Office Politics: Win At The Workplace

When I started my new position, I really didn’t know what I was in for. Really! I had been working independently as a real estate agent and basically could make my own rules about my business. I was so excited to start my new opportunity, it was more money, more benefits and a better schedule. Previously I would be working evenings or even going days between clients.

But the thing about working independently is that there is very little office politics! Almost none! It was glorious. I didn’t have to ask for too much permission and as long as I worked within the brokerage’s rules and made money, no one bothered me.

So moving to an organization that had 500+ employees and too many departments, I quickly realized that I was in over my head when it came to office politics. So much red tape, so much bureaucracy.  I couldn’t make a decision without the person ahead of me giving the go ahead. I didn’t know who could get me the things I needed for my role and I certainly didn’t know how to use politics to get ahead. At the time I felt like I knew so much about my industry and my job. I could do this job and shine like any other position I had.

Nope. I was not prepared for the level of politics that the position required.  I didn’t know how to create boundaries between me and my superiors when I felt like my toes were being stepped on.  I didn’t know how to make sure I would get credit for the work I was doing.  I didn’t now how to be my own advocate.

And it cost me. When the time came for promotions to be considered, I wasn’t even up on the table. It wasn’t until after the role had been hired was my value as an employee recognized.

Maybe it’s me.  Maybe I don’t care enough about the office politics, but in ways it cost me.

If you’re going to do extra work to be noticed, the politics game is a must.  Otherwise why go above and beyond and not get the right credit?

Here are some lessons I learned to get you recognized and make sure you are known, respected and valued.

Makes sure to understand everyone’s role and scope of work.

The workplace is treacherous and one of the first lessons you learn is how not to step on people’s toes. When you make assumptions or take on someone else’s role, even unwittingly, you can make people upset. Don’t be like my colleague John who assumes we can just give away free rent, when it’s only billing that can apply those kind of charges. Now John has to smooth things over with billing to get them to offer something he wasn’t supposed to offer.

I like to make a chart to remember what everybody does. There’s Lisa in Billing that handles all the funds from clients. There’s Nicole in Renewals that returns the security deposit.  I should reach out to Eric in Treasury when we receive wires. All of these people work with issues related to money and funds, but imagine how annoyed these people would be if I referred client’s to them for the wrong issues or if I gave out wrong information related to their roles, and they needed to clean the mess?

We have numerous departments and roles in my company.  You have to reach out to person X if you need help with Y or person B if you need help with A.

Knowing people’s roles and functions can help you build relationships in the workplace and become a more efficient employee.

When you take part in a project make sure you are named as a collaborator

The only person looking out for you is you.

Rule #1. Just because you’re chummy with your coworker doesn’t mean they will give you the recognition you deserve. Unless you can see every email they send and attend every meeting they go to, then you can’t know.

The only way you can be sure to be getting the credit for the work you do is to make it VERY clear you were included.

That’s by making sending emails and making a statement. It can be as simple as:

“Hi Dom, I just wanted to let you know that person X allowed me to be part of this project and I did A, B, and C.  I really enjoyed taking part in this exercise.  Let me know if there are any more projects like this, I’d love to take part!”

It’s just about putting your foot in the door and letting the people who are decision-makers know what you’re capable of doing and that you are open to more.

Make nice and be a team player

This one is the easiest.  Don’t try to play politics by throwing other people under the bus.  First, it’s not nice, and second, you never know when it’ll backfire.

My new manager N had sent an email crudely critiquing one of the marketing strategies.  He had sent it to our Director, who didn’t really even bother reading it, so forwarded it to the Marketing Director.  Well, N got a scathing email back from the Marketing Director basically telling him he has no idea what he’s talking about.  Apparently N didn’t expect his email to get around.

You never know when you’ll need another person’s help in an organization.  So why burn bridges?  What you need to do is build connections so that when you need a favor, it’s there for you.

N has already burned bridges with our Assistant Director, Marketing Director and Renewals Manager.

Being nice doesn’t have to mean you’re a doormat, it just helps keep you from being on other peoples shit-list.

Attend the company events

Everyone goes to the summer outing and the holiday party.  These events are a fun time to unwind, relax and kind of commiserate with your colleagues.

