The Nightmare of Office Politics

The Nightmare of Office Politics

An issue that is acquiring importance for the human resources function is employee wellness. A number of employers are taking initiatives to promote healthy lifestyles among employees. When we speak of healthy lifestyles, we are not referring only to gym memberships or green smoothies. That would be reducing employee wellness just to its physical dimension. We can talk of a number of other dimensions such as intellectual wellness, environmental wellness, and financial wellness.

However, most probably the most important dimension is emotional wellness at work. Towards the middle of last year I had written a contribution on the subject of employee wellness. I met a client sometime after who pointed out that there is an aspect of employee wellness related to the emotional dimension about which an employer can do very little.

He was referring to office politics and, in his own words, “the nightmare of office politics”. At some point or other we have all had to contend with the office colleague who tries to take credit for the work we would have done; the office colleague who seeks to bully everyone including one’s boss; the office colleague who conveniently forgets to pass on essential information to you; the office colleague who reports office gossip to the boss; the office colleague who is never there when needed; the office colleague who discriminates against you because you are more capable. The list can be endless.

All such situations and others like them cause employees a great deal of stress and anxiety and any employer can do next to nothing about them. These situations affect our mental state, have an enormous effect on our emotional well-being, and lead to demotivation, and possibly an urge to look for a job elsewhere.

I have had HR managers telling me that staff has moved on, not because of a negative situation caused by the company’s senior management, but because of an unbearable situation caused by the employees, their peers.

The defence mechanism adopted by employees against this can take various shapes and forms. Affected employees try to keep very much to themselves during the working day. Others have stopped attending company social events to avoid contact. Others speak to friends or gossip about it in the hope that the boss gets to know in an indirect way.

However nothing seems to work and unfortunately employers are at a loss about what to do. Even confronting such despicable persons does not seem to work as they are so good at playing the docile innocent lamb. They even try to make you feel that you are imagining things and that you are being hypersensitive.

How can we deal with such a nightmare? Persons responsible for the HR function need to appreciate that HR is not only about employee development, or employee recruitment, or how can management motivate employees. Managers do a great deal to create a balance between the need to achieve results and the need to maintain healthy relationships at work, even if they do not always manage.

Persons responsible for the HR function need to start assessing relationships among staff. They need to be more aware of how the emotional well-being of their staff depends also on how staff interact among themselves. The nightmare of office politics leads to a loss in productivity and an increase in staff turnover to a much greater extent than we think.


Lawrence Zammit, Director