Organizational politics

Organizational politics


Organizational/Workplace Politics

According to Cropanzano et al. (1997), a workplace can be conceptualized as a social marketplace in which individuals engage in transactions, all seeking to earn a return on their investments. The possibility of receiving a favorable return on one’s investment is contingent on the extent to which organizational rewards are perceived to be fairly allocated. Two constructs which are germane to the allocative process are perceptions of organizational politics and organizational justice particularly, procedural justice (Aryee et al. 2004).

According to the Organizational Communication, Perspectives and Trends text book, communication is known as “a process of creating shared meaning through the use of signs and symbols” (Papa, M.J., Daniels, T.D. & Spiker. B.K., p. 3). To better help understand organizations, we might consider them as political systems. Politics help to recognize or even reconcile competing interests within an organization. Essentially, all employees bring their own interests, desires, wants, and needs to the workplace which leads to a diversity of interests in which politics form. Politics in an organization are viewed as both negative and positive. Everyone practices politics in some form or in some degree in an organization but viewing politics positively are considered to have a positive force within the organization. Relationships, norms, processes, performance and outcomes are all enormously affected and influenced by organizational politics because they are all intertwined into the management system.

As we know, communication within an organization is the key element to success and achievement. A leader is an individual who should consider communication to be the most important aspect in their relationship within the organization. An employee and their leader need a high communication percentage in order to maintain success and achieve specific goals within the organization. According to Sona Hathi, “Leaders should encourage frequent, consistent, and clear communications to eliminate ambiguity, uncertainty, and politics” (Hath, 2). This portrays the idea that politics within an organization can be highly effected if the leader isn’t willing to fully communicate with employees. It is extremely important for leaders to understand as well as utilize the political environment in any company to increase the organizational outcome and levels of satisfaction of the people. Organizational politics can influence the relationship between the leader and employee further leading to the development and success of each and every organization.

Employees, as well as leaders, use politics to promote their self-interests, compete for power and leadership, and build personal physique. In any organization, or group, each and every individual is willing to defend for themselves before defending for the group as a whole. This can happen in any situation, at any time. Politically motivated behaviors are “activities that are not required as a part of one’s formal role in the organization, but that influence, or attempt to influence, the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within the organization” (Farrell and Peterson, 1982, p. 405). For example, in any organization, upward and downward communication is used to communicate messages through employees and different levels of the hierarchy. In order to communicate effectively, individuals need to be willing to use the proper way of distributing information by encoding and decoding messages correctly. In any case, an individual may be willing to communicate messages incorrectly in order to protect their image, state of power, or control. “Organizational members engage in strategic message encoding/decoding for purposes of protecting their ego, enhancing their image, or increasing the probably of receiving favorable treatment” (Sussman, L., Adams, A., Kuzmits, F. & Raho, L., p. 317). As you can see, the organizational politics being represented in this type of communication can highly affect the organization in many different ways.

According to Mayes and Allen, “organizations are political coalitions in which decisions are made and goals are set by bargaining processes” (Mayes, B.T., & Allen, R.W., p. 672). This contributes to the idea that any organization sets goals and makes decisions by the group of people within the organization rather than by each individual. The idea of power is contributed within the organization whether it is individually or within the entire group.

Perceptions of Organizational Politics

Organizational politics have been defined as “actions by individuals which are directed toward the goal of furthering their own self interests without regard for the well-being of others or their organization” (Kacmar and Baron 1999, p. 4). Research suggests that perceptions of organizational politics consistently result in negative outcomes for individuals (Harris, Andrews, and Kacmar 2007). According to Harris and Kacmar (2005), politics has been conceptualized as a stressor in the workplace because it leads to increased stress and/or strain reactions. Members of organization react physically and psychologically to perceptions of organizational politics, physical reactions including fatigue and somatic tension (Cropanzano et al. 1997), and psychological reactions include reduced commitment (Vigoda 2000) and reduced job satisfaction (Bozeman et al. 2001).

Distributive and Procedural Justice

Distributive justice refers to the perceived fairness of the outcomes received by employees, whereas procedural justice refers to the perceived fairness of the processes used to determine the outcomes (Colquitt et al. 2001). Distributive and procedural justice have their roots in equity theory. Inequity exists for Person whenever his perceived job inputs and/or outcomes stand psychologically in an obverse relation to what he perceives are the inputs and/or outcomes of Other (Adams 1963). According to a study performed by Harris, Andrews, and Kacmar (2007), the lowest levels of job satisfaction were found in situations with low distributive justice and high perceptions of organizational politics and procedural justice.

Workplace Participation

Included in the topic of organizational politics is the concept of workplace participation, which Cheney (1995) refers to as “the relationship between participation inside and outside the workplace” as well as in politics (p. 187). The concept of workplace does not solely refer to transforming labor into products and services, but it is also a place where people may socialize, form interpersonal relations that are not limited to labor contracts, and perform certain rights and rituals together (Jian & Jeffres, 2008). This social work setting is known as work community. Work community’s existence is endorsed by social support, emotion, and learning in organizations, among other things (Brown & Duguid, 1991). Events such as birthdays, holidays, and celebrations of successes provide opportunities in which common values and identity arise. Social rules of the work community are based on informal interactions and agreements as the foundations of a community.

