From backstabbing bosses to co-workers who try to sabotage your work, relationships and power are tightly knit in the workplace. Many of us will be affected by office politics at some point: a third of workers dread going into work because of their colleagues, while it is estimated that three in four employees find their boss the most stressful part of their job.
So, if you are dealing with particularly sly co-workers, how can you manage the situation?
To fix a toxic work culture, you need to get involved. Studies show that when people feel they don’t belong in a group, their physical health and wellbeing plummets – so, if you’re feeling isolated or excluded by negative office politics, it makes sense to try to make friends.
If one person at work is the main source of conflict, the best way to deal with them is to unite with your co-workers, says psychologist Dr Mary Lamia. “Grouping against a bully will provide victims with support for their feelings, since victims of bullies are at risk of becoming isolated. Through joining together and discussing the bully’s behaviour, co-workers can contain the bully, who, with their behaviour exposed, loses the power to terrorise – and faces the threat of isolation.”
This strategy also works with game-playing colleagues – people with bullying tendencies often try to isolate victims, so the more people you have on your side, the less likely you are to be taken advantage of at work.
Document your time
When you are subject to colleagues’ political tactics – such as taking credit for your work – it’s important not to retaliate. “It’s tempting to expose the co-worker or boss in front of others, but this can backfire,” says executive coach Ray Williams.
You need to be cleverer than that: “Make sure you document your work thoroughly and let co-workers and your bosses’ superiors know what you are doing and have done,” advises Williams. This protects your reputation: if your work ethic is called into question by colleagues, you then have a way to prove your productivity.
Don’t sink to their level
When colleagues try to make you look bad or undermine you, it’s tempting to do likewise. However, this can backfire: you may come across as petty, and is unlikely to change your boss or co-worker’s behaviour.
A better way to deal with difficult colleagues is to ask them for a private conversation, says Williams. “Calmly ask them why they acted how they did, rather than accusing them.” This is often the best way to change behaviour, as it requires them to reflect on their actions.
Office politics should be looked at as something that can be reframed into a positive, says Williams. “You should work to contribute to a culture at your company that values people and discourages abusing people in any form,” he says.
The best way to do this is to praise others, encourage teamwork and be empathetic to your co-workers. By making an effort to change the culture to one of kindness and honesty, you can create a better environment for everyone.
Go it alone
For some people, the effort of attempting to navigate and even change poor office politics is too much of an uphill battle. If you try the tips above and still find your office a nightmare, there is a simpler option: ditch the co-workers entirely by working for yourself.