"I am intellectually bored and politically exhausted". This is what somebody told me the other day during our strengths session. The room went quiet, and her boss turned towards her.
We then went into an hour conversation with the team, where they opened up about their struggles with office politics and the lack of intellectual stimulation in their roles. They talked about tiptoeing around topics & people's mood swings and avoiding passive-aggressive behaviour or gossiping.
The manager was unaware of this, so we chatted and looked at options to address the problem after the session. I reassured him that his team is not unique and he should not feel bad about it.
In any workplace, expecting a certain amount of office politics is natural.
People have different opinions, work styles, and goals, and it is common for employees to lobby for their ideas and initiatives. However, when office politics become too prevalent or too divisive, it can waste productivity.
One of the main ways that office politics waste productivity is by creating distractions. Employees who are focused on navigating the political landscape do not focus on their work. They may spend hours crafting emails, trying to anticipate their boss's reactions, or worrying about who is getting credit for a particular project. These activities leave no room for real work that intellectually challenges people and moves companies to the next level. The mind is full of distractions and moves quickly into self-protecting mode. It wipes out the hunger for learning, curiosity, and the need to take initiative or be creative.
Eventually, boredom hits and productivity slumps further.
Boredom is a common feeling in the workplace. Don't believe me? Look at the face and body language of your employees. Boredom is brought on by a combination of factors. It can be a lack of stimulation, i.e. we find our work uninteresting and unengaging. Or perhaps people don't have enough work to do.
Repetitive jobs are deadly to mental health. Researchers even found a link between boring jobs and dementia however, the findings are inconclusive. Unfortunately, most jobs are repetitive in the sense that we do the same thing.
Even a salesperson who speaks to different people daily will say, "My job is the same "Build the relationship, meeting, pitch the product, close the sale and go for coffee from time to time to maintain the relationship." I have spoken to professionals with very heavy workloads and people in junior & senior roles, nobody is immune to this phenomenon.
So what can we do about it? First of all, check if they have enough work to do because, let's be honest, we just don't. Automation has made us more efficient and productive, but it hasn't been adjusted for in the past 20 years. I feel that the four-day workweek is to correct for that and is not about employee well-being. Of course, indirectly, it will impact that because employees will get to spend more time doing other things, and maybe they will stop identifying with their roles.
So, if people don't have enough to work on, consider moving them to a four-day week schedule. You can also diversify roles and involve them in activities that require creativity and deep thinking, encouraging knowledge and skill development or complex problem-solving.
Reducing office politics can only be done through psychological safety, setting clear expectations of required behaviour and consequential actions. If these things are absent, your teams will be busy navigating politics instead of doing their jobs.
CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE PEOPLE ARE BUSY ACHIEVING THEIR GOALS AND DEVELOPING THEMSELVES INSTEAD OF NAVIGATING THE POLITICS.