9 Office Politics Goofs That Can Set Your Career Back Years


Shows like The Office, 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation cast a very humorous light on office politics. But the reality is that office politics are a very real threat to your job. If you engage in them, you are playing a game (and I use that word with its darkest interpretation) that has winners and losers. And sadly, the losers are usually the ones who are naïve, honest, or easily manipulated. (See also: 5 Ways to Make Your Boss Love You)

You don't have to be on the losing side though. Avoid the following nine office politics faux pas, and gain some more control over your working destiny.

1. Engaging in Gossip

This crosses every level, from the new employee in the lowest department to the bigwings in the executive suite. It's something both men and women do equally. And if you fall into the gossip trap, you may find yourself on the receiving end of some nasty blowback. Gossip is never good. Whether it's about the company, the people, or situations, it can only lead to trouble. No one knows for sure that what they are saying about someone else is 100% accurate. And any sentence that starts with "You know what I heard…" is speculation at best. If you get sucked into a conversation about someone, or something very gossipy, make your excuses and walk away. You do not want to be associated with this, and it can destroy reputations and office morale.

2. Doing Only What Is in Your Job Description

If you become a person obsessed with the fine print of your contract, and the rules of the office, you will not show yourself in the best light. Okay, so maybe you were not hired to help with certain tasks. But if someone is asking for your help because they think you can be useful, and you have the time, then go ahead and help out. Going above and beyond will often lead to a promotion and a raise. Playing everything by the book will make you seem like a troublemaker, and you could find yourself of the losing end of the game you're playing.

3. Using Sex to Get Promoted

If at all possible, you want to avoid office romances. Of course, that's easier said than done, especially as you spend over 40 hours a week in the company of your coworkers. Some people, however, will use sex and sexual advances as a way to propel their careers. This is a huge faux pas. Male or female, if you are using sex as a way to get ahead in the company, it will only end in tears. Your career should be based on achievements and recognition, not the shortcuts that come from office trysts. Don't fall into this trap.

4. Making Inappropriate Comments on Social Media

In the past you could share your workplace frustrations with trusted friends and family. These days, you have to be really careful. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are places where your coworkers, and upper management, all hang out, too. If you air your grievances on Facebook, or show yourself getting drunk and rambunctious at a party, it could come back to haunt you. If you decide to engage in a popularity contest on Twitter, this could also hurt you. Consider using Facebook settings that show who can see your posts (only close friends and family for instance), but even then, they could easily share a post and get you into hot water. If in doubt, don't send it out.

5. Burning a Bridge

You just cannot afford to throw caution to the wind and burn a bridge. This comes from personal experience, and from the stories of many friends and coworkers. Sure, you are working with someone who is a complete pain. They seem to go out of their way to make your life miserable. They impede your career at every turn. But do not react. Never let the anger bottle up inside you until it explodes and puts you in a bad light. Simply smile, walk away, and find a way to vent your frustrations outside of the office. A good workout can do wonders.

6. Being a Quiet Loner

It may seem like a straightforward way to avoid the office politics, but this is actually a way to become part of the very political silliness you hate. By being the quiet loner, and avoiding contact with people as much as possible, you become a target for office gossip. You can also be seen as unlikeable, unfriendly, and aloof. When the time comes to make layoffs (and it always happens — no job is for life any more) it's easy to target someone who keeps to themselves. By all means stay out of the gossipy conversations and the BS, but be friendly, engage in a little harmless chit-chat in the break room, and be known as someone likeable.

7. Acting Like the Boss

Showing leadership skills is great; taking complete control and undermining the boss is a recipe for disaster. If you are looking for a promotion, you cannot just jump into the role you want. By all means ask for additional responsibilities. If colleagues need help, dive in. But if you act like you're the boss, you will antagonize both your fellow employees, and the person who should be doing what you have decided to do. This will always end badly for you.

8. Deliberately Sabotaging Projects

It seems like an easy way to get one over on a colleague who is making your life hell. Or even worse, to get credit for something whilst dropping someone else in it. This will always backfire. At the end of the day, you are all working toward the same goal. By sabotaging a project, you are being disloyal to the company that pays your salary and benefits. Just do the very best you can, every time, and let the chips fall where they may.

9. Constantly Complaining to Management

Legitimate gripes are one thing; a constant stream of complaints and bad reports about people (or one particular person) is not going to do you any favors at all. You need to learn which battles are worth fighting and which should be left well alone. If one person decides to focus on you in a negative way, you cannot fight back with complaint after complaint. They will be gaming the system, probably well enough to keep the upper echelons happy, and you will definitely look like the squeaky wheel. Only use official complaints for serious allegations, and let the system handle the rest. If this person really is being mean to you, they will eventually be mean to the wrong person.

Have you ever committed an embarrassing faux pas at work? How did you recover?

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