We all know that it takes more than just skills to be an asset to your company – you need to be a good coworker, someone who gets along with others and doesn’t cause drama. Look to the sports world for proof. No matter how talented someone is, if they are a poisonous presence on the team, they almost always end up being traded. Being a positive presence, in a locker room or a more traditional workplace, is just as valuable to your employer as the specific skills you bring. There are many things you can do to be a good temporary worker and this post focuses on one of them - don’t get involved in office politics. Just. Don’t.
Office politics spans a number of things but can be broadly summed up as talking about what’s going on in the workplace beyond the scope of your project or work. Often, it has a negative tone to it but sometimes can seem more innocuous to start, so the first step is recognizing it. The second step is staying out of it, which can sometimes be harder than you might think.
The term office politics is broad. Think about it in terms of three categories:
- Professional. This is the office politics we probably most recognize. Who got a promotion that shouldn’t have, who makes more or less than another, getting involved in discussions about who’s pulling their weight on the project team, things like that.
- Personal. Another word for this kind of office politics is gossip. Discussing who is dating who, whether someone should be wearing that outfit, who drinks too much, did you hear that his wife is divorcing him, etc. things of that nature.
- General. Everyday life in an office can cause friction and office politics includes talking about who never cleans the microwave or refills the coffee pot or whose leftovers are still in the fridge.
It’s easier than you think to get caught up in discussions about these things if you’re not careful. You might be vigilant about not discussing salaries and slip up when you are rightfully annoyed about the messy microwave. But to truly be a great co-worker and a star contractor, you need to avoid all of it.
How? Well, the first thing to remember is that as a contractor the professional politics matter much, much less. In most cases your assignment is going to end and you will move on. Who makes more or gets promoted has little effect on your career. Yes, it’s unpleasant to work with someone who doesn’t carry their fair share of the workload, but again, you’ll move on to a new team relatively soon. If you are asked in a legitimate business capacity for your opinion of another’s work, such as by a supervisor or project leader, answer honestly and in a fair and balanced fashion. But sitting around the conference room complaining about someone with others is never ok.
When it comes to gossip just don’t get involved, ever. Nothing good can come of it. You really have no idea what’s true or not when you’re hearing things from others and even if it is, what is to be gained? Even what starts out seemingly harmless can quickly take a turn for the worse. People’s personal lives are just that, personal. When confronted by it in conversation politely decline to comment or leave the lunchroom. No one ever got in trouble by saying “excuse me but I need to get back to work.” There are often a few specific people who are the instigators of these kinds of conversations, identify and avoid them.
The trickiest is the general office stuff. It’s really annoying when people talk too loud, are messy in common areas or selfish in other ways that impinge on their coworkers but the solution isn’t to complain along with your coworkers about the offender(s). The answer isn’t talk, it’s action, appropriate action. If it’s really a problem, someone should bring it up with an HR person or a supervisor, who would then speak with the individual privately. It’s more appropriate for a permanent staff member to go to HR, not you as a contractor. Rather than engaging in the negative conversation, suggest this to the person who is complaining.
Drama and politics are drains on creativity, productivity, morale, and ultimately the bottom line. Whichever kind of office politics you are confronted with just walk away and don’t get involved. Don’t repeat things that people tell you, don’t add to the drama. Either avoid it or extricate yourself as quickly and politely as possible. It will make you a better co-worker and a more valuable employee!