Office politics is sometimes seen as an inevitable part of doing business. But if left unchecked, it can easily fester into a toxic workplace environment. An organization that allows unhealthy workplace behavior will create a breeding ground for drama and insecurities, which only decreases productivity, demoralizes employees, and increases turnover. To prevent this, a savvy employer should be proactive in establishing clear guidelines to minimize office politics and create a culture that discourages unhealthy behavior.
One of the reasons behind Verified First’s success has been its strong company culture that discourages workplace politics. Because toxic behavior can spread exponentially, we’ve developed a framework to keep negative behavior in check and create a work environment that supports collaboration and productivity.
Here are the steps we took at Verified First to successfully create a positive and healthy environment for employees:
1. Be transparent and promote open communication
Transparency and open communication build trust. When management takes the opportunity to set clearly defined goals and objectives, it reduces the opportunities for internal politics. Without these elements in place, “managerial mystique” is encouraged and can create silos in an organization.
For example, every Monday, our company gathers for a meeting that updates everyone on progress towards key metrics, goals to focus on, and issues that need to be addressed to have unity as a company. Not long ago, our leadership team implemented a revised compensation structure for our sales representatives, which included higher base pay. Rather than wait for information to flow down through the grapevine, our General Manager, Nick Massoth, chose to address this head-on in our Monday meeting.
Nick explained that the pay increase was implemented to align compensation with market wages and help Verified First remain competitive. He also clarified that although the base pay was raised, sales goals were also ramped up. Finally, he reminded our staff that as the company grows and employees take on more responsibility, wages would be raised companywide.
Although it was a sensitive topic to some employees, by explaining our decision openly, Nick set clear expectations to our employees and discouraged backbiting or negative pushback. Although it can be difficult to be transparent, promoting open communication creates less opportunities for employees to gossip or leverage misinformation for their own personal agendas.
2. Have buy-in on company policies and standards from everyone, especially management
If staff are not on the same page with policies and management decisions, it allows employees to exploit this disunity. It’s common for employees to look for ways to circumvent company policies through approaching different members of their organization. If left unchecked, this behavior creates the perception that influence with key people creates an exception to your standards, which encourages people to engage in workplace politics.
This can be remedied through taking steps to encourage everyone – from management to staff in the most entry-level positions – to understand and apply the same company policies consistently. That way, if everyone from the employee’s supervisor to the HR Manager responds the same way, there’s no miscommunication or drama to feed into.
We provide ongoing training to combat this and proactively make our company expectations clear. Our HR Manager gives special training to staff during our Monday meetings and also coaches individual employees as needed. During our weekly leadership meetings, our General Manager also instructs managers how to train team members.
As we provide training, we share mistakes and lessons learned along the way. This helps demonstrate how our standards benefit everyone in our company. Because of our efforts to create buy-in from each employee in our organization, it discourages people from engaging in workplace politics.
3. Encourage employees to develop a mindset focused on self-accountability
Many organizations focus on rules and zealously enforce them. Although this approach might work to a certain extent, we’ve found it’s more effective to teach employees our standards and encourage them to be self-accountable. This approach has changed the dynamic inside our company.
Employees often engage in office politics because they are motivated by jealousy, perceive it as a way to gain an advantage in the workforce, or even because they are bored with their daily tasks. When employees focus on themselves, it’s easy for insecurities to develop as they compare themselves to other employees with a higher ranking position, salary, or social standing. But if employees are self-accountable, they will compete with themselves instead of putting other people down to get ahead.
A mindset focused on self-accountability will reduce the “us vs them” dynamic that sometimes develops in companies. When your employees hold themselves accountable to your standards and focus on their own performance, it will reduce the potential for conflict and jockeying for power.
4. Coach employees with empathy, but always hold the line with company standards
When an employee displays unhealthy behavior, it’s important to first understand background context. When our HR Director, Zach Townsend, observes inappropriate behavior, he approaches it from a compassionate perspective. Employees who engage in office politics are sometimes influenced by factors such as a personal crisis or pressures at work or at home. An empathic approach encourages employees to speak openly about their concerns and helps our management team determine the best way to help them.
That being said, it’s important to be consistent in applying the standards of your company and referring back to policies and previous precedent when an employee pushes back. This can be accomplished through explaining the impact of negative behavior to the employee and setting clear expectations for future behavior. If behavior does not improve, it’s justified to begin the progressive discipline process that may include termination of the employee. If it’s clear that an employee does not align with your organization’s values and interests, it’s best to respectfully part ways to preserve the culture and standards of your company.
Healthy Workplaces Don’t Happen by Accident
Although there is no set formula that will work in every company, it’s always important to be intentional and proactive. Through actively working to set the right tone and prevent people from falling into unhealthy patterns, you will improve your company’s bottom line and foster loyalty, camaraderie, and trust among all employees in your organization.