Chapter Two

Navigating office politics

Whether or not you play along with office politics or you run a mile. It is important for Assistants to understand and navigate politics in the office.

GUIDE: Preparing for a new Personal or Executive Assistant Job

The term office politics does come with lots of negative connotations and is very much associated with game playing where the ability to win is equated with success and losing will keep you on the lowest step of the career ladder.

In my experience, most Assistants will steer very clear of this type of behaviour as we are keepers of highly confidential information reporting to senior figures and cannot get involved in the uncertain world of office politics.

Although I agree to a certain extent that we should avoid office politics at all costs I also think that we should be aware of what it involves, how to play the game and use that to our advantage.

In this chapter, we will share strategies on how assistants can learn the rules of office politics and use them positively.

We will discuss the following topics:

How can Assistants navigate workplace politics

The term office politics comes with a lot of negative connotations. It is very much associated with game playing where the ability to win is equated with success and losing will keep you on the lowest step of the career ladder. In my experience, most Assistants will steer very clear of this type of behaviour.

As we are keepers of highly confidential information and we report to senior figures we don’t tend to get involved in the shady world of office politics. Although I agree to a certain extent that we should avoid office politics, I also think that we should be aware of what it involves, how to play the game and use it to our advantage.

Here are a few tips on how Assistants can learn the rules of office politics without playing dirty!

Basic rules

In its most straightforward form, office politics means the interactions of people in the working environment, the differences between colleagues, the conflicts, relationships and communications. We all have to work with other people, and for Assistants, especially we have to work with lots of different levels from the CEO to the office intern.

We need to have the necessary communication skills in place to deal with colleagues. Most Assistants will change their communication style depending on who they are talking to and wouldn’t necessarily think this is playing at office politics. I would suggest this is knowing the basic rules and using them to our advantage.

Dealing with conflict

There will always be conflicts in the workplace. I’m not talking about physical punch-ups (although I have seen a couple of ‘discussions’ come close to that). I’m talking about the kind of conflict that will come at you over email or creep up on you before you know it.

One of the downsides of being an Assistant is that we often face criticism that should actually be directed at our Executive. We deal with colleagues who take their frustration out on us and clients who offload their grievances on what is considered any easier target than our Executive.

How do we deal with this?

Do we fight back and raise our voice, no, we don’t. Neither do we flee the conflict scene in search of a quiet space to have a good cry. We choose how we deal with the conflict despite our instincts, telling us otherwise. Owning this choice, knowing how to react to conflict and calming the situation down is a characteristic of good politicians, and I also think an attribute of great Assistants.

What is the best route to take?

When navigating the ups and downs of office politics, the best route I’ve always found is to follow the one that is right for your Executive and the business.

Thinking strategically and acting neutrally is the best course of action. By following this path, you won’t be picking sides or making the conflict personal. Instead, you are removing yourself from the nasty side of office politics where some of your other colleagues may reside.

What can Assistants influence?

Politics is all about influencing the right people at the right time. Assistants can influence people because of the confidential matters we are entrusted with and also the close relationships we have with senior members of staff.

Do we use this to our advantage – yes, I hope we all do! An excellent example of this is when Assistants quite often by-pass the IT procedures if their Executive needs IT support them in a meeting. Assistants won’t log a call like most of their colleagues. Instead, they will phone the person in IT and ask them to come straight over which they will do because they know the Assistant works for a Director. Now that can annoy your colleagues, but it is just you using your influence to benefit your manager.

Although there are many constraints in the workplace if we know what we can influence and what we can’t, it will only help us. Office politics or proper use of our skills and position?

As I said before office politics can be a minefield, but I do think we need to be aware of the rules and who is playing the game.

How important is office culture?

A huge factor for Assistants when looking for their next opportunity is unsurprisingly salary with 89% saying this was most important when looking for a new role. Interestingly, only a 3rd of respondents are actually happy with their current salary and benefits package!

A salary increase can be extremely attractive, and often a big motivator to change roles, or sometimes even move industry. But interestingly, in the results of our survey, salary did not come out on top.

The number one is actually job content with a staggering 92% saying it’s all about the job itself.

Secondly, was workplace culture. A whopping 90% said that this is their number one factor to consider when thinking about their next opportunity.

So if you’re thinking of moving roles, and salary is a big motivator for you, stop and consider job content and culture. These are equally as important – sometimes even more so!

How to spot a good office culture

90% considered workplace culture to be the most important thing when looking for a new employer. That is a huge percentage!

It can be difficult to get a sense of the office culture before you take the job so here are a few tips to help you spot a great work place:

  1. Has the organisation won any awards or put themselves forward for any. Every year in the UK The Sunday Times puts together a list of the top 100 firms to work for. Alternatively, have a look on the organisation’s website to see if they have been nominated or won any accolades.
  2. Extend your research on the firm to include office culture, values and benefits (particularly around wellbeing). If the organisation has a social media presence this is also a good place to look for examples of their office culture. Is their content fun and relaxed or professional and formal? This will give you a good understanding of the culture and atmosphere in the office.
  3. Remember, you can ask questions in the interview about the office culture! You will get a good sense of what to expect from the interviewer’s answers. During your interviews also take a look at the office itself – what is the set up and what does the furniture look like. Again a nice environment shows that the employer is thinking about their staff.
  4. What is the overall package you are being offered? Although salary is not the number one driving factor it is still important. An employer that offers a good salary for the work that you do shows that they will value you. Also look at the overall benefit package. What else do they offer to retain employees?
  5. Last but not least, you can also speak to your recruitment agency about the employer. What type of candidates have they placed before and if you will be a good fit.

Understanding the shadow structure in your Organisation

In this session, Liz will share with you a powerful tool for gaining awareness of the hidden power dynamics and spheres of influence that operate within your company. You will learn:

  • Why the published organisation chart doesn’t necessarily reflect power within an organisation
  • How to commence mapping your own organisations’ shadow structure
  • A deeper awareness of the different ways influence operates within organisations

Knowing the shadow structure will empower you and reduce your stress enabling you to get things done more easily in your role.

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Next Chapter:

Understanding personality types at work
Chapter Three