Whether it's the office gossip or the passive-aggressive employee who makes everyone miserable, office politics can be a drain on productivity and a death knell for office morale.
Office politics can be an issue in businesses of all sizes, says human resource and "culture correction" consultant Kirsten E. Ross, founder of Focus Forward Coaching in Royal Oak, Mich. Ross works with both companies and individuals to develop good workplace cultures. Her clients have included Monster.com, Fitness magazine, and Blue Cross Blue Shield, to name a few. She offers these four tips to jettison the politics and get back to work.
1. Review your processes.
Inefficient or poor processes can cause power struggles and frustration, fostering conflict and creating a breeding ground for office politics. For example, if expense reimbursements are handled by one employee who uses his or her power to delay those reimbursements inappropriately, perhaps holding up checks for people she or he doesn't like, employees will feel angry and betrayed by the company.
This feeling can hurt their overall job performance. The solution may be to have a system of accountability such as another having another employee responsible for reviewing a list of reimbursements due to ensure that checks are being cut in a timely manner.
"Look for processes that are causing conflict or where one person has too much power and figure out how to spread that power to more people," Ross suggests.
2. Create incentives for the results you want.
If you want behavior replicated in your workplace, it's important to model the behavior, as well as recognize and reward it when you find it in the workplace. Ross says that company owners who treat their people fairly and recognize productive collaborators and team-builders will find more of that behavior in their cultures. The reward doesn't have to be monetary, Ross says. Public recognition in a meeting can serve as an appropriate "great job."
3. Discourage power- and attention-seeking behavior.
When your people come to you with petty disagreements or conflicts, don't reward the behavior by getting involved immediately. Of course, if it's a big issue, like someone is being threatened or a customer is involved, you need to take immediate action. But, Ross advises directing the employees to get together and figure out a way to solve the conflict themselves. Since so many of those conflicts revolve around power struggles and poor processes, finding ways to diffuse power struggles by streamlining and improving how the process is carried out can reduce the behavior.
4. Conduct regular performance reviews.
Incorporate your expectations about teamwork and collaboration into your performance reviews. Discuss with your employees how they get along with others and how they help others in the workplace. If you have an employee who seems to regularly be at the center of conflicts and drama, discuss your concerns with that employee and get to the bottom of the issues. In some cases, the employee may be unaware of what he or she is doing. If it's purposeful and persistent, you should take action to correct the behavior or, in the worst cases, possibly fire the employee, Ross says.