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SFU Co-op Alumni

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Whether you are just starting out in a brand new career, at a crossroads or trying to get ahead in your current job, this guide to office politics should hopefully help you strategically plan your next move

I've heard people grumble on about office politics - a friend with an impeccable record in his company loses out on a promotion to someone who takes 2-hour lunches because his boss favors that other person, another friend was "let go" for no apparent reason when rumors of her starting another company circulated around the office, and so on and so forth...

As a Political Science major, you'd think I'd be at ease in such situations. After all, I know politics will always be a part of organizations so long as people are involved but I didn't even realize I was smack dab in the middle of a highly politicized work environment until it was too late!

The once customary belief that hard work was supposed to pay off in promotions or raises, and that loyalty was supposed to be rewarded with seniority and financial gain, is long gone. If you wait for an employer to "give" you what you deserve, you will be waiting for a lifetime. We're not judged by the number of hours put in but by how those hours are spent. Those who are taking two hour lunches might be meeting with bosses of the company and working their way up. Sometimes working the office, not working at the office, is what will get you ahead.

A lot of intelligent, capable, well-meaning men and women have seen their careers stall because they didn't learn to cope with office politics or couldn't comprehend the motivations of the political miscreants around them. In the pursuit of what they believed to be ethical leadership, most simply can't understand or cope with the unspoken values of an organization that tolerates such behavior.

Damian (not his real name of course), was a co-worker of mine and a highly skilled office politician. His modus operandi was to show off his best work (which he uses for his own company and not for our own) to supervisors while delegating his awful ones to people with less seniority so that the supervisors would think it was their work instead of his. A lot of our other co-workers complained about this but they did not really voice their opinions. Damian then succeeded in creating an "clique” who wanted to get a newly-hired supervisor fired because she was not falling under Damian's spell (sadly, they succeeded in getting her fired). This "inner circle" approached me with their plan and even asked me to be a part of it. I refused to and needless to say, Damian was very unhappy with it.

On the last week of my contract, I discovered that Damian stole a webpage design from a different company and we were now selling this same design to a client. He basically copied an entire site and just changed some of the graphics. He delegated the task of updating this site to me and a few other others. My co-workers and I already suspected that a "cut-and-paste" strategy was used on the original website being sold to the client because of Damian's poor and messy design. Thankfully, the site has been revamped so many times by myself and many others that it does not look anything like the website it was taken from.

Unfortunately, every workplace has a Damian. And for that reason, allow me to share with you a few of the tips on surviving office politics.

Observe Your Surroundings

When you first join an organization, observe the corporate culture and politics. Ask co-workers questions to understand the dynamics so that you may proceed with caution and not fall prey to a joining or being influenced by office politics.

Even if you're not in that inner circle - and even if you don't want to be – figuring out who is in it will be advantageous. Should the rumor mill start churning, or if threats are in the air, you will know who to approach for accurate information. Being informed will also enable you to analyze the level of threat, and this will help you know when to get involved and when to mind your own business.


The engine driving office politics is gossip. A lie will make it halfway around the company while the truth is still in rush-hour traffic. Lack of communication on your part can be deadly, especially when things aren't going all that well. I know it's cliché, but communication really is the single most important business component. Especially when you’re new to the office, it’s always a good idea to stay away from gossip that could affect your reputation later on in the future

Keep Your Personal and Professional Life Separate 

The one most important lesson to learn is that one should never provide access to one's personal world within your work. Indeed, for friendly interactions, it is accepted that you provide some basic information about your personal life. However, keep it simple and do not provide any information that could create issues with others. It is important to maintain a distance between the realities of your "personal life" and the realities of your "professional life".

Don't Take It Personally

I know it's hard but you must not take things personally in the corporate environment, as it is not about the individual; it is about results, plain and simple. However, in the political world, a power-hungry politician can step over the line (*coughs* Damian**coughs*). The one way to judge such an action is based on your own personal lines. If indeed a situation seems to purposefully step over into your personal life, then you must make a judgment call.

Whether you are just starting out in a brand new career, at a crossroads or trying to get ahead in your current job, this guide to office politics should hopefully help you strategically plan your next move. If I had known then what I know now, I might not have had to struggle as much to get through one day in the office. Only you can make a difference in your career, and the only way to achieve such a goal is to take action.

SFU Co-op Alumni
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Jul 20, 2010

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