Blog: How to tackle workplace politics and sycophancy

Life @ Work

How to tackle workplace politics and sycophancy

Is it right to flatter the boss and get friendly with him or her to get ahead in ones career? How can we tackle such a situation when other employees get dissatisfied in such an environment? Read on to find out
How to tackle workplace politics and sycophancy

I happened to read the interview of Jim Ross with Edge and Christian, on E&C's Pod of Awesomeness. Jim Ross has been a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) champion. The topic of discussion was about Dwayne Johnson, (known as The ROCK in WWE).

In the discussion, JR talked about the rapport of The Rock, who is the second highest paid actor on Forbes List, with WWE CEO Vince McMahon.  In JR’s opinion, Rock was quick to establish rapport with WWE CEO; both Rock and McMahon talked about their family heritage, WWE product and of course about Rock himself. He would respectfully let Vince know about his ideas. 

Echoing his sentiments, the eleven times World Champion Edge (Adam Copeland) too agreed that to be successful in business, a boss needs to know what type of character you are, your work ethics, how your Boss can have the confidence to invest in you and so on and so forth. In order to understand which employee should be promoted, a boss needs to know about the employees.

How does sycophancy at workplace function?

A lot of times it's labeled as politicking, flattery or sycophancy.  According to Wikipedia, Workplace politics is the process and behavior in human interactions involving power and authority. It is the use of power and social networking within an organization to achieve changes that benefit the organization or individuals within it.  There are three groups or individuals involved in it viz., the employee, the boss and the co-workers. Many times an employee crosses that invisible line by either taking up extra responsibilities or staying until late hours to catch up with him, which is in some way good, but not entirely beneficial. Many a time a person tries to use external influence such as race, color, caste, region, or a powerful contact etc. to get that extra step closer to him, ethically it may be deemed as wrong.

At the same time, there are no ways to penalize any party involved, unless it's proven to affect the other employees negatively, nor can you stop your co-workers from going that extra mile to seek the attention of the boss.

What effect does sycophancy have on work culture?

So what could be the solution any organization can take up, so the other employees don't get demotivated and demoralized by the thought that they aren’t getting due credit for their work? This can also lead to the assumption by other employees that one person is getting undue attention and advantage owing to closeness with the boss. The new joiners or those introverts who would think their work should do the talking would also become dissatisfied by this approach of some employees trying to develop closeness with the employer.

First, there should be a periodic review within a firm or a face to face interaction with the boss from time to time. The focus of the talk should be less on personality traits and more on the performance analysis. Feedback should be made an on-going process. Sometimes, many comments in the review can come in as a surprise. So, it's better for the managers to provide the feedback as soon as possible to maximize the benefit.

Second, when it comes to new joiners, it’s quite natural that they need time to feel comfortable in the new environment and culture of the workplace. Many times a person could unknowingly make a mistake and after that could be made to face unnecessary penalties. It's important to talk to them regularly, as well as make them know whom to approach when needed. It will not be fair to compare them with other senior members of the firm, nor should any judgment be drawn from such action committed. They should be given advice about how to handle any situation in the company. The role of HR and managers becomes of utmost importance here.

Encouraging sycophancy is not the way to improve performance

“Sometimes, stagnated employees need extra measures from the HR to improve their growth. However, to expect them to be sycophants of the employer in order to advance themselves is the wrong approach. They should be handled with other HR talent training measures to improve.” 

For an employee struck in the same place without much growth, stagnancy too is an alarming sign. After all, organizations invest a lot to hire and keep an employee. Managers wouldn't want to have just a consistent employee year by year but would like to see a marked improved performance with time. Many times, a person feels s/he is the target of favoritism in the above case and hence, still stuck in the limbo. It's imperative to have a uniform performance analysis for everyone and ones who miss out on improvement, should know why they missed out. A framework or objective should be charted out to help them in the best possible way.

Firing an employee and hiring a new one, training him/her and compensation involves an investment of resources and hence, the HR should have the bigger picture in perspective.

If the employee doesn't feel he is compensated well regarding money, promotions or increment or for that matter, office politics are stopping him from reaching his real potential, his exit shouldn't come as a surprise. If employers are treated wrongly or if they are victims of bias and not compensated well, they could very well leave the company. It's the responsibility of managers and firms to take care of the employees to make them feel they are needed and wanted in the firm.

Consider a person working in another country, who is not entirely accustomed to country’s culture and habits, but values and adheres to the company’s vision, mission, and values. So, it may be assumed that not being from the same region as the teammates or his/her boss places him/her at odds of having a chance to be a top performer. However, this is not true. In fact, the ethics, ideas, knowledge he brings in should be more valued above that of cultural background. Besides, his/her performance should be judged objectively, instead of tying it up with the cultural background in a negative manner.

Is office politics wrong?

“It goes without saying that we are humans and bound to display some bias at some point in time. However, having an open mind, defining personal and professional boundaries are the key to forge a way out of such problems. The more explicit boundaries are set, the happier will the employees be at workplace and chances are that they might stay longer in a firm.”  

Is office politics wrong if you want to get out of a mess? Or, if you just want to let your boss know that among 100s of employees who work under her/him what differentiates you from the rest? Further, the ones who don't make an effort to do so, are they lacking something in critical skills?

The answer to all those questions are subjective, but it is certainly imperative that companies, managers, and HR can make an effort to reduce the gap in communication between managers and their teams and focus on productive discussion about work, performance, strategy, and execution.

It goes without saying that we are humans and bound to display some bias at some point in time. However, having an open mind, defining personal and professional boundaries are the key to forge a way out of such problems. The more explicit boundaries are set, the happier will the employees be at workplace and chances are that they might stay longer in a firm. 

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Topics: Life @ Work

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