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  • Subject area(s): Business
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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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Politics: Power in Action

Politics in the workforce refers to the use of organizational power to affect the decisions made by an organization. When people get together in any setting, some will try to get ahead of the pack. This is what we’re referring to when we talk about office politics. The political behavior usually consists of actions taken outside an individual's' delegated duties with the intent to influence. These activities are extensive and can be anything from leaking information to the media, whistleblowing or withholding information, to simple things like forming coalitions, arguing for or against something, and spreading rumors (Robbins, Judge,470). This is a comprehensive definition that encompasses all most all the activities that can be considered political. Many of the actions may seem innocent or like standard functions of the everyday business. Because of this, it is hard to know when a person is genuine or playing for some invisible points. Lobbying and exchanging favors are some of the most common, and blatant expressions of political power in the workforce. This action is one reason we have such a negative inclination towards lobbyists and bribers.

Most managers view organizational politics as a necessary evil and say that it is virtually impossible to get anything done without it. According to an OB Poll, 51% of Americans also think that to get ahead in their organizations, people have engaged in some politics (Robbins, Judge, 472). In the most sanitized of cases, managers believe office politics are ethical, as long as no harm comes to anyone. This is known as have your cake and eating it too. In which the managers are justifying a hypothetical situation they may or may not have been party to and claim an ethical appeal under the best of circumstances. There are very few actions that exist in a vacuum, and someone will usually get the raw end of a deal, most likely a person not even privy to it. Often, people rationalize it by assuming that resources are limited, and success for one comes at the expense of another. This zero-sum outlook in a company can stem from the subjective nature of the individuals' opinions, or from an organization encouraging harsh competition. Often in these cases, significant promotions are not based on the hard work done, but on the connections, an employee has to the leadership (Robbins, Judge, 372).

When it comes to office politics, most people say they’re necessary to move up, they hate them, and try their best to ignore them. But like most problems ignoring them does nothing to solve the underlying issues, but rather sweeps it out of sight. The article “Why Avoiding Office Politics Could Hurt More Than You Know” on the website talks about this in the workplace. It tells us how to executives see office politics, and the book “Political Skill at Work: Impact on Work Effectiveness.” It summarizes the main points in the book on how to better play the office, without losing sight of who you are. The main four are social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability, and sincerity. Social Astuteness is how much you pay attention to the world around you, and keep track of office relationships. Interpersonal Influence is a person’s ability to influence decisions, even though they aren’t in a formal position of power. The article stresses the importance of learning from these people and getting on their good side to advance yourself. Networkability is the ability to meet new people, who can advance your career. Finally, sincerity is the most important; it stresses always to stay honest. That way you don’t end up hating yourself and becoming the very thing you were trying to ignore in the first place.

The Causes, Consequences, and Ethics of Political Behavior

Not all organizations start out with such deep political divides. There are many individuals and organizational factors that increase political behavior. Individuals factors include high self-monitors, internal locus of control (LOC), organizational investment, perceived job alternatives, and expectations of success. Furthermore, organizational factors include reallocation of resources, promotion opportunities, low trust, role ambiguity, unclear performance evaluation system, zero-sum reward practices, democratic decision making, and high-performance pressures. These factors can increase political behavior and provide favorable outcomes, such as increased rewards and averted punishments for both the individuals and groups within the organization (Robbins, Judge,477). However, organizational politics may threaten employees by decreasing job satisfaction, leading to reduced performance, and may increase anxiety and stress; resulting in an increased turnover rate.

People respond to the games in different ways. Those with modest skills who opt out of them will suffer the most. The phrase out of sight out of mind rings very accurately here. When people don't actively try to draw the attention of their superiors, their coworkers will. The first to get favor with a manager will most likely poison the well for the rest. Many people want to get to work, enjoy it, and then get home to family or hobbies. People like this tend to avoid confrontation, and leave themselves exposed to more savvy coworkers.  Defensive behavior also has a high gender divide, where men do better in political environments, and women prefer to play it safe; they thrive in an apolitical office. When employees feel political behavior is a threat, they retreat into themselves and dig a bigger whole (Robbins, Judge, 478).

One of the first ways we are evaluated is by how we dress and present ourselves. Impressions are the reason we go to the gym and spend large amounts of money on high-end clothes. Exercise and clothes won’t make people happier, but they will make them more likable, and advance their careers. Impression management is the term for people controlling the way others perceive them (Robbins, Judge, 480). There are many politicking activities that people engage in to regulate impressions. These include Conformity, Favors, Excuses, Apologies, Self-Promotion, Enhancement, Flattery, and Exemplification. Conformity and favors are both forms of integration where a person agrees and provides favors to get a person to like them. Excuses and apologies are forms of defense, where one tries to shift blame or beg for forgiveness. Self-promotion and enhancement are self-focused forms and are used to elevate one’s self above their coworkers. Flattery and exemplification are assertive, a person using these works harder, and compliments others on their work. These are the most common classifications of techniques and are very noticeable to people around the office. When interviewing the self-focused and assertive techniques work the best. When it comes to performance evaluations self-focused backfire, but integration techniques positively correlate (Robbins, Judge, 481).

When it comes to the ethics of these actions and techniques, the jury is out. Although it may seem like an unethical behavior, politicking is an integral part of the office. Only the most maternal, and family orientated offices can get away with little or no politics, and real cooperation. Even then, time can change friends into enemies. The most useful wisdom past down from this book is guidance on how to maintain our initial ethical code. When attempting to use politics to gain something, don’t lie, and stay honest. Don’t infringe on others’ rights, and do not harm. If you follow these maxims, it may be more difficult, but it’s the most ethical way to make it to the top (Robbins, Judge, 482-483).

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