Organizational politics — the confluence of diverse interests, sparse resources, and power struggles — happens in all workplace settings, including hospitals and healthcare facilities. When the self-interest and agendas of individuals or groups clash, the results can impact the workforce. As leaders, nurse managers must be alert to workplace politics while ensuring patients and staff nurses remain safe.
Also called office politics, organizational politics in the workplace is intertwined with culture, values, and goals. A growing body of research shows that understanding and working with the dynamics of a system can be a positive experience. Workplace politics can foster healthy relationships and social awareness.
As nurse leaders, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who have earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree should be able to navigate organizational politics in the workplace and professional challenges in nursing. At Duquesne University, APRNs who undertake the online DNP program learn how organizational politics play a role in nursing leadership and are given the tools to make positive changes in workplaces.
“Understanding and navigating the organizational politics at work can be challenging,” Rose O. Sherman wrote in American Nurse Today. “Effective leaders have a good radar for what matters to the organization and build political capital so that when they choose to fight, they’re successful.”
Organizational Politics and Politicians in the Workplace
At its heart, workplace politics is a form of influence over various interests. It can be positive (such as when employees work together for solutions that align with an organization’s objectives and visions) or negative (such as when an individual or group takes actions without regard for others).
Understanding how politics works within an organization or a unit requires close observation and involvement. While some people may be tempted to avoid all office politics, business experts say the tactic might be a poor choice. Political know-how is vital to success because office politics will inevitably occur, author and workplace politics expert Kathleen Kelley Reardon said
“Political proficiency is not a choice at work, but it’s a necessity that can be improved at any point in your career. For each and every one of us, the sooner that happens, the better,” Reardon wrote in Harvard Business Review.
The staffing firm Accountemps identified six types of office politicians and how to handle them:
- Gossip Hound – This person knows information about everyone and shares it with anyone who will listen. Avoid engaging in conversations that deviate from business topics.
- Credit Thief – This colleague steals ideas or work and claims it as his or her own. Keep documentation of your work to safeguard from credit thieves.
- Flatterer – This person’s compliments are typically phony so be leery and use caution.
- Saboteur – This colleague openly criticizes and demeans other people’s work and rarely takes responsibility for wrongdoing. Keep documentation of your work to offer proof to bosses, if needed.
- Lobbyist – This person will overshadow all projects to keep his or her agenda on the forefront. If the lobbyist’s views do not align with yours, do not be afraid to speak up.
- Adviser – This colleague works closely with company administrators and holds indirect power. Befriend the advice
Tips for Handling Workplace Politics
When managing organizational politics in the workplace, nurse leaders are cautioned against ignoring the troublemakers or overall problems. Instead, nurse leaders should view their workplaces as political systems where employees bring individual interests, needs, and wants, said Sherman, who is the editor-in-chief of the American Organization of Nurse Executives’ official journal Nurse Leader.
Leaders who encourage and display transparency, honesty, teamwork, and open debate reduce the risk of political gameplay, Sherman said. However, office politics is not completely avoidable, so she advises considering these steps for navigating and managing negativity:
- Observe and listen – Pay close attention to office alliances and competitiveness. Determine who are the key decision-makers and influencers.
- Avoid troublemakers – Every workplace has its brand of troublemakers, and healthcare is no different. Avoid being aligned with the bullies, complainers, gossips, and others who create hostile workplaces.
- Build positive relationships – Trusted colleagues and strong networks help navigate political systems. Leaders who are trusted confidants in kind can build alliances that will withstand political turmoil.
- Use tact in promoting yourself or your unit – Self-promotion can lead to resentment from others, so be cautious about appearing too braggadocious. Make sure others have an opportunity to succeed.
- Follow the chain of command – Try to resolve difficulties with direct superiors rather than bypassing the line of authority.
- Support and help bosses and colleagues – Being helpful leverages goodwill and cultivates allies. Be a team player by resisting workplace gossip and being supportive of superiors.
Sherman also said that learning office politics could be complicated. Some people only learn how to navigate the difficulties by living the experiences.
“As a nurse leader, you will never be able to totally eliminate the organizational politics in your workplace. What you can do is become savvy in how you both anticipate it and manage it when it does occur,” Sherman said.
Organizational Politics and Executive Nursing
In formulating the Institute of Medicine’s landmark Future of Nursing report, healthcare leaders recommended that nurses expand their leadership roles, which includes understanding power structures, growing the workforce, and working with interdisciplinary teams. Such expanded leadership roles can create professional challenges in nursing, such as office politics.
Researcher Wanda Montalvo, Ph.D., RN, et al., in “Mentoring Nurses in Political Skill to Navigate Organizational Politics” said nurse leaders must learn how to navigate complex social and professional environments and organizations to become effective leaders.
“Political skills are essential for nurses because low political skill places them at a disadvantage for gaining power, information, and resources via social networks,” Montalvo said.
Nurse managers who have earned a DNP play an important role in managing office politics in healthcare settings. By understanding the professional challenges involved in the workplace, nurse executives are better able to lead changes in healthcare systems.
At Duquesne University, nurses enrolled in the online DNP program learn about the roles workplace politics play in day-to-day interactions and the importance of effective communication.
About Duquesne University’s Online DNP Program
Duquesne University’s online DNP program prepares APRNs for clinical leadership positions to encourage positive changes in healthcare. The university’s curriculum builds on existing experiences and knowledge, allowing graduates to implement evidence-based practice in clinical settings.
Duquesne University, a leader in nursing education, offers three DNP tracks:
- Clinical Leadership DNP
- Post-Bachelor’s Executive Nurse Leadership DNP
- Post-Master’s Executive Nurse Leadership DNP
Duquesne University’s online DNP program allows students to continue working and maintain family responsibilities while earning an advanced degree. For more information, contact Duquesne University now.
Nursing Management, “The game of politics”
American Nurse Today, “Choosing your political battles”
Robert Half, “Rumor Has It…Office Politics Exist”
Harvard Business Review, “Office Politics Isn’t Something You Can Sit Out”
Nursing Research and Practice, “Mentoring Nurses in Political Skill to Navigate Organizational Politics”
Emerging RN Leader, “Dealing with Organizational Politics”
Donna Cardillo The Inspiration Nurse, “With Office Politics, It’s Smart to Be Savvy”