Study finds office politics at its most
rife in the civil service (and lowest in the legal sector)
WHISPERS by the water cooler, a quick
gossip as the kettle boils, or a raised eyebrow in a meeting - we've all
experienced office politics at work. Our colleagues, the people we often spend
more time with than our own friends and family, can become our closest allies,
where discreet chats about the accounts department being late for work again,
underpin our daily work routine.
DBS check provider, uCheck, wanted to delve deeper into the office politics of
business sectors throughout the UK, to find out which industry harboured the
highest levels of hushed conversations. They also wanted to see how people felt
about office politics: is it something to avoid at all costs or a tactic to help
you get ahead at work?
The survey of 1,500 respondents firstly asked whether people felt that office
politics existed in their workplace. The results of the survey found that the
civil service had the highest rate of office politics (78% according to
employees in that sector), followed by advertising (77%) and engineering (also
77%). According to the survey, it's the legal sector that has the lowest levels
of office politics (57%), followed by tourism (60%) and the retail sector (62%).
You can see the full breakdown of business
sectors and levels of office politics using this handy infographic.
So, should civil service workers be avoiding the water cooler or making an
active beeline for it? uCheck asked workers whether they thought joining in with
office politics would help them gain promotions, and surprisingly, over a third
answered yes. Interestingly, however, when broken down by gender, the survey
found that the majority of workers holding this view were men (72%).
Following in a similar suit, nearly a third of survey respondents felt that
office politics can be a positive phenomenon in the work place, 59% holding this
view were, again, men. Furthermore, almost ½ of workers felt that getting
involved in office politics was unavoidable, however when separated by gender it
was pretty close; 48% of women believing they could avoid office politics, if
they wanted to, compared to 52% of men.
uCheck consulted leading psychologist, Robert Stewart, who says:- "It may
appear surprising that such a considerable number of people find office politics
unavoidable, however, it is worth considering that standing around the water
cooler discussing colleagues doesn't stray too far from our evolution, albeit
with watercoolers replaced with waterholes and colleagues with predators. People
have a natural tendency to want to find their position within a group or tribe,
so office politics becomes an inherent part of the work environment. People can
often feel that if colleagues are engaging in talk around others, that they can
become the object of the topic unless they become complicit. Thus to be part of
the in group, they feel it a necessity to become involved. Often others will
seek their opinions on colleagues, thus leaving the individual with little
choice, but to voice their thoughts.
Whilst one would hope that a mutual respect would exist between all colleagues
working under the same roof, we are human and possess a number of biases and
judgements regarding others. Equality within the workplace is a key part of
well being and strongly correlated with high states of satisfaction and
subsequent productivity. However, when we perceive an injustice, office politics
and comments on others becomes inevitable, regardless of whether we have the
full picture or not.
Many are also cognisant of the fact that progression at work isn't purely
correlated with competence, for many work is still a social club with the most
popular players progressing the fastest. Because of this, it's likely that the
perception of engaging in office politics could assist one in their career.
However, this should be considered very carefully, for whatever words are spoken
explicitly, many more judgements are made by others implicitly and reputations
can be impacted. Once you are known for speaking badly of others, it can become
very difficult to rebuild your reputation. A few poorly chosen words can last a
When thinking about office politics and how to manage it, consider the
longer term outcome. A small conversation may benefit you there with that
person, but the longer term impact of others judgements of you will be much more
damaging. Prepare yourself a script; 'I can see your point, but it's really not
my place to comment etc'. You may receive the cold shoulder or feel silly, but
your reputation will soon become consistent as the person who doesn't engage in
office politics and therefore is more trustworthy. Living by a specific set of
valued behaviours will benefit you more than any."