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Organizational Politics

>> HR Glossary/  Organizational Development / Organizational Politics

What is organizational politics?

The term ‘organizational politics’, also known as workplace politics or office politics, refers to the agenda of each employee within a company and the activities they engage in to acquire, increase, and wield power and resources to gain a desired outcome.

Organizational politics is present in most organizations. Every business has a hierarchy, and with this hierarchy comes an uneven distribution of power. Certain employees are more likely to pursue this power than others, which is considered political behavior in the workplace.

All employees experience the impact of organizational politics throughout their careers, whether positive or negative. For some, it means engaging in office gossip or acting as part of a clique, while for others, it means climbing the career ladder and being as productive and efficient as possible at work.

Understanding political behavior in organizations helps reduce the negative or dysfunctional effects, support employees, and engage in positive political behaviors that benefit the entire organization.

How HR Can Manage Organizational Politics

What are the objectives of organizational politics?

Objectives of organizational politics include:

  1. Gaining power
  2. Boosting productivity
  3. Gaining recognition
  4. Resolving disputes
  5. Promoting personal objectives
  6. Protecting self-interest
  7. Earning money and income
  8. Developing power contacts

Types of organizational politics

Organizational politics in the workplace can have many forms, ranging from subtle maneuvers to overt power plays. These actions can significantly impact the culture, effectiveness, and morale of an organization. Understanding the different types of organizational politics can help professionals navigate and manage workplace dynamics more effectively.


When an employee acts to further their career without regard for the impact on others around them. This includes things like taking credit for the ideas of others and putting coworkers down to build themselves up.

Office politics

When one employee or group attempts to influence another employee or group through persuasion, manipulation, influence, or pressure. This can be positive if it means getting a group of skeptics on board with an organization’s vision or project, but the downside is that it can lead to tension and arguments if someone believes that the win is coming at their expense.


A group becomes split based on common tasks and common interests, and these smaller groups form alliances that align with their goals. In larger organizations, this can help to increase innovation and agility. However, it will often have negative consequences as each faction commits to winning at any cost.


An employee or group of employees who already have a certain degree of power block other employees and ideas. They do this to maintain their power and avoid being challenged. However, this stifles innovation and prevents talent from rising through the organization.


An employee becomes extremely attached to a certain role or task and will not allow anyone else to undertake it. For example, a manager who refuses to hand over the reins of a project.

Examples of organizational politics

Here are some examples of what organizational politics could look like in practice:

Example 1: Building alliances

Employees or managers may form alliances with others within the organization to support their ideas, projects, or proposals. For instance, a manager might build a coalition with other department heads to support a new corporate initiative they believe in, making sure it receives the necessary resources and attention.

Example 2: Gaining favor

Employees might engage in activities to gain favor with influential members of the organization, such as their superiors or key decision-makers. This organizational politics example could involve supporting the leader’s ideas, taking on additional tasks to relieve their workload, or aligning with their views in meetings to build rapport and gain their support for future opportunities.

Example 3: Sabotage

In negative instances, organizational politics can lead to efforts to sabotage another person’s work or reputation to diminish their influence or derail their projects. This could be through spreading rumors, providing misleading information, or excluding them from important meetings or communications.

The impact of organizational politics

Studies have shown that employees with political skills are better at gaining more power and managing stress, are more productive, and have a greater impact on organizational goals. Plus, as a company grows, organizational politics may be the reason it survives. 

However, unchecked organizational politics can destroy a company when left to spiral out of control. Here are some of the common negative impacts on employees:

  • Increased stress from fear of the unknown or losing their job
  • Decrease in concentration and productivity as they are distracted by politics
  • Increase in cynicism, which leads to low morale and job satisfaction
  • High employee turnover, which can lead to a lack of qualified employees and a knowledge and skills gap
  • Miscommunication as neither employees nor managers fully know what’s going on
  • Resentment and lack of organizational trust

Managing organizational politics in the workplace: Tips for HR

While it’s impossible to eradicate organizational politics in a large organization, there are several steps that HR practitioners, managers, and leaders can take to minimize its negative impact:

  • Improve your people skills
  • Communicate openly and honestly
  • Put yourself in your employees’ shoes and understand the landscape
  • Collaborate respectfully across departments
  • Maintain positive working relationships with all colleagues
  • Don’t have favorites or give preferential treatment to anyone
  • Change your approach if something’s not working
  • Ensure employees feel valued and noticed and know they have opportunities
  • Monitor any issues you notice
  • Encourage employees to reach out with concerns
  • Step in when needed
  • Set a positive example for your team to follow

HR tip

Focus on creating an environment of open communication and transparency within the organization. Encourage leaders and employees at all levels to share information openly, discuss concerns or disagreements constructively, and provide clear reasons for decisions that affect the team or individual roles. This approach helps to minimize misunderstandings and reduce the potential for covert political maneuvers that can undermine trust and collaboration.


How does organizational politics affect employee behavior?

Organizational politics can significantly influence employee behavior, often leading to increased competition, strategic alliances, and sometimes defensive or self-protective actions among employees. It can also affect morale, job satisfaction, and the willingness to collaborate, depending on whether the politics are perceived as positive and inclusive or negative and manipulative.

Why is organizational politics harmful?

When perceived as negative, organizational politics can be harmful because it breeds a toxic work environment characterized by mistrust, conflict, and anxiety among employees. This, in turn, can lead to decreased productivity, higher turnover rates, and a diminished ability to achieve organizational goals effectively.

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