Employees Three Times as Likely to Note Large Increase Over Last Five Years

MENLO PARK, CA -- Just how prevalent are politics in today's companies? It depends on whom you ask, according to two recent surveys. More than a third (36 percent) of employees polled said the level of office politics has increased greatly compared to five years ago. But when asked the same question in a separate survey, only 12 percent of executives noted such a rise.

The surveys were developed by OfficeTeam, a leading staffing service specializing in highly skilled administrative professionals, and conducted by an independent research firm. The poll of workers includes responses from 720 men and women, all 18 years of age or older and employed. One hundred fifty executives with the nation's 1,000 largest companies were surveyed separately. Respondents were asked, "In your opinion, has the level of office politics in the workplace increased or decreased compared to five years ago?"

Employee responses: 

Increased greatly 36%
Increased somewhat 34%
Neither increased nor decreased 8%
Decreased somewhat 10%
Decreased greatly 4%
Don't know/no answer 8%

Executive responses: 

Increased greatly 12%
Increased somewhat 29%
Neither increased nor decreased 38%
Decreased somewhat 17%
Decreased greatly 4%
Don't know/no answer 0%

"Many executives are somewhat removed from the day-to-day conflicts that can arise between employees, and therefore may not be fully aware of challenges that can exist," said Diane Domeyer, executive director of OfficeTeam. To gain a better understanding of their firm's work environment, she encourages managers to observe it from their employees' perspective: What challenges are they under? Is the level of internal competition healthy or detrimental to productivity?

Domeyer noted that greater productivity demands facilitated by advanced technology have resulted in a rise in the number of self-managed and cross-functional work groups. While companies are seeing the benefits of this team structure, it can also become fertile ground for differences of opinion and personality conflicts among workers. She offers the following suggestions to help minimize the impact of office politics:

  • Reward team results - Publicly recognize groups as well as individuals to motivate and inspire. Praising the entire team reinforces the message that collaboration is integral to success. 
  • Maintain an open door policy - Be sure that employees feel comfortable sharing their concerns with management. Clear, two-way communication can help identify and diffuse potentially serious conflicts. 
  • Avoid creating the "Lone Superstar" - The strongest individual achievers should also be able to work well with others. Make sure the rules of business etiquette apply to all employees equally, regardless of status. "It's not my job" attitudes lie at the root of many politically charged situations. 
  • Take active steps to gauge morale - Check in with employees regularly and offer your help in solving problems. Political issues take a toll on employee morale and can ultimately lead to higher staff turnover.

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