Company Culture

Five Strategies for Navigating Workplace Politics


Written by Kathleen Vogt • November 30, 2023

Five Strategies for Navigating Workplace Politics

While many people love a little workplace drama to keep the day interesting, workplace politics are a completely different story. Workplace politics — that is, the relationship tactics that people use (and sometimes) abuse to get things to go their way at work — can lead to broken relationships, decreased productivity, and low morale, particularly when the lobbying takes an unethical or toxic turn. Workplace politics can lead people to leave their roles, which can have huge impacts on teams and whole organizations. They can also negatively impact job satisfaction, leading to higher levels of burnout and less motivation to maintain high work standards.

To help those trying to navigate difficult situations, we’re listing out five strategies to implement to avoid the worst of workplace politics if opting out isn’t an option for you.

Use your moral compass to define workplace politics

When navigating workplace politics, it can be hard to know where to stand — or to know if you need to take a side or take a seat. This ambiguity starts with the definition of workplace politics, which can look differently to different people.

What counts as workplace politics to you might look like harmless lobbying or strongly pursuing a goal to others. Workplace politics have to do with power, something that many people seek in the workplace either for their own personal benefit or to further their work activities. While some people see these efforts as unethical, not everyone will. At work, you may need to lean on your own values and ethics to understand when something crosses the line.

When something begins to feel to you like it’s in direct contradiction to your moral compass, it’s likely heading into the sphere of workplace politics — and when this happens, it might benefit you to be on high alert and be thoughtful about how you respond.

Lean on company policy and values

The second strategy for navigating workplace politics is to brush up on your company’s policies as well as its mission or values statements. Most companies have policies set up around how they run, such as hiring policies or conflict mediation policies. These policies can be helpful to understand so you can recognize when workplace politics start to lean over into being toxic.

Similarly, if your company is dedicated to creating and maintaining a positive environment, then they will have thought through how they specifically want to do so. If you find that the workplace politics around you negate those efforts, it may be worth bringing up your concerns to a manager or an HR team member — or to begin to steer clear of the colleagues perpetuating the toxic workplace politics.

Be empathetic but set boundaries

It may be unavoidable, interacting with your colleagues that are perpetuating workplace politics, particularly in work activities based in a team setting. If this is true for you, being empathetic can be a way to help your colleagues feel heard. However, it’s important that you set clear boundaries and speak up when they overstep those boundaries with workplace politics.

Setting such boundaries could look like using any of these phrases when you feel that your colleague isn’t respecting your desire to remain outside of the workplace politics:

  • “Hey, look, I hear that you’re upset, but I want to focus on the work and not on your issues with our other team members. Is it okay if we leave that aside?”
  • “I told you that I want to stay out of these politics, I still want to do that. Do you mind if we refocus around work?”
  • “I would prefer not to get involved in this, so I’m hoping we can keep working together like we have in the past without letting this conflict get in the way.”

If you set the boundary, it’s best if you stick to that boundary — and walk away, even momentarily, if that boundary gets crossed.

Invest in positive onboarding practices

If you’re looking for a way to shift your company away from harmful workplace politics, you might take a good long look at your onboarding practices. Understanding — and then changing if necessary — your company’s political environment can start with learning what they do when recruiting new team members.

Investing in positive onboarding practices, that is, practices that are inclusive and fair, can be a great way to improve the workplace environment to the point where workplace politics will appear out of place. When onboarding new employees, talk openly about the company’s values as well as what they consider inappropriate interpersonal behavior. This ensures that from the word “go,” people focus on what will be a positive workplace environment, one that is free from workplace politics.

Plan social events for non-work connection

Lastly, planning social events that center around non-work activities and conversations can be a good way to help teams navigate difficult workplace politics. Bringing people together over a meal, going out for an activity like mini golf, or even simply eating lunch together can be a good way to remind everyone that each team member is more than the work they do between 9-5pm. Stoking connection takes you out of work blinders and can be a good way to improve feelings of goodwill, hopefully reducing the need for workplace politics to be involved.

By navigating workplace politics in a way that doesn’t engage with toxicity, you can maintain morale, which can be a huge lift for your work.