Workplace participation can be broken down into two dimensions: job autonomy and decision involvement (Jian & Jeffres, 2008, p. 38). Peterson (1992) identifies job autonomy as “one’s level of control in accomplishing one’s own job on a daily basis” (p. 515). Decision involvement refers to how much say one has in the decision-making process of a work organization (Jian & Jeffres, 2008). Both the political spillover theory and internal political efficacy are positively related to workplace participation.

Political Spillover Theory and Internal Political Efficacy

In order to determine the relationship between workplace participation and political involvement, it is important to understand what constitutes the political spillover theory, as well as internal political efficacy (IPE), both developed by Carole Pateman in 1970 (Jian & Jeffres, 2008). According to the political spillover theory, “one’s experience of participation in the workplace will influence his or her participation in a democratic political system outside of the workplace” (Jian & Jeffres, 2008, p. 37). In regards to politics outside of the workplace, participation consists of behaviors such as community involvement, political voting, and participation in political party and campaign activities in a democratic political system (Greenberg, Grunberg, & Daniel, 1996). In terms of internal political efficacy, Acock, Clark, & Stewart (1985) acknowledged two types: internal efficacy and external efficacy. Internal efficacy “indicates individuals’ self-perceptions that they are capable of understanding politics and competent enough to participate in political acts such as voting” (p. 1,064). External efficacy, on the other hand, “measures expressed beliefs about political institutions,” in that political parties are only interested in votes of people and not in their opinions (Acock et al., 1985, p. 1,064). While external political efficacy shares no relation to workplace participation, IPE and political participation have been directly associated with workplace participation (Jian & Jeffres, 2008).

Referring back to workplace participation, Pateman (1970 explained job autonomy and decision involvement at work as the most significant contributors to the development of an individual’s IPE, which then positively influences political participation (Pateman, 1970). Higher levels of job autonomy and participation in decision making at work increase the sense of being able to control work and its environment, which translates into a sense of political effectiveness (Jian & Jeffres, 2008). Stemming from this relationship, IPE therefore leads to increased political participation.

Office Politics Video


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Aryee, S., Chen, Z. X., & Budhwar, P. S. (2004). Exchange fairness and employee performance: An examination of the relationship between organizational politics and procedural justice. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 94, 1-14.

Bozeman, D. P., Perrwere, P. L., Hochwarter, W. A., & Brymer, R. A. (2001). Organizational politics, perceived control, and work outcomes: Boundary conditions on the effects of politics. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 31, 486-503.

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Colquitt, J. A., Conlon, D. E., Wesson, M. J., Porter, C., & Ny, K. Y. (2001). Justice at the millennium: A meta-analysis review of 25 years of organizational justice research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 425-445.

Cropanzano, R., Howes, J. C., Grandey, A. A., & Toth, P. (1997). The relationship of organizational politics and support to work behaviors, attitudes, and stress. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 18,159-180.

Fleming, P. & Spicer, A., (Feb. 2008). Beyond power and resistance. New approaches to organizational politics, (Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 301–309).

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Harris, K. J., & Kacmar, K. M. (2005). Easing the strain: The buffer role of supervisors in the perceptions of politics- strain relationship. Journal of Organizational and Occupational Psychology, 78, 337-354.

Harris, K. J., Andrews, M. C., & Kacmar. (2007). The moderating effects of justice on the relationship between organizational politics and workplace attitudes. Journal of Business and Psychology, 22, 135-144.

Hathi, S. (Jun/Jul 2007). Clear communication is key to beating office politics. Strategic Communication Management, (Vol. 11, No. 4, p. 2).

Jian, G., & Jeffres, L. (2008). Spanning the boundaries of work: Workplace participation, political efficacy, and political involvement. Communication Studies, 59(1), 35-50.

Papa, M.J., Daniels, T.D. & Spiker. B.K., Organizational Communication: Perspectives and Trends. Los Angeles:SAGE Publications, 2008.

Pateman, C. (1970). Participation and democratic theory. London: Cambridge University Press.

Peterson, S. (1992). Workplace politicization and its political spillovers: A research note. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 13, 511-524.

Sussman, L., Adams, A., Kuzmits, F. & Raho, L., (Nov. 2002). Organizatonial politics: tactics, channels, and hierarchical roles. Journal of business ethics. (Vol. 40, Iss. 4, Pt. 1, pp. 313–331).

Mayes, B.T., & Allen, R.W., (Oct., 1977). Toward a definition of organizational politics. The Academy of Management Review, (Vol. 2, No. 4, pp. 672–678)

Vigora, E. (2000). Organizational politics, job attitudes, and work outcomes: Exploration and implications for the public sector. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 57,329-347.

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