The beginner’s guide to office politics
For most of us, graduating from university seems like the start of life as a true grown-up. As a fully-fledged working adult, it’s easy to imagine that you’ve left classroom cliques and silly dramas far behind you.
And then you get a job.
Office politics are frustrating, unnecessary, exhausting and unavoidable. Want to arm yourself against the worst of the worst? Read on.
The hopeless case
No employee exists in a vacuum, but unfortunately the one colleague who is integral to your ability to do your job properly appears to be a fully paid-up member of the space cadets. (Double points if they’re your manager.) Their sheer incompetence is making you look bad, so you have to redo their work on top of your own.
Deal with it
When someone’s absence or incompetence is impacting your work, it’s a problem that needs to be dealt with. The first step is to confront the person directly. Don’t accuse, and keep the conversation positive. State that you’ve noticed they seem overburdened and ask if there’s any way you can both work out a system that allows both of you to operate effectively.
If that doesn’t work, turn to a senior person. Again, stay away from a blame game and simply point out the reasons why you’re struggling to complete assignments, before asking if the workloads or priorities of your colleague can be rejigged. If nothing gets done, keep your boss looped in on the reason for any delays on your end (“I’ll get cracking as soon as I receive document X, which is still with Jane”) so you can’t be suspected of slacking off.
They rock up an hour late every day, send one email and then promptly head off on a half-hour coffee break. They seem to develop a bed-confining cold every Friday, and every time you walk past their computer they’re watching cat videos on YouTube.
Deal with it:
Watching someone slack off with apparent impunity while you’re working your butt off can be hugely demoralising. Resist the temptation to follow suit. Bad workers are almost always rooted out eventually. But poor work ethic habits, once formed, are hard to break, so you could be putting your whole future career at stake.
No matter how early you arrive at the office, they’re already there. You frequently receive emails from them timestamped near midnight. Their refusal to ever take a lunch break or sick day makes you feel like a slacker in comparison.
Deal with it:
Believe it or not, working too hard is a bad thing. Refusing to take breaks makes you slower, stupider and generally less productive. Moreover, as a new starter, be careful about setting expectations about a workload that you may subsequently struggle to maintain.
If nobody is putting pressure on you to follow the Workaholic’s example, ignore them and concentrate on producing good results within your working hours. If your boss expects everyone in your workplace to be like the Workaholic, however, you might want to consider if you’re willing to stay in a company that doesn’t respect their employees’ work-life balance.
Not only do they have a triple-class first from Oxford, Harvard and MIT, they’re fluent in five languages and spend their evenings training to be an Olympic weightlifter. Once, you were assigned a shared project and they’d finished their half before you’d even finished reading through the initial email.
Deal with it:
Never, ever compare yourself to other people. When it comes to the workplace, focus only on producing the best work you can and be the best worker you can be. Remember that it takes everyone time to learn how to really do a job, and if you’re a new hire you’ll still be getting to grips with the role. Who knows? In six months you could be surpassing the superstar!
Even if you don’t, keep in mind that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Find the tasks you shine at and be proud of your own achievements.
They’ve been here for years and consider any new hires as an encroachment on their territory. Once you accidentally breathed in their direction and they yelled at you for half an hour about it. They might not have actually taken your lunch money yet, but you’re too scared to make yourself a cup of tea in case you mistakenly use “their” mug.
Deal with it:
It’s not okay for someone to make you feel uncomfortable in the workplace. Full stop. If someone is acting inappropriately, you’re well within your rights to escalate it by talking to your boss or HR. But first, try approaching the bully directly. Sometimes people don’t realise how overbearing their behaviour is, and pointing out that they’ve upset you is enough to shame them into stopping.
Engineer a way to talk to them privately and keep the conversation neutral. Say that you’ve noticed some tension between you, and because you’d love to have a great working relationship with them you wanted to hear whether there’s anything you can do to resolve it. Playing nice increases the chances they’ll be open to doing the same.