All that back stabbing in the office keeping you from getting comfortable in your ergonomically correct chair?
Welcome to the world of work. You might not expect vicious cliques to still exist in a place where you're all, putatively, on the same team. Yet, at times -- many folks say most times -- they're unavoidable.
When you work at a place where politicking is frequent and frequently ugly, steer clear of joining in, says Chris Jones, owner of PoliTemps, a staffing company that specializes in finding folks political jobs, especially on the Hill. "Avoid if at all possible engaging in office gossip. There's a tendency for staff members to sit during lunchtime at the water cooler and talk about other staff members," he said. "Resist temptation. They will use that later to talk about you."
Even seemingly harmless gossip can become a weapon that your co-workers use against you if they hear you are going to get a promotion or raise, for instance.
Remember, anything can and will be held against you in a court of workplace. Be careful. And if the local politics get out of hand, know when it's time to start looking elsewhere, or your work experience isn't going to be very fulfilling.
The Cold Shoulder
Ganged up on. That's how one employee felt after just a month of working at a staffing company in Bethesda. This 27-year-old (who asked to remain anonymous because he still has some contact with the company in question) was hired to be the office's only recruiter, bringing in potential employees to place in other firms for the first round of interviews before sending them off to more specific account managers within the company.
The recruiter pulled in 10 to 12 appointments per week for his first month. Then the top managers of the company called a meeting and said they needed to get more people in the door.
Other employees at the meeting spoke up, suggesting that the recruiter set up seven meetings each day. They would all help out with the vast increase in traffic, they promised.
"So I held everybody to that, and that wasn't a very popular thing to do," he said. "I started bringing in seven people a day and the place was swamped. Phones were ringing off the hook. It just became pandemonium."
What sounded like a great team effort in the meeting in front of the top managers turned into an empty promise, he said, and almost immediately, "I started getting the cold shoulder at work."
Soon, he found it was just too hard to get done what he needed to accomplish when everyone seemed to be talking about him behind his back and making his life difficult.
"I did my job, and if I wanted to hang around in that environment, I could have spent 12 hours a day dealing with it. It gets to the point where if you don't have a good team in place, and don't function as a large engine, you can really feel the pain."
He left after the second month.
Look Before You Leap
There are ways to avoid getting into such a bad situation, said Susan M. Osborn, president of LifeThread Publications in Sacramento and author of the book "The System Made Me Do It: A Life Changing Approach to Office Politics."
"I'm not sure you can avoid office politics," said Osborn. But you can try to find out if politicking is prevalent when you go for your interview.
Ask direct questions about how people generally move up in the organization, she said. "You learn a lot more than if just ask about the product."
Listen for hints about the culture at that workplace, and ask for a specific story about one of the more successful people in the company, Osborn advises.
"That tells you how people in the company relate to each other. If you get the flavor that most people are independent and there is a lot of rewarding of star performers, that shows a political" organization, said Osborn. "When you have an independent approach, that's rife with office politics because people are set up to compete with one another."
Finally, she said, ask if you can talk with several of the employees (without the interviewer present). Ask those people directly what the politics and company culture are like.
"Definitely what I've learned is it's very important to work in a team environment and be a team player," agreed the anonymous recruiter. "I would discourage the intimate friend thing in the workplace. You need everybody to look out for each other."
When in Doubt, Leave Politicking Out
Even if you think it would be smart to be tight with your supervisor, it's not always the best thing to do.
"Be wary of supervisors talking about other junior staff members not in a professional setting," said PoliTemps owner Jones. Those supervisors are the types to avoid because they can hold your gossiping against you later, as well as take note of how easy it is for you to stab others in the back. It may seem like being pals with someone like this gets you places, but it can backfire on you later.
"It will be reported to other people," he said.
Jones said to remember in all workplaces, but especially on the Hill where employees are very transient, "people that you put down or insult can very well be in a position to hurt you or help you when you leave Capitol Hill."
Jones said he knows of people who have been victims of office politicking and have even had to get counseling after they finally left the bad situation.
"If you sense that you are out of favor and things are not going to get better, don't take it personally," he advised. "Pick yourself up and start shopping your resume around."
If you have questions about getting ahead, you can e-mail Amy Joyce at email@example.com