Blog: What impact does office politics have on people's work lives?by
Ask most people in businesses today if they think that manipulation and office politics affect their working lives and they’ll say yes.
But ask them to quantify the impact on the business and that’s a much more difficult question to answer. In 2011, Revelation Consulting Ltd set out to answer that question, and we are now running an annual survey which has turned in its first set of results. It perhaps won’t surprise you to learn that 95% of respondents agreed that politics, manipulation and hidden agendas in the workplace had affected them directly and personally. But the cases that get bad enough to hit the headlines really are the tip of the iceberg. The victims of bullying and manipulation mostly won’t speak out, so we have attempted to quantify the affects of corporate politics through three of their symptoms; under-performance, absenteeism and staff turnover. 1. Staff turnover Some 70% of respondents said that they had left a job directly as a result of corporate politics, with around three quarters of those saying that their leaving salary was anything between £20,000 and £50,000 and more than 10% of them saying that they left a job paying over £70,000 per year. The average salary, taken across all respondents affected in this way was £40,000. (Click here to view the pie chart in a new window.) 2. Absenteeism The average number of days that the respondents missed work during one year due to bullying and manipulation was exactly in line with the figure of 4.5 days per year published recently by the Office of National Statistics, perhaps hinting that coughs, colds and bad backs aren’t the real reason that many people stay at home for the day. However, it’s no wonder that the problem is under-reported: 85% of respondents said that managers actively covered up the situation. In our 2012 survey, we’ll be digging deeper into this, asking why individuals don’t speak up when they suffer from the effects of workplace politics. 3. Underperformance This is another key area where business costs can spiral out of control, with more than half of respondents saying that either their manager or multiple managers openly knew about underperformance and failed to tackle it. The impact on team effectiveness was estimated by respondents as a percentage of their team’s maximum potential performance, and is shown in the next chart: (Click here to view the bar chart in a new window). Whilst the data used in this chart is necessarily subjective, it gives an indication that the individual respondents knew that their team’s performance was suffering from corporate politics, and therefore we can determine that business performance and shareholder value are impacted as a result. One aspect of corporate politics that many people are familiar with is the activity of ‘empire building’, where a person builds a political empire by promoting allies and sidelining ‘enemies’. This practice was seen firsthand by 82% of our respondents and the promotions resulted in individuals being paid on average £50,000 and with responsibility for 14 staff. Of the respondents who had observed this taking place, roughly half said that more suitable candidates were turned down, with the other half noting that the position was never advertised. Of the respondents who said that a better candidate was turned down, half said that that candidate then either moved out of the business unit or left the business altogether. The cost of the problem exists on many levels. A potentially good employee was lost, a replacement had to be hired with the associated recruitment costs and a potentially ineffective manager now has a significant influence over many other staff. Manipulation at work is never isolated; its effects grow and multiply over time, affecting more staff and increasing the cost to the business with every day that it isn’t tackled. Separating perception from reality As a final comment, we should point out that we have made an attempt to place some quantifiable measures on what is inherently a very subjective experience. One respondent asked how it would be possible to separate individual perceptions from any objective reality, and the truth is that this is very difficult. Manipulative people will very often play the victim, making them hard to spot by anyone who is taken in by their tales of woe. When challenged, the manipulator will have a ready excuse; it was someone else’s fault, they were just trying to be helpful or it’s them that is the real victim in all of this. And when they run out of excuses, their next line of defence is to run for the door, sometimes in floods of tears, or to counter-attack with a torrent of abuse and ridicule. These are all diversionary tactics, and the acid test must always be, “why would someone do that if they had nothing to hide?” If you would like to complete the 2012 survey, please feel free to do so here.
Peter Freeth is the director of leadership and executive development consultancy, Revelation Consulting Ltd.
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