Your Startup Is Not Exempt From Dirty Office Politics
I'm not fond of office politics. Startup owners pour everything they have into building the businesses they desperately want to succeed. We hire the best talent we can and give them the best facilities we can afford. We aim to create a professional and productive workspace where everybody is valued and appreciated.
And then work politics raises its ugly head. Rumors start swirling around. Soon, the staff is wondering if there's any truth to them. Cliques and office politics are among the last things we want at our startup, though politics to an extent is unavoidable at work. If it gets to a point where it's affecting employee morale and productivity, you should act swiftly to combat it. Having dealt with something similar recently, I may have a few workable solutions for you.
Strike at the root. Every office has some stock characters. Employees who are very much interested in what others are up to and go out of their way to glean sensitive information, anything which can make for good water cooler gossip. Then there are those who want to ingratiate themselves with the management, win their confidence,and then pass confidential information on to their cohorts.
They are primarily responsible for spreading rumors, which may or may not be malicious in nature. It's important for you, as the owner of your small business, to identify such employees in your company and give them a strict warning about the consequences of their behavior. If they don't pay heed, you may have to consider firing them.
Having skilled employees onboard is important but they have to be sincere and trustworthy. The last thing you want is someone who vitiates the atmosphere for others.
Remain in the know. One cannot really succeed in business without having some sort of understanding of human nature. Speak to your employees regularly to gauge their sentiment at work. Identify whom you can trust and encourage them to open up to you about any problems they or their colleagues are facing as a result of office politics.
Encourage transparency at work. Be approachable enough for your employees to speak to you about sensitive matters. Be very open about your own policies. That helps the non-political and unwary employees to know what is, and isn't, the company stand on any given matter. They are less likely to be swayed by rumors, and what "he said/she said,'' when they know their boss values good work above all else and doesn't engage in petty behavior.
Act sooner than later. Once a matter of discord among the employees is brought to your notice, act on it urgently.
Some bosses prefer employees sort out things among themselves. "Don't come crying to me," is their retort. My business partner and I are not so sure about that. We'd rather take matters in our own hands and discipline those who are having trouble recognizing their boundaries.
A lot depends on the office culture you are trying to cultivate. Big organizations may not care much about this, I imagine. (A quick Google search on the subject of office politics only returns suggestions on how to be good at it!) But for businesses that employ fewer than 50 people, I'm of the belief that a sense of community and camaraderie among employees is important. If not that, at the very least there shouldn't be any hostility or resentment in their minds.
Assure your employees. If the management does not step in and set the record straight, employees start wondering if they are complicit in what's going on. Transparency about company policies, being in tune with the employee sentiment and promptly acting on disruptive elements will collectively assure your employees and reduce the negative effect of any dirty games going on.
Conclusion. Dealing with power equations at work is tricky. But smaller businesses have it easier than the bigger ones in this respect. Lead with a vision and emphasize on rewarding good behavior, while taking a dim view of political machinations. This will help you maintain a positive environment at work.
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