While workplace politics isn’t anything new, Goh Ban Ping, head of regional HR for Sennheiser Asia, shares her advice on how we should deal with these tricky situations effectively.
Office politics has to start somewhere and, unfortunately, it is difficult to avoid. In this column, I will be using a typical workplace scenario to demonstrate how HR can get caught up in office politics and explain how to overcome the issue.
Employee A is unhappy with employee B for not doing his work, but he complains about it to everyone other than HR. At the end of the day, HR is roped in because there are so many complaints about employee B. HR eventually speaks to employee A, who says: “Please keep this confidential. The issue is not from me alone; there are also many others who think the same way”.
In my career, I have observed HR being used as an “official killer” or “policy setter” many times when things go wrong. The views of people vary as they ask: “Why is HR not taking any action on employee B when there are so many complaints about him?” or “Why is HR so insensitive and not confidential of the ‘whistle blower’?” Or, they would ask their bosses: “Why does HR not have a clear policy to avoid such situations?”
It can take a while to learn how to balance politics with the actual handling of such issues, and to stay afloat and remain well-respected by all. In my experience handling situations like this, I have followed the tips below, which have worked well for me over the years.
1. Know who you are working for first and understand what the boss likes to hear. You will need to build trust and rapport with the boss.
2. Display scenarios where you are always handling situations or policies in a neutral, consistent and fair manner, even to your own HR team, to gain their respect.
3. During one-on-one discussions with your boss, it is always good to give him or her an overall picture of key personnel and their behavior. Flag possible conflict of interests among certain employees so the boss can make an objective decision.
4. Handling your peers can be tougher than your boss because everyone is different. Start with what they would like to listen to first, before going into the context of what you want to talk to him about.
5. Observe the weaknesses and strengths of your peers in order manage them effectively. It is a skill that you will learn over time, but you must also know how to use it properly.
6. You must acknowledge that things put across to your boss and in front of you can be totally different. It is important that you anticipate such behavior and cover them with your boss first to avoid surprises.
7. If your employee asks whether you can settle the issue with them directly instead of forwarding the email to the boss, say: “Think about what would happen if I didn’t involve the boss. Others might misconstrue the picture behind your back and the outcome could be much worse”.