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Office Politics

Self-serving activities for personal advancement

What is Office Politics?

Office politics exist in almost any organization. They are the activities performed by individuals to improve their status and advance their personal agenda at the expense of others. These self-serving actions are informal or unofficial and could be the reason why politics in the workplace comes with a negative connotation. However, there are good office politics and these are more identified as networking and strengthening stakeholder relationships.

The truth is we must develop political know-how. We often don’t like to talk about them, but in reality, office politics do exist. Doing so can prevent anybody from taking advantage of us. If we fail to develop these skills, we get left behind in terms of career advancement. The suggestion here is not to become a highly political person but to be aware of the politics in our organization.


Office Politics


What Causes Office Politics?

The motives for a person to engage in office politics are to sell their ideas, achieve a targeted objective, influence an organization or increase their power. To reach them all, politically-motivated individuals will form alliances, bargain and negotiate to get what they want for themselves and/or for their group. Furthermore, these individuals will lobby their bosses before the bosses make a promotion. Also, they will bypass the chain of command to get approvals for certain decisions or projects.

Additionally, people or groups within an organization have different interests. And these interests are not always aligned with others. Therefore, in order to be successful, some individuals must engage in some politics.


Politics and Competition

If there are scarce resources in an organization, this will breed competition, and surely, there will be politics in place. For instance, because of limited positions within a firm, such as an investment bank, individuals will find various ways to get promoted. Furthermore, when a person wants to control a project and make a difficult decision, they will want to get the approval of others, usually from their senior co-workers, even when others are against them.

Virtually all organizations have a pyramid hierarchy. This means there are fewer positions to be filled as one climbs up the ranks. Not everyone gets the promotion they’re after, as only a handful of executive positions are available.


Example: Hierarchy in Investment Banking


In investment banking, for example, you start your career as an analyst. This is when you will spend most of your time learning the ropes. Your main tasks will revolve around making analysis, creating presentation materials and even doing mundane, administrative tasks. If you’re considered a top performing analyst, you may receive an offer to stay for more years.


After two or three years, you’ll be promoted to the associate level. If you did really well as an analyst, some banks would offer you a direct promotion. However, other banks will require you to get your MBA first before going back to work as an associate. The work will be similar for associates and analysts with the former having added responsibilities of managing the analysts’ work and acting as the liaison between junior and senior bankers.

VPs and MDs

Reaching the vice-president role requires about three and a half more years of investment banking experience as an associate. But not everybody can become a VP in the same bank unless there’s a need for another one. At this point, you have to assess your situation as to whether it’s a good idea to stay in the bank or look elsewhere for a promotion.

For the roles of senior bankers (VPs and MDs), they build and maintain business relationships with current or new clients. They continuously source new deals and have deep expertise in their industry landscape. Not everyone is good at doing this, as you need to have exceptional interpersonal skills.


Limited Recognition, Rewards, and Opportunity

As we can see, it takes years to climb up the investment banking hierarchy. The chances of an analyst making it to MD level someday is small, considering there are more analysts than MDs working at any major bank. The higher the role you’re trying to reach, the fiercer competition becomes. On average, it takes about 16+ years from being an analyst to becoming managing director in most major investment banks.

Aside from the limited availability of investment banking jobs, competition also emerges for what comes as a package from the senior roles, which are respect, lifestyle, and prestige. This is why we must know the politics in our organization. There’s a possibility that some of our co-workers will have strategies to gain an unfair advantage over us, even if our skills on the job are more superior than theirs.

The culture in most investment banks, Big Four accounting firms, and major consulting firms is intense. They have a reputation for their cutthroat meritocracy. It definitely attracts the best and brightest business students from top universities, and frankly, everyone is replaceable, so we have to work hard. Even on the weekends, we are expected to work long hours. For a major investment bank, the hours spent on a weekly basis are somewhere between 80-110 hours.

We may feel resentment or even jealousy towards the person who’s politicking to achieve what they want. The reason for this is not everyone engages in politics. Instead, the rest rely on proper procedures, thereby making it unfair for us and our co-workers when we get taken advantage of without knowing it. This is true especially when rewards and recognition for work, which are scarce, are given to those individuals who use politics to attain them.


Changing Bad Politics

Here are some things we can do when experiencing bad politics in the workplace:

  • Make many friends

To change bad politics in the office, we need to get involved. A very common thing that can happen is a co-worker using their power to intimidate and oppress others. One thing we can do is to make friends with our colleagues and share anything that we may find wrong in the office. It’s a good idea to point out negative behavior that affects the performance of others. Forming a group against the person doing the negative politicking will isolate that person, contain their behavior and expose them for what they do.

  • Keep a record of your work

If we find someone taking credit for our work, we shouldn’t just directly expose that person in the open public at the office. Instead, the most professional thing to do is to thoroughly document our work. We should regularly update our bosses’ superiors and co-workers about our progress and work output. This protects us from anybody who challenges our contribution to the company or, even, questions our skills. More importantly, it protects our reputation, because we can easily prove our level of productivity to anyone.

  • Don’t retaliate in the same way

When there’s a co-worker who tries to underestimate us or make us look bad, we may harbor animosity towards that person and even try to retaliate. But we must be careful of losing our temper and professionalism. Trying to do something can also backfire. We won’t be able to change the person’s behavior this way. What we can do is to talk privately with that person and ask them why they acted in that manner. This is a far better approach because it will make that person reflect on their negative actions.

So, when we start our finance work in a company, let’s determine whether or not it’s overly driven by politics. We must be aware of the destructive aspects of office politics for us to minimize their negative effects. Letting it happen can provide the grounds for others to take advantage of us. We must learn how to navigate our way through it to prevent ourselves from experiencing lower job satisfaction, making less commitment to the organization, suffering from job anxiety and performing worse on the job.



Being good at politics in the workplace is knowing who the right people to speak to, handling public put-downs well, making your work relevant, increasing your visibility, and moving projects along. We need to make sure that (1) we understand the politics in our organization, (2) we devise a strategy about how to successfully navigate them, and (3) we constantly check in with ourselves.


Related Readings

  • Financial Accounting Job Titles
  • Head of HR Job Description
  • What do Investment Bankers do?
  • Equity Research Associate Job Description

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