Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Let's call Office Politics by its real name

Leye - Every other Wednesday

Photo by mattbuck

Why do they call it office politics when it is clearly simply bad behaviour? 

The terms, Office Politics, Workplace Politics, or any variance with the word politics in it seems to suggest that it is something less evil, less conniving, less manipulative, and less destructive than it is. Why the embellishment? Why not just call it what it really is: bad behaviour. End of.

If someone's kid habitually kicks your kid in the stomach, we don't call it playground politics, do we? No. We name it for what it is: a demon possessed child whose parents must now be summoned to a gathering of the school authorities and the other kid's parents for a cleansing session of ritual shaming. We must do the same with this wrongly named behaviour witnessed in our workplaces. We must call it what it is: unacceptable bad behaviour that shall not be tolerated.

In my job as an agile coach I often come across the worst in workplace behaviour. It's everything from wearing the most ill-fitting, colour-clashing, looked-better-on-the-mannequin outfits to work, to the huge Tupperware of What-on-Earth-is-That reanimated to life in the office microwave oven. The times I've approached the microwave only to beat a hasty retreat as wafts of the latest aberration to be sacrificed in the oven threaten to purge my lungs of everything good and cling to my clothes forever. 

But where some forms of bad behaviour require nothing more severe than a strategically timed turned-up nose and eye-roll, some particular behaviours deserve an instant red-card. All behaviours perviously classed as office politics deserve this one-strike-and-you-are-out approach, as far as I'm concerned.

This then calls for a classification system. How do we group various behaviours witnessed at work into the benign, the slightly annoying but not so bad, the irritating but 'I don't need to punch you yet', and the 'Your voodoo doll is getting it tonight'?

I say let's start by renaming the class of behaviours formerly referred to as office politics. Let's start by listing the behaviours and naming them for what they really are:
1.     Harmful gossip about colleagues
2.     Conniving to destroy collegues
3.     Plotting against colleagues
4.     Spreading lies about colleagues
5.     Withholding information from colleagues so that they may fail
6.     Withholding information that might exonerate or lead to praise for a colleague
7.     Knowingly giving false information to colleagues
8.     Taking credit for achievements and work done by colleagues
9.     Wrongly apportioning blame to colleagues
10.  Forming alliances to destroy collegues
11.  Practicing a strategy of tearing colleagues down to cover one's incompetences and / or mistakes
12.  Spying on colleagues
13.  Bossing colleagues just to feel important
14.  Bossing colleagues to make them cry
15.  Bossing colleagues, being unfair, unkind, and harsh on them because you don't like them
16.  Getting colleagues fired
The list goes on and on, hence the need for an all-encompassing term such as office politics - which is the wrong term. For the sake of brevity, let us simply refer to the afore mentioned as 'bad behaviours.' Let us further agree that no form of bad behaviour shall be tolerated. Let us go even one step further and state boldly, 'Call me out if I'm being bad.'

Now, that is a work environment in which I would love to work. A place where it is unacceptable to be bad in any way to the people you work with. A place where we shall only do onto others as we wish them do onto us.

An important part of my job is the wellbeing of the members of my teams. My measure of how well or not I'm doing at any point is whether I have reason to suspect that just one member of a team is waking up and wishing they didn't have to come to work because someone is making the workplace unbearable for them. I know how that feels and I cannot stomach the thought of anyone going through it: waking up at four am, unable to go back to sleep as your mind tosses and turns over the issue at work. The issue invariably is a person and what it is about the person is usually their behaviour; their scheming, their conniving, their plotting, their manipulating, their bullying, their violence in communication, their work place violence.

Hey! We just found the correct term: Work Place Violence!

Let us stop giving tacit approval to bad behaviour by employing euphemisms like Workplace Politics. Let us boldly identify all bad behaviour, name them and point them out when we witness them. Let us spread the word that Work Place Violence will not be tolerated.

I'm lucky; in my role I get to contribute to the creation of environments in which Work Place Violence is starved of the oxygen it needs to thrive, that oxygen being a potent mix of rigid hierarchy, lack of transparency, a thriving blame culture, the setting of impossible targets and inhuman expectations and much more. 

I have witnessed so much of the damage done to people by Work Place Violence that I am now instantly nauseated when anyone refers to it as Office Politics. It is not politics; it is violence. And it is not acceptable.


  1. Leye, after reading your post, I realize I've been blessed for most of my professional life, because I can honestly say that in all the decades at my law firm--not counting a decade at a Wall Street firm--I experienced none of what you so appropriately describe as "workplace violence." I say "virtually" only because gossip of course existed, but without any intent to harm. As for why none of that happened, I think because we simply weren't a crew that would tolerate that sort of behavior among our colleagues. Or that everyone knew I was licensed to carry a handgun.

  2. :-) @ "...Or that everyone knew I was licensed to carry a handgun."

  3. No workplace violence of any type is a good and worthy goal. People must work for a living and the conditions should be humane.