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Industrial & Organisational : Introduction : Personnel : Organizational psychology : Occupations: Work environment: Index : Outline

Office politics is a slang term for the often counterproductive human factors present between coworkers, in an office environment in the private or public sector.

One of the defining aspects of it can be found in the riddle: "Why are office politics so vicious? Because the stakes are so small." In a group that's largely homogeneous, differences are often found and highlighted to provide artificial divisions between groups to rationalize hostility and dehumanize others.

Some aspects of office politics

  • Smokers often form an inner-circle of office gossip during their outdoor smoking breaks.
  • The water cooler is another gathering ground for gossip.
  • Social alliances often form between colleagues of similar interests, and they may team up against other perceived competitors.
  • Personal factors may divide the groups, often including age, gender, or ethnic background.
  • Perceived or real romantic affairs often unbalance relationships.
  • Competition for favor between two executives striving for the top may create cliques or teams within the organization.

"Kicked upstairs"

One of the concepts found in corporate executive office politics is called being "kicked upstairs". This is when an unliked or underperforming executive in charge of some portion of a corporation, is said to have been promoted (and might report then to the person his current boss is reporting to), yet is given only a small amount of responsibility, if any. This may be viewed as either punishment or damage control.

This practice however is controversial because it is seen as too lenient, and a waste of the shareholder's money. Often executives stay within the corporation for years not doing very much work (see the Peter principle), but also they are often finally allowed to have real duties when someone else is unliked or fails. This whole process is very hard to discern from an outsider's, or analyst's standpoint. It is often revealed only later in famous cases in business biographies.


Among corporate executives, certain titles which legally have no real importance but are meant for honor and pride are fought over by executives. Often titles are meant to please or accommodate egos rather than clearly delineate responsibility.

In the past, being allowed to be on the Board of Directors (a group which is supposed to represent the interests of the shareholders and be the boss of the CEO) was an honor sought by many executives, although this practice has diminished since the many scandals of 2002 where the board was shown to be weak or negligent.

Another commonly used device to "cool off egos" is an entity called "the office of the chairman". This is usually created when a merger or other circumstances finds former CEO's all having to work together at the same company. Since there usually only is one resulting CEO, the other former CEOs and the CEO form a group called the office of the chairman. These groupings seldom have had any real power or impact beyond the title.

See also

  • Dilbert
  • PHB
  • Office Space
  • Imus in the Morning
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