environment and are unavoidable. Whether you choose to participate is up to you, but make no mistake – politics will be played whether you suit up for them or not.

About the Author

Steffani Cameron is a professional writer who has written for the Washington Post, Culture, Yahoo!, Canadian Traveller, and many other platforms. Some writing projects have included ghost-writing for CEOs and doing strategy white papers. She frequently writes for corporate clients representing Fortune 500 brands on subjects that include marketing, business, and social media trends.

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