It’s also an opportunity to bump shoulders with your higher ups and pick their brains.  We have different offices in the company, so it’s also a way for me to actually meet people I’ve never seen but have emailed with a billion times over for projects.

Overall, it’s a great way to show face and make sure the right people can put the correct face to your name when talking about accomplishments and performance.

Work the numbers

Every job has it’s own metrics in terms of measuring an employee’s level of performance.

This was the hardest for me to learn.  I figured if I just did my work the numbers would reflect my efforts.  I really didn’t even take the time to learn EXACTLY how my performance was being measured.

The result?   My performance was not being completely represented by the numbers.

Upper Management doesn’t care about getting to know each and every individual employee.  Or working on their strengths and weaknesses.  They SAY they want to do that.  But Upper Management is made up of people, who, at the end of the day, want to just get the job done and done quickly.  In order to consider individual performance, at my company, metrics are KING.

Whether the numbers and metrics are right 100% depends on you and making sure you’re getting the credit for the work you do and being recognized.

Some people go as far as working the numbers in such a way that it starts to be very little work to look high performance.  Those people know how to PLAY THE GAME.

Get other people to say good things about you

My Asst. Director is good at this.  Almost shameless about it too.  She MUST get credit for her contribution at work.  She kind of needs it since she struggles to grasp the entire scope of her work.

She will straight up ask people to mention her contributions in meetings, while mentioning all the times she talked you up to the higher ups and stoking your ego.  She’s asked me! I don’t mind saying good things about other people because that just means you’re in alliance and they’re more likely to say good things about you.

You also want your work to be so good that other departments will know you and mention that you do “good work” or that you’re “very knowledgeable.”

It’s through the mouths of other people that you build a reputation, whether it be good or bad.

Brag and get credit for your accomplishments

This is kind of like getting other people to say good things about you except it’s just you saying good things about yourself.

I used to think that talking yourself up and bragging was in bad taste in the workplace but over time it’s become more normal for me.

Work is just too busy!  Who’s going to really remember who did what, who set what record, what your most recent accomplishment was, other than you?  It’s your job to make it known and to advocate for yourself.   No one’s going to do it for you.

Even more, if you stay quiet about your accomplishments and people notice, it might be mistaken for a lack of confidence rather than humbleness.

I hope this article helps you find the confidence to make sure your contributions to your company are noticed.  These were hard lessons for me but I hope they help you along your way to success.

Feel free to read my other posts:

Top 6 Ways To Maintain A Work Life Balance When Your Job Is Stressing You Out

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Organize Your Mind: How To Be More Productive With Your Day

I Survived A Toxic Manager & Toxic Workplace Environment

Toxic workplace environment toxic manager
Toxic workplace environment toxic manager

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My manager was a b*tch. She was a bonifide b*tch. And if this goes viral and she reads this, I hope she knows I’m talking about her. (Thanks EK for being the worst toxic manager I have ever encountered). The toxic workplace environment was hard enough but she made it unbearable.

We all have that one manager that we hate. The one that uses their position of power to serve themselves and abuse others. The one that uses emotional manipulation to guilt you into staying extra hours, often unpaid. The one that tries to screw you over financially and points fingers when things don’t go well. The one that manager that makes you question your commitment to your job and makes you want to quit with anxiety. I don’t know who put these people in their roles but, holy crap, the hiring process needs to get better.

I had just gotten into a position that I was really excited about when I met EK, she seemed friendly enough. She showed me how to do everything; put the bare minimum in training me but I was okay with that. After all, I didn’t want to be a burden, she was obviously very busy. I told myself that I could learn from my mistakes and I could learn quickly with very little instruction. Lesson learned, the first sign of a toxic workplace environment is an utter lack of training.

There were multiple red flags and looking back I realized what a dupe I was to believe her evil manipulations. In reality, I was between a rock and a hard place. A lot of stuff she did didn’t really make sense or feel fair but she was the only person who could show me the ropes. Even though she was only a year older than me, she had much more experience in the company and was well connected. Her brother and dad worked in other departments. EK always used her experience as a point of reference, “Trust me, I’ve been with this company for 10 years.” I mean, who can really argue with that logic? I was probably just really naive.

