The resident devil in us breaks free when we think of the two words together - ‘office’ and ‘politics’. Those that are new in the work force tend to get sucked into the quicksand of the resident evil a lot easier.
By those who have been there, done that. And by several more who are not yet done with it and hence still doing it.
What could possibly be in it for an organisation? Other than the productivity it kills? And how can a company guard itself against the malice? Or better still, if it is acknowledged as inevitable, can we make it work for the organisation?
A company stands to lose productive time when its staff engage in the active pursuit of office politics. It also loses productivity when one’s time and energy are sacrificed at the altar, having to dedicate them to protect oneself and one’s team against the practice. It is here that a lot of organisations that invest in leadership, and in people systems and practices, stand to gain. Ring fencing is an approach that works when the person doing the fencing is aware of the macro picture, and is some distance away from the action. Enter HR.
Unfortunately, in many ad agencies and media houses, HR acts as the ‘administrative department’, generating payrolls and accounting for attendance and leave of absence.
Ad agencies and editorial teams of media houses have a lot of grey areas in the way they measure (or don’t measure) and reward performance. This is alleged to be the primary sacrificial lamb of ‘office politics’. What makes it worse for advertising and media? A: It is a knowledge / creative space. And B: It’s a space of inflated egos.
There are issues born of being amidst ‘creators’. A journalist sitting on a story or article for four days is as unpardonable today as a creative or planner who takes an elaborate amount of time to mull over a client brief. Of course, a journalist or ad pro can take inordinate amount of time trying to crack the big idea, if s/he is a ‘celebrity’ who has already reached the heights that prompts her or him to believe s/he is larger than the organisation. And at least a few around them agree.
In normal course, someone needs to take a call on how long it (a) takes to do a task and (b) can be dedicated to doing a task. This requires working knowledge of the job and resource management skills. But there is a need for someone to think of people, their aspirations, about keeping the workplace fun, and ensuring fair play. Needless to say, office politics kills all of these in good measure.
The process of performance appraisal is left entirely to the superior or a super boss in the absence of effective HR. Without periodic feedback systems, which is difficult for a line manager to handle given his own day-to-day duties, it leads to serious disconnect. The employee feels s/he is treated unfairly at the end of the process. This adds to what I’d liken to ‘A Poison Tree’ effect - as William Blake wrote, growing nurtured by fears and tears born of distrust. Such a situation is often aggravated by giving the superior the opportunity to use discretion, a dangerous tool in the hands of the wrong person.
And in communicating their points of view across the table, it’s a pity that these communicators fall pitiably short of basic hygiene levels in many cases.
Human resources, in any industry where the organisation is only as good as its people, needs to be invested in. So companies do that – they pay hefty salaries. But do they invest in HR professionals and systems to ensure that productivity is increased through the creation of a positive work environment?
It’s perhaps unfair to generalise, but there’s enough cleaning to be done. The professionals need to be called in before it’s too late. And they can tweak ‘office politics’ to a symbiotic and transparent state of being. It’s called ‘healthy competition’.
Gokul Krishnamoorthy, editor, Campaign India