Navigating Your Mental Health Around Office Politics
Other than writing and studying, I’ve managed to experience a few part-time gigs over the past few years, and no matter which industry they were in, there’s always one thing they’ve had in common: office politics. Office politics are not unlike a leech, something you’re unable to get rid off, and if you’re not careful, it’ll start weighing you down and affecting your health.
It’s been proven that office politics leads to lower productivity: employees go to work for the sake of it, and are demoralised in giving their all best in working. In a politically driven environment, working hard may not equate to results, and therefore employees may be off-put and unproductive. It affects concentration levels, commitment levels, quality of output, and internal relations.
More than that, though, there’s a real personal cost to every employee. When workers get little to no support from coworkers and bosses, stress and anxiety levels are bound to increase, with health and performance suffering, and there is a higher chance of one quitting their job. This is all according to Beth Livingston, a human resources professor at Cornell University. As much as we would like to keep professional and private lives separate, work stress, anxiety, and depression can often spill over to individual lives. For those already suffering from mental health issues, office politics may trigger even more adverse effects.
How then can you manage these politics to ensure that your health? More than just handling your work, how do you navigate yourself through additional sources of stress that may come with almost every other job you take on?
3 Tips to Navigating Your Mental Health Around Office Politics
Identify your role in the problem.
Often times, we try to conduct workplace politics by “shutting down” our feelings (rather unsuccessfully, most of the time). But ignoring the problem and pretending it doesn’t really exist just worsens the situation: it makes it seem like there’s no solution to the problem, which just leaves one feeling helpless and incapable of action. Instead, try to identify your role in the workplace problem. Are you, in any way, contributing to the problem? Even if it’s just 2%, or 5% of the problem, do you have any power over it? And if you do, are you doing anything to change what you can change? If you take responsibility for what you’re answerable for, then there are high chances your comrades and friends would do the same, and eventually your opponents. It’s a positive domino effect, and you could be the one to set it off.
Make yourself vulnerable, intentionally.
Confrontation sucks. I get it, because I hate it too. But it’s also incredibly useful; after speaking your mind and trying to understand someone else’s point of view, there is a huge weight that’s lifted off your chest. So instead of dodging a problem and a difficult conversation, try to face it head-on. It can be very intimidating for those who aren’t used to doing so. I, too, am trying to get in the groove of confrontation because of how effective it can be, even though it’s an uncomfortable process when it’s foreign and new. Instead of misunderstandings and overcomplicated problems, you’re usually able to reach agreements and break down problems. It gets easier each time, and eventually, it just becomes part of being an accountable adult.
When starting a difficult conversation that may leave you feeling anxious, be sure to choose a private location with just you and the person you may be experiencing some friction with. Try to lower your defences. By going into a conversation with a defensive mode, you’re leaving the other party to defend themselves as well, which usually leads to an escalated conversation without fruitful conclusions. Rather, weaken your walls and lead with what you could have done better in a situation. Yes, it takes being the bigger person in the room, but being the better person has almost never hurt anyone. Share your personal emotions and challenges in an authentic, sincere, and tactful way. This creates levels of trust that the other party can appreciate. Even though the parties involved may not agree with the end-action that each of you may have taken, at least there’s an understanding of the thinking and process that each person may have taken.
Don’t pour fuel in the fire, and don’t join in when you have the capability not to. Avoid passing on rumours, remain professional, voice criticism with an organisational perspective, not a personal one. Don’t make downfalls or hiccups in projects. Stop yourself from faulting a person, and alternatively, work with them to form a solution for a problem. If a rumour comes your way, choose to keep it to yourself rather than passing it on. Even if you rely on confidentiality, it’s more often than not going to get passed on anyways, so stop it at yourself. If you really, really have to discuss or talk about it, do so with someone who’s not involved with your workplace at all. Or at the very least, not with anyone in your department, who can in no way affect future outcomes.
It’s not easy to separate yourself from professional settings, and therefore workplace politics can leave a deeper impact on us and our health than we expect it to. It’s good to practice rationalism, and to remember to keep a level-head when we are trying to settle complicated and convoluted situations. Usually, office politics tend to suck us in more when we are overly-reliant on colleagues as friends. Try to engage in leisure activities, and make friends outside of your professional circle. This keeps you grounded and distant from professional relationships, and provides more unbiased ground when you may be stuck in a challenging situation.