The toxic work environment started to show when she would hold these “meetings” five minute before the end of the workday. Looking back I really should have made a complaint at this point because these stupid were keeping me over 30-40 minutes and she wasn’t paying me overtime. I just felt sooo isolated. The director who hired me wasn’t investing anything into my training or checking in to see how I was doing. (Tells you a lot about this company, huh?). If I spoke out, who would listen?

I took on a lot of work beyond my scope because not doing so just made my job harder. Our receptionist isn’t trained? Well then, I’m fielding all the calls. Her paperwork isn’t closed out? Well then, her clients are going to be screaming at me on her days off when things don’t go their way. EK just liked to point fingers and not take responsibility. Apologies were not in her vocabulary. And with Upper Management not digging into their sites or taking a closer look, who was going to be the wiser? (The toxic workplace environment red flags were shining in neon lights).

She was the coldest woman I ever met. When she would get stressed she’d throws me under the bus and make sure I knew exactly how I was failing in my position. I could literally feel her satisfaction as I stuttered an apology and looked down at my desk feeling helpless and losing confidence in myself. Over time my work self-esteem just started slipping away. There were times she wouldn’t even bother to hide her nasty personality, her sneers at how incompetent I was still ring in my ears.

Why would I put up with that, why would I let someone disrespect me like that? Don’t I have any self-respect? How many times did I really think about storming out and throwing the towel in? So many times, but I worked too hard, got too far to let ONE person push me out. The truth is that my job wasn’t that bad. I’m paid well and reasonably. I’m doing something that I enjoy and am good at. The benefits and time off were good too. This was a GOOD JOB. And to quit now would be going back to the drawing board, career-wise. So I stayed and took it. I made sure to document the issues I had with her and keep her on edge. Over time, she was still a bitch, but a more cautious bitch. And eventually she became more and more jaded with her own position and the toxic workplace environment, so she found another opportunity and left.

It was such a breath of fresh air to be away from the negativity EK brought to the office.

It wasn’t until she finally left that I realized how toxic of a manager she was. I had always struggled to get deals through but apparently she had the system rigged. Which was surprising because for the past year and a half I was led to believe I just wasn’t trying hard enough. You know when someone points out some obscure yet plausible reason why something is happening, but in reality the two are unrelated? That’s exactly how she explained things to me. My toxic manager had played the system so that she would get the bulk of the commissions. All her arbitrary rules, on what could be accepted plus her rules on which clients were hers, favored her heavily. She knew this full and well but still took the digs at me for being low performing compared to her. She went as far as to complain about me to upper management, saying, “I can’t focus on my own role because Alex is too underperforming. I need to make all the deals.” She suggested adding another agent, so that I would compete with them and then they could drop the lowest performing team member.

You would think women would lift other women up in the workplace, seeing how we’re underrepresented and all. So it really surprised me to realize that EK didn’t care to mentor me or help me grow. She was numero uno and that was all that mattered.

For those dealing with a toxic manager and toxic workplace environment here are a few thoughts of advice:

1. Pick your battles but speak up! If something doesn’t seem right, say so. Plain and clear. Let the other person be defensive and show how they are not screwing you over.

2. Break down your interactions and minimize them. I only had to work with EK 3 times a week and sometimes it would be 2 or 1 times due to holidays and PTO. In the larger scheme of things we only worked together 135 days out of the year. Our overall interaction in a day might add up to an hour. Dealing with her was manageable when I thought of it that way.

3. Document Everything: most jobs will want to “build a case” against you if they want to fire you. Documenting everything can save your ass especially in a company that likes to point fingers. You can build a case too on how you were a good and reliable employee and how your employee committed wrongful termination.

4. Think about the bigger picture. Your manager is one person in a small part of your life. She or you may leave for a better opportunity. It’s hard to think about it that way when week after week, someone is using their position of authority to get ahead of you. But life has taught me that challenges are temporary.

5. Things are always changing: My toxic manager left! If she didn’t leave, I probably would have found my way out. The corporate environment is a living breathing organism, constantly changing.

My toxic manager was horrible and I can only wish most of my readers don’t have to work in that kind of environment.  But at the end of the day we can’t always choose who we work with.  Stay strong and stay motivated!

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