Rampant cynicism regarding the workplace

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The great American author F. Scott Fitzgerald once said “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Well, I certainly am not going to rate my intelligence that high but am certainly going to maintain two opposing thoughts in this space: while optimism remains alive and well at the core of the American worker, unbridled cynicism seems to reside right alongside it as well. That might seem contradictory on the surface but, from a trucking perspective at least, it really isn’t.

Let’s face it: whether we’re talking about corner offices, cube farms, or truck cabs, people are people. All too often many scheme to “get ahead,” throwing their compatriots under the proverbial bus. 

Just take a look at one of the data points gleaned from the Job Happiness Survey conducted online by Parade magazine teamed up with Yahoo! Finance this year from April through June using a sample of more than 26,000 respondents.

More than half (51%) of those responding to the survey said workers get ahead because of internal politics, while 27% believe it is hard work and initiative that move them forward. Here’s the breakdown:

 

 

Internal politics

 

51%

 

Hard work

 

27%

 

Initiative

 

18%

 

Creativity

 

4%

 

Such “cynicism” seems to grow over the course of a career, as younger workers tend to take a less-jaundiced view of the workplace (then again, maybe they are just more naïve) as 45% of respondent’s ages 18 to 24 noting hard work as the greatest means of getting ahead in their careers, with only 28% of them giving “internal politics” the most weight.

Global staffing firm Robert Half conducted a more detailed survey of “office politics” and found that four out of 10 workers (40%) in its poll characterized themselves as "occasional voters" when participating in office politics, limiting their involvement to issues that affect them directly. Another 39% said they are "neutral parties" who stay completely out of the fray. 

Although most employees report not being heavily involved in office politics, Robert Half’s researchers found that 56% said they’ve observed political maneuverings on the job. Chief among these activities is gossiping, cited by 54% of respondents, followed by flattering the boss to gain favor (20%) and taking credit for others' work (17%).

[Here’s an amusing video Robert Half created to illustrate the different types of “players” in office politics.]

“Becoming embroiled in office politics is never a good career move, but it's wise to be aware of political undercurrents on the job because they do exist in most organizations,” noted Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International. “There are people who seek to get ahead in their careers at the expense of others, and this behavior erodes trust and undermines team morale.”

The firm also boiled down the types of folks who get involved in office politics to five types – and provides advice on how to deal with them.

  • The Gossip Hound. Thisperson loves spreading rumors and can often be found hovering around the water cooler, speculating about a variety of sensitive issues. Keep your distance from the Gossip Hound and don't say anything you wouldn't say to someone directly.
  • The Credit Thief. This individual loves the spotlight and relishes taking credit for other people's work. When collaborating with a Credit Thief, document your contributions. Provide regular updates to your supervisor and correct any misrepresentations about your work.
  • The Sycophant."Shameless" is this person's middle name – he or she will offer fulsome flattery to anyone who is in a position of power. Although it may be hard to watch, don't sweat the Sycophant's tactics. Most managers can see through them. Give kudos to deserving individuals, regardless of their position.
  • The Saboteur. Watch your back when working with this person, who loves to play the blame game and make others look bad. Limit your interaction with this master manipulator and make sure to stand up for yourself. Often, the Saboteur will back down when confronted.
  • The Adviser.This professional is often closely aligned with an executive and serves as his or her eyes and ears. Develop a good rapport with the Adviser because he or she could have a direct line to the top.

Frankly, after getting such good vibes from survey’s in yesterday’s post about the intrinsically optimistic mindset of the American worker, it’s definitely a downer to be delving into such penny-ante behavior.

Yet while it’s a fact of life, so-called “office politics,” the wonder of it all is that while the American worker is almost certainly jaded by such activity, the job – whether its collating data or hauling freight – still gets done; and gets done well, more often than not. That’s something we in this country of ours should keep firmly in mind.  

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