How to Stay Out of Office Politics

Don’t let yourself get caught up in office politics. Here are some strategies for keeping outside the fray.

Anyone who’s ever worked in an office for longer than five minutes knows that the work world can be exactly like high school – but with paycheques instead of grades. Or at least, that’s how it can sometimes seem. Office politics and pettiness generally exist on a continuum, but regardless of the industry, most workplaces are plagued by some degree of gossip and drama among employees and managers.

You’re always going to get along with some colleagues better than others. But the key to your success as an accounting and finance professional is to avoid the politics at all costs. Involving yourself in office drama will tarnish your personal and professional reputation, lower your productivity, and weaken the morale of the entire organization. Here, then, are some tips on how to stay in your lane.

Maintain boundaries 

It’s all well and good to be friendly with your colleagues (and if you’re a manager, you might want to make an extra effort to schmooze with your team). But if you treat the people you work with like you do your Friday night drinking buddies, don’t be surprised if things get complicated sooner or later.

It’s important to draw some hard-and-fast lines between work and personal life. That means, for example, keeping your romantic life to yourself – and out of lunchroom chitchat. It also means limiting your bosses’ access to your profile on Facebook (as well as observing good social media etiquette). The less you broadcast the intimate details of your private life throughout the office, the less grist you’ll provide for the gossip mill. That way, you’ll stand a better chance of keeping your professional image intact.

Sure, you’re bound to seriously click with a co-worker or two, to the point where you become legitimate friends outside of the office. Just make sure you can trust the person before you spill your guts. And always save the really juicy gabfests for after work.

Involving yourself in office drama will tarnish your personal and professional reputation, lower your productivity, and weaken the morale of the entire organization.

Avoid the cliques 

The tendency to form alliances and posses is natural (see Mean Girls), especially in a high-stress environment like work, which is typically rife with competition and hierarchy. The feeling of belonging you get from a work clique certainly provides a sense of welcome security. But there’s an ugly flip side: that warm and fuzzy feeling often can’t be achieved unless certain “undesirable” individuals are excluded from the group – whether intentionally or not.

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Not only is this behaviour petty and childish, but it can serve to spread jealousy and resentment throughout the workplace. Instead, practice being a social butterfly. Show interest in, and be equally friendly, to everyone on the team, regardless of their station. Not only is it the right thing to do, but ensuring that you’re in people’s good books across departments should prove fruitful if and when you’re looking to transition within the company. It will also help your networking opportunities. 

Don’t stoop to the level of others

The office is often a fertile ground for whispering campaigns, where people engage in nasty gossip and talk behind each other’s backs. While this can be a tempting way to bond with others or blow off steam when someone’s ticked you off, it’s not in your professional interests to participate in this kind of thing. It’s a small world: the things you say about the people you work with will almost certainly get back to them one way or another, making you look bad and potentially even jeopardizing your job. And it’s bad for your karma, to boot.

The less you broadcast the intimate details of your private life throughout the office, the less grist you’ll provide for the gossip mill.

Not stooping to their level also means taking the high road and remaining polite and professional in the midst of conflict. Some difficult co-workers might come at you with rude, sarcastic, or aggressive behavior; a bullying boss may scream at you. You can’t control their actions, but you can control yours. By responding in kind, you risk developing a bad reputation or having your words twisted out of context by others. You’re far better off gritting your teeth and turning the other cheek.

Don’t be shy about your principles

Once you’ve decided you want nothing to do with the gossip, maliciousness, and drama in your workplace, stick to your guns. Don’t be afraid to spell out your principles to others (respectfully, of course). If a group of your co-workers are dissecting another colleague’s character or personality and solicit your opinion, expecting you to chime in with your own grievances and insults, head off the awkwardness outright. Gently explain that you’ve decided not to talk about people at work. It may feel slightly uncomfortable at first, but ultimately, the gossipers won’t be fixating on your behavior – they’ll be too busy feeling sheepish about their own. And when all else fails, smile.

 

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Workplaces can feel a whole lot like high school at times, but that doesn’t mean you have to act like a teenager. By setting boundaries and making firm decisions about the kind of behaviour you simply won’t tolerate or engage in, you’ll be far more happy and successful in your finance job. Let your success do the talking.

Have other advice for staying out of office politics? Leave a comment below!

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