Thursday, January 27, 2005

The following article from The Guardian is particularly apt given what I've been going through the past few days. If time permits, I'll elaborate in a later entry, but trust me when I say that despite having been in the corporate workforce for the past 2.5 years, I still haven't a clue on office politics. I'm far too nice a person to play the game... and I'm (was?) guilty of believing that taking on extra work - the mundane work that no one else wants to do - will culminate in my being rewarded as a team player. Bah. Humbug.

Excerpts from Work it out
The Guardian
January 26 2005
Jenni Russell

In a world where we are increasingly defined by our work, why do so many of us have such a poor understanding of office politics?

"We go into workplaces with any number of preconceptions about other people's motivations and values, and we're often shockingly slow to adjust our assumptions in the face of reality. Work consumes a huge amount of our time, increasingly defines us to ourselves and other people, and largely determines our standard of living. The difference between getting it right and wrong is life-changing.

"Rose worked, increasingly unhappily, for four different companies in 15 years before being frozen out of her senior job, and retreating to part-time and badly paid freelance work. She realises now that she never understood how to behave in her workplaces. Her education - modest home, grammar school, Oxford - gave her the illusion that the world was a meritocracy. In retrospect she can't believe her naivety. She says she never grasped that getting on with colleagues was more important than doing the job, and she didn't see the necessity of adapting to different office cultures. She was equally out of sympathy with the radical feminism of her first office, and the glamour-obsessed networking of her final one. 'It just didn't occur to me that all workplaces might be an arena for games-playing and manipulation. I thought office politics was something that only concerned people at the top of organisations, who were fighting for places on the board.'"

"'You have to be very ambitious, but not show it - a team player on the surface, but really an individualist. You mustn't be seen to try too hard, or care too much. Urbanity is prized, and so is reserve. When I first arrived, young and green, I addressed my superiors as Mr so-and-so. I was told off for it, told that we don't have that kind of formality here; everyone uses Christian names. But that informality was completely deceptive. We were expected to show a high degree of deference, and to do exactly as we were told.'"

"On the whole, women are less attuned to power relationships, and less concerned by the exercise of power, than men are. The qualities for which they are so often praised - team-working, empathy, openness, conscientiousness - may be very good for the organisations where they work, but they are the opposite of the qualities required for individuals to succeed; single-mindedness, calculation, and an acute consciousness of status.

"Freya is a young academic who made a common mistake; she assumed that it was a mark of special favour when her managers asked her to take on extra work. She agreed to take on the financial management of her department when the full-time administrator left, believing it would demonstrate her commitment and competence. It had just the opposite effect. While her colleagues lunched with contacts, or wrote the papers that would get them their next job, she was staying late every evening to balance the books. 'I was such a fool. I never distinguished between prestigious tasks that would add to my marketability, and the routine stuff that no one else wanted to do.'"

"Why do perfectly intelligent people end up working in environments that don't suit them? It's often because the explicit values of an organisation have nothing to do with the real values - they may even be the reverse. A black administrator I know had the unhappiest time of her life working for a leftwing council with admirable policies. The backstabbing, sexism, bullying and rudeness were intolerable. She moved to a rightwing council, quite out of tune with her political beliefs, and found it a comparative haven of politeness and harmony.

"So many people are frustrated and unhappy because they are working in environments where the real values don't match their own. We would be far happier if we worked in places which respected the qualities we possessed at the time. Perhaps the best way to understand it is to consider that all organisations are meritocracies - it's just that the merits on which people are being judged may be rather hard to discern.

"We are slow to recognise when we're in the wrong place. That's partly because we're averse to too much change, but also because we don't want to admit defeat. Stubbornly, blindly, we go on thinking that if we stay just a little longer or try a little harder, our true worth will be recognised. We couldn't be more wrong."

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